Various thoughts about the week that was:
1. The Freep was officially wrong.
The NCAA agreed with Michigan's appeal of the charge of "Failure to maintain an atmosphere of compliance," lowering the charge to "Failure to monitor." This was the big one as far as Rich Rodriguez is concerned. Speaking of atmosphere, the one around the program suddenly "did a 180." Finally, after all of the negativity involving the program, they got positive news from the NCAA.
Of course, the Freep didn't see it that way, but pretty much everyone else in the media did. That constitutes a major victory, not only for the school, but for RR. Many hold his job security in question, but I don't, and I think the decision handed down this week "iced" it for RR being able to stay and finish what he has started at Michigan.
More on RR later, but the best part of the whole thing was when Dave Brandon spoke of the need for an apology from the Freep. He may not have named them, but it was obvious who he was talking about. Brandon knows that the Freep fabricated much of their "evidence," and that Rosenpuke's hatchet job was just that: a hatchet job.
2. A Big Win at the Big House.
If there was ever a time for Michigan to pull off a big win, it was this week. Fresh off of the good news from the NCAA, the team won a wild one against Illinois in a game that had a higher score than each of the last three basketball games between the two schools. This game had everything that ESPN Classic likes: lots of points, lead changes, big plays, and a thrilling OT finish. We may see this game on ESPN-C for a long time if we are lucky (and Illinois isn't).
This was a game of vindication. The team proved that it wasn't going to have the same record as last year. Tate Forcier came off the bench to lead his team to victory against a team that trounced him last year. Most of all, the defense came up with a big stop when it really, really needed one. And it "only" allowed 14 points to Illinois in the last half of regulation: seven of them resulting from a Tate Forcier turnover deep in his own territory.
If the school gave game balls to everyone who deserved one, the Freep would probably call it a major NCAA violation.
3. RR does the right thing: again.
Last year against Iowa, RR pulled quarterback Tate Forcier in the fourth quarter. There was no information available during the game, but RR was roundly criticized for it after the game. It turned out that Forcier had sustained a concussion, but some so-called "fans" still ragged about it for the rest of the year.
Fast forward to yesterday: RR pulled quarterback Denard Robinson from the game in the fourth quarter. There was no information available during the game. Unlike last year, Michigan pulled this game out, and RR won't be criticized for it. But the reason was the same: Robinson was exhibiting concussion symptoms, and RR held him out for his own safety.
RR has been a lightning rod for criticism since he arrived in Ann Arbor. One of the most common criticisms both the media and the fanbase like to level at him is that he is a "win at all costs coach." For them, I have one question:
Is there any other coach in America who would have made the same decision in crucial games where his job status could be on the line not once, but twice?
AFAIC, most coaches would have found a way to get the star QB back into the game with some bogus question to "prove" that he was OK.
Other coaches talk about family atmosphere, and how the health and safety of their players is paramount, but RR walks the talk. RR wants to win as much as anyone on the planet, but he won't compromise the well-being of his players to do so. I can only hope that the same "fans" and media that have trashed him for almost three years will finally give him credit for being the kind of man and coach that he is.
4. About that job status...
I think it can be safely said that the "RR hot seat" rumors can officially be put to rest. Michigan has shown improvement this year despite the woeful lack of age and experience on defense. He has built the offense into a potential video game, and has rebuilt the team in his own image, laying the foundation for Michigan to truly arrive in the currrent millenium.
Hopefully, the so-called "fans" who have been bitching and whining about RR ever since it became evident that he couldn't snap his fingers and turn Threet or Sheridan into bona fide D-1 QB's in 2008 will finally give it a rest and stop their chronic complaining. RR is here to stay, and the school will be much better off for it, possibly as early as next season.
5. What: me defense?
Defense is a question that will be answered during the off-season. GERG's days at Michigan may be numbered, or he may get a pass for having to play so many new players this year. At any rate, they played a lot better when they were allowed to be more aggressive yesterday. The play that saved the game was the old "jailbreak" (at least that's what they call it at MSU) blitz. Almost everyone rushed the QB, and someone got to him before he could hit a wide-open reciever in the end zone.
While most fans, even the most loyal and learned, seem to think that GERG's dismissal is a fait accompli, I am not so sure yet. The defense does have four games left to improve enough to justify keeping him. "Only" allowing Illinois fourteen points in the second half and making the key stop in OT indicate some improvement to me. We will see how it plays out.
6. David Brandon is THE MAN.
During the season, and especially this week, David Brandon has shown the strong leadership skills that got him the AD job at Michigan. He has come out with strong statements regarding RR, the NCAA investigation, and the Freep this week. I have no idea what he is going to do in the offseason, but I do trust that he will make the right decision. It seems like the athletic department is finally in good hands again.
It is about time.