Senior Writer

Rich Rod: 'We thought it was just getting ready to take off'


The key word for Rich Rodriguez is "drama."

Over and over, that's how Michigan's former coach summed up his time in Ann Arbor.

 "We had three years of drama," Rodriguez said during an interview this week with, one of his first since being fired at Michigan Jan. 5.

 "From the first day on campus, it was drama."

 "We've been in the top 10, played in Sugar Bowls [as a coach], but it seemed like some of the other drama that occurred at Michigan was almost a nonstop thing."

Rich Rod kicked off the first day of the rest of his college football life Wednesday as an analyst on CBS College Sports Network's signing day coverage. It was, well, different considering this is the first time in a quarter century that Rodriguez hasn't been welcoming a new class as either an assistant or head coach.

"Any coach, when they get let go, has a level of frustration," Rodriguez said. "For me, as much as we struggled for three years, we felt that the worst was behind us. We had 24 starters coming back, the player of the year in the league as a sophomore [Denard Robinson]. The frustrating part was, with all the freshmen we played on defense, we thought it was just getting ready to take off."

Rodriguez was fired in early January after being in public limbo for more than a month. Michigan AD Dave Brandon was mostly silent on the coach's status following the regular season. What Brandon learned while waiting for the Wolverines to be blown out by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl isn't known. Meanwhile, recruiting suffered as Brandon conducted the search to replace Rodriguez. Brady Hoke had 22 days to assemble his first recruiting class of 20 prospects that included four players who committed to Rodriguez.

Rich Rodriguez's final game as Michigan coach was a blowout loss in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day. (Getty Images)  
Rich Rodriguez's final game as Michigan coach was a blowout loss in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day. (Getty Images)  
"I think he'll do well," Rodriguez said of Hoke. "The facilities part was being upgraded. Michigan has a national reputation. That will get you in the door. You still have to close the door [on recruits]. Every coach will probably say when he leaves, 'I left it in pretty good shape.' I say with pretty good sincerity ... having played so many true freshmen, you know they'll do better. We couldn't wait to get going."

From the time Rodriguez left West Virginia, there seemed to be controversy -- that drama -- surrounding the coach. Michigan agreed to pay off the remainder of Rodriguez's buyout at West Virginia. There were dustups about Rich Rod not knowing Michigan's traditions. In the middle of it all, a Detroit Free Press story led the NCAA to investigate allegations of Michigan exceeding NCAA practice and training time limitations. Michigan and Rodriguez came away relatively unscathed (three years' probation), but the episode didn't add to the coach's overall approval rating.

"People might say, 'You don't understand our culture.' What's to understand?" Rodriguez said. "We all want the same goals, to have the best program in America. I don't know what needs to be understood. When I got there, I don't know if everyone understood the transition that had to take place."

The coach admitted to hearing the criticism but tuned it out.

"Particularly when you're in a bowl game, you're extremely busy," Rodriguez said. "We were pretty busy. We knew it was out there, we dealt with it in recruiting. I tried to isolate the staff from it."

The timing of the firing could have cost Rodriguez a chance for a new job in 2011. Pittsburgh, for example, did not call even though it had back-to-back openings. To paraphrase Tom Petty, the future is wide open. Rich Rod plans to visit a few colleagues during his time off and look for a new family home in Florida. Look for him to re-emerge in 2012.

Other questions for Rodriguez:

Were you treated fairly by Dave Brandon?

Rodriguez:"To say publicly how I was treated would be self-serving. Everybody says three years is enough time. If you don't know all the factors maybe you make that conclusion. If you're here in the middle of this for three years fighting all the battles. ... We'd like to be able to finish the job. I can't sit here a month later and say this and that should have happened.

Recruiting Season
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"What I am going to do to make sure the next job I get, we win the national championship and everybody is pulling in the right direction. Dave's been on the job -- what? -- nine months? He knows the business world. I did the best I could to tell him or show him what was going on in the football program. I tried to show him as best I could. He wasn't involved in athletics [before getting to Michigan]. I've been a head coach in Division I for 10 years and coaching for 25. I know college football."

(Note: Brandon played defensive end under Bo Schembechler at Michigan. He is also a former Michigan regent. Brandon came to the school after serving as Domino's Pizza CEO.)

Did you and the staff feel like you were in limbo that month before you were fired?

Rodriguez: "Sure we were. But we worked our tail off in recruiting. We believe we would have had a top 10 recruiting class, no question. A lot of those guys [assistants] did a great job of selling the school. The guys on our team would do well academically. We were hungry for the spring."

How were you treated away from the office, out in public? There was constantly this talk about not being a Michigan Man or understanding the culture.

Rodriguez: "When I was out in public, they [fans] were great. They were nice. They were helpful and positive. People said there was an undercurrent of factions that wanted different agendas -- and there may have been that. ...

"Defensively, frankly, we struggled all three years but they struggled the year before that. There's a transformation that had to take place. There were some people that were never going to accept us because we didn't come from a Michigan background."

Why didn't it happen quicker at Michigan?

Rodriguez: "When you take a job, especially a job at Michigan, you're expected to produce results quickly. But I was used to it quickly. There were other things that came up that slowed the progress down, whether it was the NCAA thing or drama that was created. ... I knew after the first spring, I told the administration this: It was going to take longer than anybody expected, but I knew we were going to get there."

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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