Six games. All the sudden a frightening number, a fearsome phrase.
Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin lasted six games before being fired last week. Tommy Bowden made it that far into his 10th season at Clemson.
The Tennessee athletic director just called out Phil Fulmer halfway through the season.
There is buyout blood in the water.
Six games into his first season at Michigan, Rich Rodriguez has the same record as Fulmer in his 17th, 2-4. The moods in Knoxville and Ann Arbor are similar. Before you go running off to the chat rooms, that's similar, not the same. Patience has turned to grumbling in both places. In Fulmer's case, the dissatisfaction fermented over the space a decade. The man does have a national championship to his credit.
For Rodriguez, the pride rooted in 42 conference titles and 871 wins has been wounded at Michigan. This week his athletic director Bill Martin felt compelled to publicly support the coach after 24 quarters of football. Six games. Traditionally, Martin left Lloyd Carr to himself during the season.
Michigan men of all sorts aren't used to enduring four losses. It has happened three times since 1968 -- 1984, 2005 and 2007. The difference on October 16 is there is still half a season to go. A 33-year bowl streak hangs in the balance as the Wolverines head to Penn State, a team they've beaten nine consecutive times.
It's a bizarro world we live in when Michigan is running a wide-open offense and Penn State is running it better.
One Detroit columnist broke the seal earlier this week saying Rodriguez had done an "awful" job of coaching this season.
Just to be clear, Toledo wasn't the end of the world. After Appalachian State, everything else pales in comparison. Toledo was a Division I-A program with roughly the same number of scholarship players as Michigan. App State came into The Big House with 60-something I-AA players, most of whom were deemed unworthy of getting a I-A scholarship.
Just to be clearer: Michigan has no business losing to Toledo. Ever. There's a reason the Wolverines were 24-0 against the MAC.
"It's not totally surprising but it's still frustrating," Rodriguez said of the current situation. "You expect some bumps in the road. Honestly, I didn't think we'd have this many bumps."
Rodriguez was hired for his spread offense, the signature scheme of this decade. His quarterbacks, though, either don't get it or aren't good enough. Maybe both. He has one senior on offense. Players left, which is to be expected during a coaching change.
The one sure recruiting difference maker (Terrelle Pryor) not only got away but got away to Ohio State. Help is on the way with a recruiting class that includes eight early enrollees, including two highly coveted quarterbacks. (Shavodrick Beaver and Tate Forcier)
Rodriguez has to tiptoe around the fact that whoever took over the program would be struggling at this point. That comes close to disparaging the current players but no one has dared raise the subject that Lloyd Carr might have left the cupboard a bit bare.
|It has been a rough start for Rich Rodriguez at Michigan, but he's confident things will turn around. (Getty Images)|
In an exclusive interview with CBSSports.com, Rodriguez talks about the state of himself, his staff and the program six games into guiding the winningest program in the sport's history.
CBSSports.com: What has gone right and what has gone wrong?
Rodriguez: "The things that have gone wrong, everybody can see on the field. We made some big mistakes offensively. The inexperience has showed. We've only had one starter back on offense. We don't really have the facet of 'I'll lean on the linemen,' or 'I'll lean on the quarterback' or 'I'll lean on the skill players.'
"The best things that have gone right haven't been always on the field. The last nine months the work in the weight room, the classroom (are) things you don't always see on Saturdays.
"The kids haven't quit. They battled back against Wisconsin. They never lowered their heads ... I thought (Sunday) would be a tougher one but our kids are more resilient than the coaches. That foundation is getting built. I wish it would show up quicker in the games.
"It's been a while since I lost two games in a row. There's a process and some of the problems we had didn't occur overnight and won't be solved overnight.
"I was sitting there Saturday night, I can't sleep of course. My wife Rita said, 'You know a lot of coaches have gone through similar situations in their first year. Besides that, think if you had a sick child or a tragic accident. You've got another game in a week.'
"I've got to quit feeling sorry for myself."
CBSSports.com: I feel bad watching you every week. They show these sideline shots ...
Rodriguez: "I hated to see my look on that (Toledo) interception return. It's frustrating but I'm in a great place. I've got a staff. Like I told the players last night, 'I believe in the program, I believe in the coaches, I believe in the university, but I also believe in you.'"
CBSSports.com: "Help is on the way in recruiting. You can't mention names but you've got a couple of guys, right?
Rodriguez: "Everybody says 'why didn't you use a different scheme until you get your players?' I say, 'do you think that would have made a difference?'
"We know for sure we won't be going through this same thing two, three years from now. It's not going to happen ...
"Maybe most other programs go through a stretch like we're going through ... but it's Michigan and it's heightened and that's OK. That's why young men want to go to school here."
CBSSports.com You knew what you were getting into...
Rodriguez: "It wasn't like I looked at the roster. I knew they had a lot of seniors last season -- Henne and Hart and Long. You don't look at the depth chart and see where everybody is at. You take a program based on everything.
"I said this seven or eight years ago, you almost have to be here every day and be around the environment to see all the good stuff. I feel for our fans. All they see is the Saturdays. Other than a moment like Wisconsin, there hasn't been a whole lot they can feel good about."
CBSSports.com: Are you getting any crap or are people staying positive?
Rodriguez: "You get some when you're running off the field and you hear some in the parking lot. I'm so pigeon-holed. I go home and I go to the office.
"I like to read sports. But I haven't gotten on the Internet and read the papers and all that. I don't want anything to take my focus away. I told our players even in good times and bad, you want to focus on the moment, not the past."
CBSSports.com: Did you notice last week that Tony Franklin got fired? It kind of reminded me of your situation. They're trying to put that same offense in down there. They gave him six games.
Rodriguez: "At least Coach Tuberville and his guys knew what he had on his team. For us, it was all a little bit new.
"There was going to be a transition even if Lloyd came back (but) nobody wants to hear about excuses."
CBSSports.com: How is this thing going to look when you get it humming?
Rodriguez: "That's the exciting part. When it gets going, it perpetuates itself. It builds and builds. The players become like assistant coaches. They help coach the younger guys.
"We think we can recruit nationally. I know a lot of coaches say it's harder to stay at the top than getting to the top, I don't necessarily agree with that. I think it's harder to get there."
CBSSports.com: How would Ryan Mallett have been in this offense? (The highly-regarded quarterback transferred to Arkansas shortly after Rodriguez was hired)
Rodriguez: "There's a misconception in this offense that you have to have the runner in this offense. (Tulane's) Shaun King was a good runner, he wasn't a great runner. We've had passers in the past. We can feature whatever that guy does well.
"I've had some really talented runners who can also throw the ball like (West Virginia's) Patrick White, Rasheed Marshall and (Clemson's) Woody Dantzler."
CBSSports.com: What about Joe Paterno, his offense is taking off?
Rodriguez: We recruited (quarterback) Daryll Clark out of high school. Just about every team runs some version of the spread, some maybe just on third and long. But it's out there, it's in the NFL, it's in high school, it's in college. It's all centered around that trigger guy.
"The only sad part is I'm watching a lot of people run it better than us. Some of the coaches say, 'Dang, we could get this thing so cranked up.' It's frustration and it teases us but its' going to get there."
CBSSports.com: Did Penn State coaches ever visit to study your offense? Are you worried about this becoming a Frankenstein where it could come back to get you?
Rodriguez: "They made a visit after that (West Virginia) Sugar Bowl year, spring of '06. As far as people visiting us, Ohio State (did) ... I wouldn't let them visit if I knew we were going to play them."