Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Rodriguez's Display Causes U-M Football to "Jump the Shark"

There’s a term used in the circles of television called “Jumping the Shark.”

Simply, it’s the moment, whether because of a singular episode or a cumulative effect, when a television series loses its mojo and proceeds on a nosedive to irrelevance or embarrassment—or both.

The phrase was coined after “Happy Days” aired an episode featuring a leather jacketed Fonzie water skiing, jumping over a shark. The legendary show was never the same after that ridiculous sight.

So, from that point forward, “Jumping the Shark” became the dreaded designation for any long-running, successful television show that lost its way.

Or football programs that have lost their way.

The University of Michigan football program, I fear, had its “Jump the Shark” moment last Thursday night, in a banquet hall in Livonia.

How fitting, this time, that they call the Wolverines’ annual football banquet, the football “bust.”

It’s the most talked about football banquet around these parts since Lions coach Buddy Parker walked off the dais and off the job, quitting in August, 1957 at the team’s annual pre-season function.

U-M coach Rich Rodriguez, in his clumsy, ham-handed attempt to ingratiate himself with the Wolverine faithful, instead brought the program to the national forefront as a big, fat, maize and blue joke.

The desperate plea by Rodriguez that he wants to be a “Michigan Man,” the hand-holding, the biblical quotes, the swaying back and forth while “You Raise Me Up” played in the background—it all added up to staining Michigan football for untold years to come.

The display confirmed what I’ve suspected for quite some time—that Rodriguez puts himself first.

The term I used on “The Knee Jerks” podcast a couple weeks ago was, “Rich isn’t in the bunker with these guys.”

And that was before what happened in Livonia last week.

From a strictly etiquette point of view, the football bust wasn’t the time nor the place for Rodriguez to make a spectacle of his tenuous job security. Everyone from Miss Manners to Dear Abby will tell you that the bust is an event to highlight the positives that happened during the season. It’s a feel good event, designed to temporarily forget the program’s ills.

It’s not a job interview. It’s not an audition.

It’s not about the coach.

A true “moment,” one that you treasure, would be a player—or players—making impromptu remarks of support for the coach.

Not a contrived, choreographed, syrupy display that makes people reach for saccharin.

Michigan football has jumped the shark. What happened last Thursday night in Livonia won’t go away anytime soon.

You don’t think they’re laughing in Columbus? In East Lansing? In South Bend?

The U-M football program is spinning its wheels, led by a good, round coach in a square hole.

It’s not that Rodriguez is a bad coach—it’s that he’s a bad coach for Michigan. And there’s no shame in that.

There’s no shame in going to a big time program and things not working out. Good people have failed in all sorts of situations, where it turns out that it’s not a good fit.

Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon almost has a freebie here. He’s barely been on the job and he’s already being hit with what could be the defining moment of his tenure. But he, in a way, has a freebie.

I haven’t been one to espouse the firing of Rodriguez. My feeling is that by doing so, you’re likely to set the program back a couple years before things start getting better again. But, I have also said, if the Michigan fan base is willing to do that, then God bless them.

Jim Harbaugh, Stanford’s coach and as Michigan Man as it gets when it comes to available coaches, is out there, the white elephant in the room. Harbaugh is Les Miles all over again.

Then-AD Bill Martin fouled up the Miles-to-Michigan courtship by having the gall to tell the former U-M assistant that he’d have to go through the interview process like any other candidate.

But Miles wasn’t just any other candidate, and he became offended by the notion that he was. Miles told Michigan where they could stick it, and he remained at LSU.

Brandon has his Les Miles now in Jim Harbaugh.

Brandon has a freebie, as I said, because he can make this very easy on himself. Brandon didn’t hire Rodriguez; letting him go wouldn’t be an admission of his own poor judgment.

Brandon could take the high road, buy Rodriguez out, declare that he appreciates everything Rodriguez has done, and simply say that it didn’t work out. Brandon should also mention that he’d be making the move for the “long-term” good of the program—code for “we’re taking a step back to hopefully take two steps forward.”

Who could find fault with such an approach?

Even the pro-Rodriguez people would be hard-pressed to be aghast, because a new AD bringing in a new coach is hardly considered as being reckless.

Let’s wipe the slate clean, Brandon could say, and let’s heal this program.

Let’s not become Notre Dame, which has been wandering around in the woods for almost 20 years now.

Rich Rodriguez didn’t do himself any favors last Thursday night. He didn’t do his kids any favors. And he didn’t do the program any favors.

All he did was put the school high on Google and YouTube searches, and for all the wrong reasons.

Michigan football has taken its hits in the past three seasons. Some of it has been on Rodriguez, some of it hasn’t.

But it took no bigger, more embarrassing hit than it took at what should have been another humdrum, routine, end-of-the-season football banquet.

U-M football has jumped the shark. Heaven help them now.

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