Rich Rodriguez looks to deliver wins

It probably wouldn't take Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez very long to compile a list of the 10 worst things that have transpired during his first two seasons coaching the Wolverines.

"A top 10 list of bad things?" Rodriguez asked, during this month's Big Ten Kickoff in Chicago. "If I thought about it, I probably could do it. But why put yourself in a bad mood?"

Rodriguez hasn't experienced many happy moments since he bolted West Virginia, his alma mater, for Michigan after the 2007 regular season.

With an 8-16 record in his first two seasons with the Wolverines, Rodriguez heads into the 2010 season under more pressure than perhaps any other coach in the country.

"There's probably been a few more challenges than I thought there would be, but it's our job to get through them," Rodriguez said. The Wolverines open the season against Connecticut at Michigan Stadium on Sept. 4.

With apologies to David Letterman, here are some events that might be included in a potential Rich Rod's top 10 list of bad moments:

• After Rodriguez was named Michigan's coach on Dec. 17, 2007, West Virginia sued him for $4 million for breaching his contract there. The sides eventually settled, with Michigan agreeing to pay $2.5 million and Rodriguez paying $1.5 million.

• The Wolverines went 3-9 in Rodriguez's first season in 2008, the worst record in school history. Michigan didn't play in a bowl game, ending the school's 33-year streak of playing in the postseason, the longest such streak in college football at the time.

• Michigan finished the 2009 season with a 5-7 record, including a 1-7 mark against Big Ten foes. After starting the season with a 4-0 record, the Wolverines lost seven of their last eight games. Michigan suffered 25-point defeats in consecutive weeks, losing 35-10 to Penn State at home and 38-13 at Illinois.

• Under Rodriguez, the Wolverines are 0-2 against rival Ohio State, losing 42-7 in 2008 and 21-10 in '09. Rodriguez has a 1-5 record against Michigan's three biggest rivals: Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State.

• In August 2009, Rodriguez and his business partners were sued for $3.9 million for defaulting on a real-estate loan for a condominium development near Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium. Rodriguez's lawyers argued he was the victim of a Ponzi scheme.

• In May, Michigan announced it was self-imposing a two-year probation for alleged rules violations committed under Rodriguez's watch. The NCAA accused the Wolverines of five major rules violations, most of which accused Rodriguez and his staff of failing to comply with practice time requirements.

• Earlier this month, West Virginia announced it also has been accused of five major NCAA rules violations, which were allegedly committed from 2005 to '09. The alleged violations concerned practice time and the number of coaches providing instruction under Rodriguez and current coach Bill Stewart.

Take me home, country roads? Not quite.

West Virginia is hardly the place Rodriguez belongs now, after he was ostracized by many in his home state for leaving for Michigan.

And the upcoming season might determine whether or not Michigan is the right place for him, too. Rodriguez's spread offense was considered a radical change for the Wolverines, who were best known for their rugged running games and defenses under former coaches Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr.

Despite the hardship, Rodriguez said he doesn't regret leaving West Virginia for Michigan. During his seven-year tenure with the Mountaineers, Rodriguez guided his alma mater to five consecutive New Year's Day bowl games, including a 38-35 upset of Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl.

In his final season at West Virginia in 2007, the Mountaineers were one victory away from playing in the BCS National Championship Game. But top-ranked West Virginia lost to rival Pittsburgh 13-9 in its regular-season finale. Rodriguez left before the Mountaineers played (and beat) Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

Wouldn't it have just been easier for Rodriguez to stay at West Virginia?
"Life is too short to be playing that 'what if' game all the time," Rodriguez said. "The last two years, there's been a lot of stuff going on, and a lot of it hasn't been enjoyable. But there have been some enjoyable things, too. We enjoy where we're living and my kids like their schools. We just need to start winning more games."

Dave Brandon, a former chairman and CEO of Domino's Pizza, became Michigan's athletic director on March 8. Brandon didn't hire Rodriguez, but he doesn't expect Rodriguez to deliver in 30 minutes or less, either.

In a speech to the Detroit Economic Club on Wednesday, Brandon told the crowd he didn't have a benchmark for how many games Rodriguez would have to win this coming season to keep his job.

And Brandon said Rodriguez's future wouldn't be determined by on-field results alone. Brandon said he would evaluate the school's football program in everything from recruiting to academics to player behavior.

"This crap about what's the record got to be? It reduces those decisions to something so simplistic it's almost insulting," Brandon said Wednesday, according to the Detroit Free Press. "When you're the director of athletics and you're looking at any program, not just football, any of our 27 sports, you have to look at [everything]. You get a variety of inputs to measure the health of that program and the leadership that program is receiving and based on a variety of inputs, you make decisions. That's what I do and anybody in my job does. But it isn't this, 'if you're 7-5 …' That's nonsense."

The off-the-field problems probably haven't helped Rodriguez's cause, though. Michigan prides itself on doing things the right way, and the ongoing NCAA investigation probably stings its proud fan base as much as any loss to Ohio State.

It might be a few more months before Rodriguez can finally put the distractions of an NCAA investigation behind him. Rodriguez and other Michigan officials appeared before the NCAA committee on infractions in Seattle last weekend. Michigan previously admitted it broke four NCAA rules, but is challenging the NCAA's allegation that Rodriguez failed to "promote an atmosphere of compliance."

"The first thing I have done and will continue to do is I support my coach," Brandon said Wednesday. "I respect the position of Coach, I respect the challenges of the job and I respect him and I defend him and I support him in every way I can. I did in Seattle. I have publicly. I have privately."

Brandon said he will support Rodriguez during the coming season, too.
"Rich Rodriguez is the coach of the University of Michigan football team, and he's working extremely hard," Brandon said. "He cares, it's as important to him as anybody to get this program to the level we all want it to be at. He doesn't need me to remind him how important that is, he knows how important that is. My job is to provide him with resources and the support and the encouragement that he needs to be successful, and that's what I'm doing."

At the end of the day, though, Rodriguez knows he won't find happier days without more victories.
"I'm proud of the way our family has handled everything," he said. "That's kind of my salvation, when I get home and we're all back together again. Those are the enjoyable times."

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. He co-authored Bobby Bowden's memoir, "Called To Coach," which was published by Simon & Schuster. You can purchase the book here. You can contact Mark at schlabachma@yahoo.com.