Monday, March 31, 2008

Wolverine Blogging: And Guess Where He's Headed...

The Rich Rodriguez Experience continues to be troublesome. One that's bending the limits of my sanity even as it tries the boundaries of my patience. The latest disaster to befall under the new coaching regime is that, after a few practices, one of the few returning linesman has decided that he'd rather join several of his fellows and the quarterback in bolting for greener pastures. Word is he might be considering a transfer to Ohio State. Which would be just the ultimate kick in the pants.

Now, I'm not one to say that dissent is not featured in the Michigan Man. I think it's great that people like Harbaugh and Boren not only can speak out about what they perceive has gone wrong with the program, the culture, but that they care enough to actually do it. So, you won't hear me screeching about how Justin Boren has betrayed the University or squandered the sacred trust of the football family.

Nor do I find it all that odd that a player would be upset over the way a new coach handles things. I'd imagine that whatever the change, there are plenty who grumble at the way practices have changed or how the new staff treats them. It's a jarring change to their familiar setting, after all. And if you can't deal with that then you need to remove yourself from the situation. So you also won't hear me accusing Boren of being soft or afraid of getting his hands dirty.

What I will say is that next year looks increasingly like a rebuilding year. The team might be lucky to eke out the 8 wins that looked so pathetic last season. Because the line is incredibly slip-shod now. That's three penciled-in starters gone from the offensive line. Starters who'll need to be replaced by inexperienced freshmen in the depth charts and in need of seasoning second stringers unused to working together in the line. It's a recipe for a lot of missed blocks and getting blown off the line. Of course, you need to have an actual quarterback to block for in order for that to be a problem. Which Michigan doesn't, at the moment, by the way.

This is of concern to me because if there's been one thing you could rely on with Michigan it's been good linesman. With the way scholarships are structured now, there are plenty of skilled players spread around the country. They're not difficult to find and any halfway decent program can come up with a stud running back or receiver. What separates the elite team from the also-rans, the Michigans of the world from the Michigan States, is that the top programs have a monopoly on the blue-chippers on the line. It's those big slobber-knockers, the ones who make all of the plays and get little of the glory, that turn good players at the skilled positions into great ones. And the strength of a first-tier organization is how well it manages to find and recruit them.

At the moment, Michigan isn't doing so well at that. It's not ruin and damnation yet but the experiences of the basketball team should teach us that it's a short step from being a powerhouse program, a perennial contender, to being a mediocre one. And it's a long, arduous step to get back to those heights. All it takes is a few bad seasons to tarnish a reputation. And once that reputations is gone so is the edge it brings to recruiting and retaining players.

Perhaps next year will be the aberration. A necessary step in a long-overdue cleansing, initiated by Rodriguez, that will lead to greater success down the line. But, at the moment, having lost a quarterback, having lost a line, having lost a surefire recruit, and showing no sense of decorum or dignity with the whole contract/lawsuit situation, I have my doubts that the man can pull it off.

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