Let me preface this article by saying at the outset that this piece is not about rehashing or re-prosecuting Rich Rodriguez. No one wants to move forward and concentrate on the present and future more than I do. With that said, it is critical to take a look at the past in order to provide perspective on the current situation and what to expect in the future.
Several of the comments made by Brady Hoke (watch video) during last week’s Big 10 Media Days highlight an issue that has received little attention. While much has been made over the issues that led Dave Brandon’s decision to remove Rich Rodriguez, one factor has largely gone unmentioned by the mainstream media. While the sub .500 record, annual losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, and embarrassingly bad defense all played a major role, the single biggest factor was likely Rodriguez putting himself and his coaches ahead of the football program. This is not to suggest that Rodriguez did not care for his players. Contrary to popular opinion Rodriguez is not an uncaring individual or an evil person. Throughout his 3 years at Michigan, Rodriguez displayed a high degree of concern for both his players and their families. The attention and support given to Brock Mealer by the football program is just one illustration of who Rich Rodriguez is as a person. Going above and beyond for several of the families at Motts Children’s Hospital provides yet another example. Juxtaposed to the selfless Rich Rodriguez is the football coach who was as interested in selling himself and his system as anything else. Rodriguez’s approach in public appearances and recruiting was grounded in self promotion. From the pep rally designed to garner support for the coach instead of the team, to public events and fund raisers with fans and alumni where Rodriguez sold what he, his system, and his coaches could do for them and the football program. A similar approach was used in recruiting where kids, especially on the offensive side, were primarily sold on the advantages of playing for a “master of the spread.” While academic prowess, personal development, and the University as a whole was used a recruiting tool, those attributes served as tertiary pitches to recruits. Kids were sold less on the University and what a Michigan experience could do for their lives going forward and more on the ability and personal profile of Rodriguez and his staff.
The way Rodriguez approached his job is something that must have weighed heavily on the mind of Dave Brandon when it came time to make a decision. Above everything else Rich Rodriguez was in it for himself, ahead of the University and ahead of his players. Having a coach who put the players and the University above everything else was something that likely influenced both Brandon’s decision to remove Rodriguez, and who Brandon decided to pick as the next coach. While Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles were both contacted by Brandon, neither coach ended up taking the job. Like Rodriguez, both coaches project the image of a coach bigger than the program at their respective schools. Neither coach showed a willingness to put Michigan above themselves or their careers. Harbaugh’s interest in the NFL was well known even before Michigan made contact. Miles showed only a passing interest in the job, taking the interview with Dave Brandon on advice from his agent. This is not to suggest that either coach was unworthy of the job or unable to succeed at Michigan. There are many coaches who have succeeded while running their program on a cult of personality. Coaches like Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino have always put themselves out in front of their programs and each has enjoyed a high level of success. The critical thing to understand is the thought process the guided Brandon’s decision and what he was looking for in his next coach.
By contrast Brady Hoke’s approach has been player and program centric from the beginning. Hoke has gone out of his way to emphasize that it isn’t about him or his coaches but about the players. Helping kids succeed on and off the field is promoted well in advance of self promotion by the coaches. Instead of being on the periphery, the University and all the advantages that go along with attending Michigan are front and center during the recruitment process. Personal development and players succeeding in life are prioritized above all else. Even with a coach as high profile as Greg Mattison on board the coaches have been quick to point to other things first when selling Michigan. Hoke’s player first approach is something that likely factored heavily into Dave Brandon’s decision. While Brandon would have probably taken either Harbaugh or Miles who are both good coaches, neither display the quality that Brandon seems to care about most. Hoke’s approach has already reaped massive benefits as Michigan is on pace to land its best crop of recruits in more than a decade
How this player first approach translates onto the field has yet to be seen. There are certainly other factors involved in wins and losses besides what the coaches sell to the public and recruits. Recruiting is an important part of the equation but not the only factor. Ultimately Hoke should be judged by what happens on the field but that does not diminish the importance of what happens away from the gridiron. Most importantly, the player first approach is something emphasized by Dave Brandon and serves as a major component in determining how well Hoke is doing as coach.
This week we will be giving away 10 Michigan Football 2011 Schedule Posters to random commenters and Twitter users. If you would agree or disagree with Joseph’s opinion, let us know below .. and as always, Go Blue!