The most telling barometer of Michigan football lives on a Columbus Dispatch website. It’s a counter that reads, “Days since Michigan’s last victory over Ohio State in football.” The tally will stand at 1,826 when the two rivals square off this Nov. 22.
It’s been nearly 40 years since the Wolverines have felt this inferior to the Buckeyes. That was before Bo’s reign, before Desmond and Woodson won Heismans, before Michigan passed Notre Dame as the NCAA’s all-time wins leader. All this glory, without any of the typical grade-fixing scams or payola scandals, has defined the Michigan Man. It made him (and her) believe that only a disciple of Schembechler himself could lead this program, a program that has become itself, well, elitist.
Then Rich Rodriguez came to town. And he’s, well, the opposite of elitist. Proudly so. In a few months, Rodriguez has torched all ties to his home-state school, irked rival Big Ten coaches, run off some players and sparked anger from a former star. Now, with UM’s preseason starting Aug. 4, Rodriguez will finally get a chance to prove he was worth hiring.
An uncanny mix of in-your-face firebrand and aw-shucks charmer, Rodriguez uses his West Virginia twang to spin folksy stories that play well with recruits, their parents and the media. Like the one about the time he wanted to see Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven but let his wife goad him into The Crying Game. His punch line: “I haven’t gone to the movies since.” Or about how, at 24, he became the nation’s youngest head coach, after his boss at Salem (W.Va.) College bought a bar and quit. He even chuckles while recalling how he lost that job a year later when the program disbanded.