The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

January 6, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Coach Rod never really had a chance

MORGANTOWN — Let us, for the moment, take the emotion out of the equation that led to Rich Rodriguez’s dismissal as Michigan football coach on Wednesday.

Let us put aside whatever feelings we have about the man who left West Virginia when the football program was perched on the doorstep of a national championship.

His struggle in dealing with the devastating defeat that was handed him by Pitt mixed in with a lingering feud with athletic director Ed Pastilong over the control of the football program led him to accept the head coaching job at the University of Michigan.

Let us just look at this as the story of a man, a neighbor from right down the road in Marion County, for in the end that is really what Rich Rodriguez is, a local kid who rose to the elite of college football only to now take a fall.

In some ways it is the classic story of a man born to be a football coach, driven to succeed at it, and a man who accomplished what he set out to accomplish.

Then he wanted more.

He played a large role in re-inventing the game as it is played today, but wasn’t satisfied with being a big fish in a little pond. In West Virginia, at the top of his game, he was the perfect fit, running the kind of team and program the state accepted and the university envisioned.

Even if he had taken the Alabama job that had been offered him the previous season, a job that wound up in the hands of another of his Marion County neighbors, Nick Saban, who went out and won a national championship, things might have worked out for Rodriguez because there was a cultural fit there.

But Rodriguez had unfinished business in West Virginia when the Alabama opportunity came about and he turned it down, a decision for which he deserves to be commended.

Jumping to Michigan, though, even under all the duress he felt in the wake of losing to Pittsburgh, was more a nightmare than any kind of dream come true.

This was a cultural mismatch, and if Rodriguez was taken aback by the culture that had developed around Michigan football, one can only imagine what the good citizens of Michigan were thinking when Rodriguez came on the scene.

Michigan, in their minds, is MICHIGAN. It is one of a kind, and if that’s snooty, that’s the way it is.

It is the winningest program of all time in college football. It is Big Ten, Midwestern. It is Bo Schembechler and the Big House and Tom Harmon.

It’s more Chablis and a $5 cigar than Pabst Blue Ribbon and chewing tobacco. It’s khakis and a scarf, not coveralls and baseball cap. Michigan is a taffy pull, not a tractor pull.

Michigan is a lot like West Virginia in that it is a style and a philosophy; it’s just that the styles and philosophies are strikingly different.

Rich Rodriguez was not one of them, never would be one of them and, even if he had turned the program completely around, even if his NCAA violations had not been discovered, even if he won a national championship, he would not be one of them.

He might be accepted, but he would not have been one of them.

That left him walking a tightrope, unable to win over the faithful while also unable to score a win over his important Big Ten opponents like Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconin, turning his tenure into a disaster.

It is something, even now, that we all might be asking ourselves about, for the new West Virginia football coach, Dana Holgorsen, comes from a culture that also is far different than our own. This is not the Great Plains. Coal, not oil, is our fuel. Defense more than offense is the heritage, and a cutting horse is something you place a board on to saw, not something you ride.

Of course, if you win, it really doesn’t matter whether you fit in or not, and certainly Holgorsen is as confident coming in here as Rodriguez was heading to Michigan. But what if it doesn’t work as he plans, especially right at the start?

Holgorsen, unlike Rodriguez, will get a grace period, but he is going to have to win big because nine victories, as we have seen, aren’t enough.

In many ways, you feel sorry for Rodriguez because he really never had a chance at Michigan. We hope the next chance he gets – and he will get another chance – it is a place which will accept him for what he is and not reject him for what he is not.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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