Rich Rodriguez squandered patience and goodwill last season, but he didn't waste all of it. In fact, for the coach who ended Michigan's 33-year bowl streak and tallied the most losses in school history, he has solid support. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
It can't be like last year, no way. It can't.
Michigan will be better, even considerably better, although after 3-9, that's not saying much. Rich Rodriguez had a cushion as the new whiz-bang coach, and somehow used up nearly every thread of it. And now, as pressure grows, as he gets more of his players and installs more of his offense, there's an interesting new team slogan, displayed on maize towels and uttered by players.
It's "All in for Michigan," and the unsaid insinuation is an accurate one, that everybody wasn't all in last season. Some players from Lloyd Carr's system either resisted or were pushed aside. Some Bo Schembechler loyalists openly questioned Rodriguez's hire and pined for LSU's Les Miles.
All in for Michigan? It's a statement and also a plea from a humbled Rodriguez, who in poker parlance went all in when he messily bolted West Virginia. Athletic director Bill Martin did the same with the radical hire that brought gigantic changes.
Rodriguez squandered patience and goodwill last season, but he didn't waste all of it. In fact, for the coach who ended Michigan's 33-year bowl streak and tallied the most losses in school history, he has solid support.
Rodriguez should have support, unless anything close to 3-9 occurs again. Maybe he didn't realize exactly the tough spot he was stepping into, but he deserves the chance to repair it, as long as he doesn't take his sweet ol' time. He needs to show significant progress now, even with Michigan pegged no higher than sixth in most Big Ten projections, for others to go all in.
What, me worry?
Uncertainty bubbles in Ann Arbor, but I think Rodriguez still can make this work big, if he heeds the right lessons and if his prized quarterbacks develop quickly. At least with freshmen Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, along with an improved Nick Sheridan, Rodriguez has options. He says all three will play, which means the super-fast Robinson must be pushing hard. The offense, with an experienced line and speedy receivers, should take a steady step forward.
"I was like everybody else when I took the job -- it's Michigan, throw 'em out there and you'll win your share," Rodriguez said Sunday. "It's a lesson learned, that no matter where you're at, you gotta have the right players doing the right things. I'm not saying we didn't have any players, but we didn't have a lot on offense that had played. You always get humbled when you take your lumps, but all you can do is fix it. I feel as confident as ever it's going to happen."
Let's be clear on one perception. Yes, Rodriguez had to rebuild the offense with quarterbacks that didn't fit. But after Carr's fine 13-year run, the roster wasn't barren, especially on defense. Rodriguez drove away offensive linemen and a huge quarterback prospect in Ryan Mallett, and defections have continued.
That happens under a new regime, and if Michigan people are freaked out, it's partly because they've never gone through it. Rodriguez swears he isn't concerned.
"What am I supposed to be concerned with -- guys that are low on the depth chart and not performing the way they should, academically and athletically?" he said. "We're supposed to panic about that? I'm confused. I got 126 players that are doing it and I'm supposed to worry about the handful that didn't want to?"
Right people, right spots
Rodriguez, confidently or stubbornly, thought his system was so good, it could weather any transition. It worked tremendously at West Virginia, so geez, imagine how much success he'd have at Michigan. It's not that easy to change mind-sets and skill sets, and not everyone was aboard, particularly on that horrid defense. Coordinator Scott Shafer was fired, replaced by former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson, a major upgrade based on experience alone.
Rodriguez, 46, may be the guru of the spread offense, but he needs help, internally and externally, and he knows it better today than he did a year ago. He hopes to find help with another batch of touted, speedy recruits, and Robinson's game-breaking ability already is drawing raves.
There are skeptics, and there absolutely should be. But at least there are fewer in the locker room at Schembechler Hall.
"We weren't together last year," senior running back Brandon Minor said. "Players questioned the program. We got everybody all in now."
Is it just a slogan, or a new reality? How the Wolverines handle adversity will tell.
The defense has a few potential stars, notably Brandon Graham, but depth issues. The Wolverines probably will be too young to contend, but should be explosive enough to reach 7-5.
"I think there was apprehension, which is typical when a new coach takes over," Rodriguez said. "Now they realize we're all in this together."
More important, Rodriguez realizes it now, too.