An insider look at the controversial tenure of Rich Rodriguez at one of college football’s most storied programs.
The University of Michigan, college football’s all-time winningest program, has tradition in spades; what it hasn’t had recently is success. Enter Rodriguez, one of the game’s hottest coaches—an apparently ideal match of innovative coach with resource-rich university that seemed to guarantee a championship contender. As Bacon (co-author: Bo's Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership, 2008, etc.) writes, however, what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate to the field. By virtue of Rodriguez granting him unrestricted access to the team, the author offers a behind-the-scenes look as the hallowed program descended into turmoil, including a 2008 season that saw the Wolverines go 3-9, their first losing season since 1967. While some of the reasons for the decline were predictable—a cupboard relatively bare of talent, the inevitable difficulties of implementing his unique spread offense—Rodriguez also struggled to win over key “Michigan Men” through a series of PR gaffes. Bacon’s intimate relationship with the coaching staff and players, combined with his extensive knowledge of Michigan football and the inner workings of the university’s administration, contextualizes the narrative in a way the national press couldn’t during Rodriguez’s stormy tenure, which ended with his firing in January 2011 after the school’s worst bowl loss ever. Rodriguez emerges as a sympathetic figure, a hard-working, salt-of-the-earth coach foiled by self-interested administrators, a fractured alumni base, a media intent on generating controversial headlines and his own initially callous treatment of Michigan tradition. The book’s myopic focus makes it difficult to determine whether Michigan’s dysfunction is emblematic of all major programs, but it’s a fascinating look inside a team whose fans, despite its recent hardships, remain rabid.
A must-read for Michigan fans and behind-the-curtain peekers.