June 22, 2011

Q-and-A: Ex-Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez

The hustle and bustle of tending to the daily details of being a coach no longer clutter Rich Rodriguez's days.

Instead, he has moved his family from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Naples, Fla., and he's at peace following a tumultuous three-year run at Michigan.

"Life isn't bad," he says. "I'm going to spend time with my family and also use this time to learn and get better."

To that end, Rodriguez recently visited Florida State.

"It was good," Rodriguez says. "[FSU coach] Jimbo [Fisher] is a good friend. I'm going to spend time trying to learn as much as I can while I'm not coaching."

Rodriguez will serve as a studio analyst and game analyst for CBS Sports this fall, keeping him in the limelight and in the thick of the game.

"It's a neat opportunity," he says. "I will get a chance to meet some people and do something different on the other side of the camera. I have done some work for them already, and we will see where that leads us."

But Rodriguez wants to coach again. Before taking the Michigan job, he enjoyed a highly successful seven-year run at West Virginia, where he changed the nation's offensive culture with his version of the spread option.

Then, it was off to Michigan, but Rodriguez didn't get to finish what he started. In three years in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez went 15-22 overall and 6-18 in the Big Ten, with one bowl. The Wolverines' record improved each season, from 3-9 in 2008 to 5-7 in '09 to 7-6 last season, which ended in a blowout loss to Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.

Michigan's football program was put on probation for the first time on his watch, and Rodriguez was fired soon after the bowl game last season.

Rodriguez recently talked to Rivals.com about a number of topics, ranging from his thoughts on former West Virginia coach Bill Stewart to his future plans.

Did you have any coaching "feelers" for 2011?

"No. Everything happened so late. We played a January 1 bowl game; most things had been filled by then. It was a different dynamic, which made it a little tough. I was fortunate that most of the guys on my staff landed jobs. A couple are still looking, but most are very fortunate to get on somewhere."

Do you think you'll coach in 2012?

"I think there is that possibility. I still think I have a lot of good coaching left in me. When you are in the middle of coaching, you never really reflect a week back, let alone a year or two. You just worry about what is next. I have had more time to reflect than I ever have had. I will use it to learn and get better and be prepared for the next one more so than I ever have been, and I think I'll be able to do that. I hope an opportunity comes up that is a good fit for everyone involved and I can take the program to a very high level."

What are you most proud of accomplishing at Michigan?

"The frustrating part is we know there was a lot going on in the three years, but we kept our blinders on and grinded through it. And the worst had been behind us. All the tough stuff, we felt, to get it to this point, where we had 18, 19 starters back and the Big Ten player of the year with two more years left ...

'You try not to dwell on it
too much other than
to take the lessons and do better the next time. I thought we were on our way.'
- Rich Rodriguez,
on being let go by Michigan

"Our recruiting still was going well even with all of the drama. We thought, 'OK, the next couple of years, we are going to get to enjoy the fruits of our labors,' so to speak. And you don't get that opportunity. That was the most frustrating part of it.

"I think we had made some steps offensively and gotten some things in place, and we had to fix some things on defense. We knew that. A lot of the guys would have been back and had more experience. The young kids who played as freshmen were going to be growing up and getting a whole lot better the next couple of years. ... You try not to dwell on it too much other than to take the lessons and do better the next time. I thought we were on our way."

How good would Michigan have been in 2011 with you as coach? A Big Ten title contender?

"We thought so. Offensively, we had almost all the key players back. And [quarterback] Denard Robinson was just a sophomore and had a phenomenal year. He and Devin Gardner -- we thought we were going to be real solid there. All the other skill guys are back. They system was becoming entrenched. Some of the things we had to fix, like the kicking game from a field-goal standpoint, we thought were going to get addressed in recruiting.

"We thought the young guys on defense were going to be a whole lot better. The way the schedule was setting up, we were excited about it. But a move was made, a change was made, so we had to depart. But I think they will win a lot of football games there in the next couple of years."

Why did the defense struggle?

"Everything I say now will sound like an excuse. But there is a difference between excuses and reality, and the reality was we had some misfortune with some injuries at key positions and we were playing a lot of young guys who were forced to play before they were truly ready.

"When you play true freshmen, it's usually because they have talent, but usually there's some misfortune because of injuries and they have to play. We played a whole lot more there, especially last year, than we ever anticipated, especially in the secondary.

"When you have young, inexperienced guys and a new system and techniques they have to learn, it isn't a great combination. We thought another year in the system and another year of learning fundamentals -- maybe changing the scheme to simplify it even further, add a few pieces in recruiting -- that we were going to be a whole lot better defensively. Any coach will tell you that, but I really, truly believed it."

Are you surprised things didn't work out for Bill Stewart at West Virginia?

"I know the defensive coaches on that staff very well. They had great success defensively there. I think they feel confident about their system. I was wrapped up in trying to win games at Michigan and wasn't close to the situation and what happened to 'Stew.' And I don't know all that went on with Coach [Dana] Holgorsen and that deal. I just knew it was going to be an awkward situation. You could see that. It turned into an awkward situation.

"Sometimes, there is a lot of debate on the coach-in-waiting situations. It's probably tough in a situation like that where the sitting head coach doesn't know the head-coach-in-waiting. And that takes time and takes a lot of effort on the part of a lot of people to make it happen. And it obviously didn't happen right."

Do you think time has healed your relationship with West Virginia fans?

"I would hope so. There probably is still a lot of misinformation out there. And for some folks, it doesn't matter what I say or why we made the move. They'll always be mad. It's unfortunate, but that's the way some of them want to be.

"I've been back a couple of times and the West Virginia fans have been great. It's still my home. I enjoyed our seven years there very much, and I think they realize we gave it everything we had all the way until the day we left. And our entire staff did that. I think over time people realize it was a really good run."

With Ohio State in trouble, USC slapped with severe sanctions, North Carolina potentially in trouble -- among other schools -- do you think college football is out of control?

"There are certainly issues, and there is no question it's probably time to get the NCAA and college presidents together to talk about some of the issues.

"I still think college football and college athletics are in a pretty good spot. Some people may disagree and say it's a mess and you need to blow the whole thing up. I think there are a lot more positives, but you just don't hear about them. The negative stories seem to take hold. You understand why, because people are interested in that. But I think there are a lot of good things going on in college football and college sports. Unfortunately, it's getting overshadowed by the negative stories."

Are you surprised by what is going on at Ohio State?

"I know some of it because we were close to the situation when I was at Michigan and part of the rivalry, the recruitment of Terrelle Pryor and all of that.

"I think it's one of those things when you go in and investigate and sometimes you ask questions, you find out something else. It begs you to ask more questions and try to find out more answers. I think that's probably typical of a lot of the investigations that the NCAA does. When they look into something, they find out a few other things and they have to investigate it. That doesn't mean that all the answers are out there yet, but they are pretty thorough when they do their investigations.

"Everything is so covered nowadays, media-wise, with the Internet and everyone has cell phones and all that. I don't know if things are much worse than they were before, but they are more public. And I think you'll see more cases because things are more public. Everything they do is going to become public. That's the world that we live in today."

Are you glad you didn't sign Terrelle Pryor?

"That's a fair question. You don't usually worry about the guys who didn't get, just the ones you got.

"I think he would have been a great player in our system. Denard Robinson was a great player in our system. Pryor had an outstanding career at Ohio State on the field. He won a lot of games, did a lot of good things. Some of those other issues, I don't know what all is entailed in that. Did he make some mistakes? He certainly did. Has he learned from them? I'm sure he's trying to put everything behind him and move on."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.




 

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