Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Catch 11

I wanted to open this by saying that Coach Rodriguez is in a no-win situation, but that not only sounds hopeless, but perhaps hits a little too close to the Vest right now. But I have been thinking about this as the usual "Rodriguez hasn't embraced the rivalry and it's going to cost him." floats around during Ohio State week. The problem for Rodriguez is, he can't embrace it like you want him to and he can't embrace it like you want him to for a reason that some people miss.
Adam Rittenberg put together some numbers on current Big Ten Coaches records in Rivalry Games, which leads me to my overall point: If Jim Tressel beats Michigan, his entire fanbase is relatively happy. We don't have empirical data on this, but if Ohio State went 1-11 and beat Michigan, I am pretty sure the good people of Ohio who call themselves Buckeye fans would be pretty happy.
If Mark Dantonio beats Michigan, his entire fanbase is ecstatic. Michigan State fans live to beat Michigan. It is their raison d'ĂȘtre. Sparty spends 364 days dreaming of hanging one on Michigan and a 365th hoping it goes their way.
If Tim Brewster beats Michigan (in years that Michigan and Minnesota play for the Jug), his entire fanbase will be largely satisfied. I am sure Gopher fans would love to see wins over Wisconsin and Iowa, but beating Michigan is pretty high on the to-do list for a season.
If Ron Zook beats Michigan, his fanbase will be oddly placated. Illinois considers Michigan a rival (which was true in, say, the 1920s), and Michigan looks around and says "you guys, too?" and laments that the Illini have taken Michigan behind the woodshed in consecutive years.
If Joe Paterno beats Michigan, his fanbase is relatively satisfied, particularly after nine straight losses to Michigan, it certainly helps. I don't know if Michigan/Penn State is a rivalry, but you have to get up for the game nonetheless. Plus, it's Joe Paterno, do you think he really worries about what his fanbase is thinking? He's freaking JoePa!
In order for Michigan fans to be happy, Rich Rodriguez has to, at a minimum, beat Michigan State, Penn State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State, or at least three of the four, and really it's all four. So if that's the case, why not just try to win all 12. You give every other team on your schedule your best shot and you see what happens.
If Rodriguez "embraces" the rivalry, what is the opportunity cost? If he does something in every practice to beat Ohio State, does that come at the opportunity to be at the best for Notre Dame, or Michigan State, or Penn State, or Minnesota, or Illinois, or any other team that wants to punch Michigan in the mouth every chance it gets?
Part of the problem with being at the top, being the powerhouse, is that everyone makes you the focal point of their year. "If we can just beat Michigan, well, things will be better." Who does Michigan get this with? This is not a complaint, mind you, it comes with the territory. But you cannot ask Coach Rodriguez to "embrace" this rivalry like Jim Tressel for a very simple reasons. Tressel's fans demand that the rivalry not only be embraced, but be lived in, worn as a second skin every waking moment of every day, and dreaming of beating Michigan in his sleep. Michigan fans want Rodriguez to never lose to anyone who considers us their rival.
It is impossible to be all things to all people. He's a football coach, not the great and powerful Oz. You start to fix things by winning one game. Maybe if he does that, people will say he's embraced the rivalry, simply because he won. Winning changes everything. Start changing things Saturday and see what the world looks like on Sunday.


PaladinQB said...


Reed said...

This all goes back to Tressel saying what he said at the basketball game right after he was hired. He didn't really say much - just "you'll be proud of 'em". Then he won a game he probably shouldn't have, and the comments were retroactively glorified. But so what? Rodriguez can plant a flag in the earth to make the rivalry everything, but it's not going to help him if they lose. And, let's be honest, they're probably not going to win. His opportunity to look foolish greatly outweighs whatever he would gain by "backing his shit up."

I hardly think Rodriguez is thinking, "well, this game isn't any more important than Eastern Michigan." He knows the score.

Anonymous said...

Not buying this take at all!

Bo did something in EVERY practice for tUoOS. Bo also had to deal with Moo U. and ND.

I'm not on the fire RR bandwagon but it would serve the guy to NOT say that tUoOS is just like any other game.

Craig Barker said...


Allow me to clarify a few points.
1). Saying "Bo did" is like saying "Fielding Yost did". While it's a nice thing to point to, it's a completely different era in the game. By the way, Bo didn't have to deal with Penn State and he didn't have to deal with Notre Dame until the second half of his tenure at Michigan. It doesn't mean we can't appreciate what Bo did, we just need to understand how applicable it is to today's game.

2). How do we know that Coach Rodriguez is not doing something every practice to beat OSU? Moreover, shouldn't there be things that you do every practice that help you beat EVERY team? Wouldn't those be more valuable to building a winning program? Do we presume that Coach Rodriguez isn't doing these things because a). he hasn't spoken of them, and b). he hasn't beaten Ohio State? If it's the former, what purpose does it serve him to talk about it, other than to mollify the fans, who would still demand b in order to be placated. If it's b, well, he's only had one shot, and that was with a 3-8 team last year on the road.

3). I am not saying that Rodriguez shouldn't focus on beating Ohio State, I simply asked, what is the opportunity cost and would Michigan fans be satisfied if the cost of beating Ohio State might be losing to Michigan State, or Penn State, or Notre Dame, or some other team somewhere along the way. It would be fantastic to win every game, and I think that is the overall goal of Coach Rodriguez for the program, to be in a position to have a realistic chance to win every game provided that his team executes. I don't understand what is wrong with that. If that comes with the cost of seeming like he doesn't care about beating Ohio State, I'm OK with that, provided the results show up.

Anonymous said...

I would say Rodriguez, or any Michigan coach, needs to embrace the Ohio St game. Its at the end of the schedule for a reason. Also embrace Notre Dame to an extent, but its in September and its a non-conference game. Act like Sparty and the other Big Ten schools are beneath notice most of the time.