It’s been a rough ride for Michigan fans. Coach Rodriguez came to Michigan with high expectations, but his first season ended in bitter disappointment.
Many fans expected a much better second season, and certainly a 4-0 start seemed to show that things were heading in the right direction but the Wolverines were stung by a disastrous second half at Illinois and slid to a 5-7 finish making it two consecutive seasons without a bowl appearance.
The faith that many fans had that Rodriguez could turn things around has been shaken.
What can he do to turn the tide?
Winning will heal many wounds but that will have to wait for next season.
Here are some suggestions for Coach Rodriguez to start mending fences with the Wolverine faithful.
1. Stop referring to Michigan as “…one of the top fifteen or twenty programs in America.”
Seriously, do you know how this sounds? Every time you make a comment like this you’re flipping Wolverine fans the bird. I’m not sure you mean to but that’s how it comes across. We believe that Michigan is THE top program in America.
We expect you to act as though you believe that this is THE best job in America.
Start drinking the kool-aid or begin packing. You need to sell yourself to the fans not the other way around.
2. Learn your history
We’re not expecting you to recite chapter and verse of Michigan football history (we have John Bacon for that) but you need to a better job of embracing the tradition.
During Ohio State week, when reporters questioned whether you “understand the rivalry” you can’t pause when someone asks you about your favorite UM/OSU memories.
There are those who would say that this isn’t important.
Those people are wrong.
How can you hope to change a culture without understanding an organization’s history? How do you know what to embrace and what to change? The UM/OSU rivalry is baked into the DNA of every Wolverine fan.
Somebody handing you a “Beat OSU” button does not make you an expert on the rivalry.
I used to work with a former VP of Ford Motor Company who was concerned when Alan Mulally was named President & CEO. He was worried that Mulally, being from Boeing, might not appreciate the heritage and tradition that set Ford apart from its rivals. He wrote a letter congratulating Mulally and voiced his concerns. Within a week Mulally sent back a handwritten note, thanking him and making it clear that he had done his homework to understand Ford’s history.
Mulally had a huge job ahead of him, but he took time learn about Ford’s heritage before he began re-tooling the company.
Coach Rodriguez might not give a rip about what happened before he came here, but your fans do.
Get with the program.
RichRod can do a better job of showing that he appreciates the great Michigan tradition.
3. Lower the drawbridge at Fort Schembechler
For the first half of the season, Coach Rodriguez allowed media to attend practice a few times a week. It gave people a chance to gauge the mood of the team and see backup players get work. Then the Michigan Daily printed a detailed description about plays that Michigan was practicing and all of the media was banned for the rest of the season.
As the losses piled there was nothing else for the media to talk about but the poor play during games.
The lack of access contributed to rumors and speculation. Press conferences became more confrontational.
In the context of the Detroit Free Press allegations of practice time violations, Coach Rodriguez should have opened up more practices not less.
When spring practice rolls around he needs to open things up again.
4. Reach out to fans
In small informal settings Coach Rodriguez does very well. Unfortunately, his laid back demeanor doesn’t aways translate to press conferences or formal speaking events. During the off season he should make an effort to get out in the community as much as possible.
Grab lunch at the Union, check out some of the concerts and other events on campus. Sit in on some classes, make a few unadvertised visits to community events.
He still has the opportunity to win people over here. He has the personality to do it, he just needs to make the decision to make it a priority.
He also needs to start using social networking to interact with fans who don’t live in the Ann Arbor area.
5. Take responsibility
Coach needs to man up. Sometimes he implies that the team’s poor performance is the fault of the previous coach not recruiting and/or the current players not getting the job done.
Coach Rodriguez is responsible for the team’s performance.
He needs to forcefully take responsibility and convince us that (1) there is a plan to fix this mess and that (2) he’s responsible for making sure it gets done.
And stop moping through post game press conferences. It’s pathetic.