In game No. 1,204, kicking off year No. 130, you can see the bottom of the Michigan football program from here.
Take a look. It is a dank, dark and murky place. The game's winningest program is 60 minutes away from the lowest point in its history. With a clean slate, Rich Rodriguez's chances of surviving a loss to Western Michigan in Saturday's season opener were iffy. With his current baggage, two-and-through becomes more likely.
Until a ball is kicked, these are the worst of times, or pretty close to them. The 2008 season (3-9) was a mess. The '09 season starts with three quarterbacks taking their chances against the Broncos a week before Notre Dame comes calling.
In the middle of a painful culture change, anonymous players are ripping the head coach. The NCAA no doubt will eventually look into a program that has never been convicted of a major violation.
Big losses have become common in the Big House. One hastened Lloyd Carr's departure (Appalachian State, 2007). One stained Rodriguez's first season (Toledo, 2008).
Oh yes, and one other thing. As any Buckeye will remind you, it's been more than 2,000 days since Michigan beat Ohio State.
The story budget today called for a look at coaches on the hot seat heading into 2009 (see the rankings here). In the last week, Rodriguez has elbowed his way near the front of the line. That's obvious. Now that Sunday's Detroit Free Press report has sunk in, there are some ominous possibilities.
|The first year on the job was a forgettable one for Rich Rodriguez, and Year 2 could start just as rough. (US Presswire)|
Throw in a loss to Western Michigan and things will look bleak before the second game. Not just for the coach, for the program. Big-time college football waits for no one these days. It's hard to find a national championship contender beyond the top five in the polls this season. It has become that exclusive of a club. Ask Nebraska, trying to find its way back to dominance. Florida State and Miami have dipped. Penn State and its Octo(genarian) Coach miraculously were able to get the program back on the two-lane road after skidding into the gravel.
No one, though, is immune. To think that Michigan couldn't slip into mediocrity is dumb. See Texas from about 1984 until Mack Brown.
This isn't all about Rich Rod. The center must stick together at Michigan. Maybe Rodriguez made a mistake in leaving West Virginia. Maybe he never was the right fit for Michigan. Maybe the blue(and maize)bloods are just starting to realize it. What's so troubling is that the administration went all in, paying $2.5 million of Rodriguez's buyout at West Virginia. That was so un-Michiganlike.
The school, the program and the fans have always had a high opinion of themselves. For good reason. Bo Schembechler gave it a tough outer crust -- and class. The Ohio State game was a rivalry unto itself.
Now calling it a "rivalry" might be going too far in a series dominated by the Bucks. That's part of the reason why rock bottom is waiting right around the corner. Before they can dream of beating Ohio State, the Wolverines have to prove they can handle a directional in-state stepsister.
The Las Vegas odds makers, who have made Michigan an 11-point favorite, have been sipping too many screwdrivers in the sports book. Western Michigan might have the best quarterback in the MAC (Tim Hiller). Michigan doesn't know the best quarterback on its roster. Western Michigan will have the best offense on the field Saturday. Michigan had the worst offense in the Big Ten last year.
Whose seat is the hottest?
North Texas' Dodge
Notre Dame's Weis
Total Votes: 25,070
You'd be stupid to think the Broncos can't be the next small-timer to forget to wipe its feet before celebrating on the block M.
Everything has slipped so fast. It's hard to remember Michigan beat Florida last year. It was only 20 months ago when Lloyd Carr wrapped up his career with a win over the Gators in the Capital One Bowl.
Since then, Michigan made the decision to go outside the program to replace Carr. Nothing wrong there. Bo was an outsider. Rich Rod was arguably the best coach available, one of the founding fathers of the spread option.
But something hasn't clicked. Not yet. A coaching change might seem like an easy solution, but, trust me, Michigan doesn't want to get on that merry-go-round. The whole program is about stability. From 1938 to 1989, it had four coaches. Carr lasted 13 years.
If it doesn't work out, Rodriguez, a bright, personable, smart coach, will move on after two years and find a good job.
If the whole thing blows up after two years, Michigan will be out there searching again for a coach -- and itself.