ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan fired coach Rich Rodriguez on
Wednesday, ending a disappointing three-year tenure marred by
embarrassing losses and NCAA violations at college football's
Athletic director Dave Brandon announced the decision after
meeting with Rodriguez on Tuesday and again Wednesday morning. He
said the two had an "open, honest and direct exchange."
"Michigan is not used to this," Brandon said.
"I believe this is the best decision for the future of Michigan football. We have not achieved at the level that
Rodriguez, who was the coach at West Virginia before arriving in Ann Arbor, finishes 15-22 at Michigan. Rodriguez was 6-18 in Big Ten play, 11-11 at home. The school can buy out the final three years of his contract for $2.5 million.
"I am proud of the dedication and commitment exhibited by the coaching staff and student-athletes who have represented the University of Michigan football program over the last three seasons," Rodriguez said in a statement issued Thursday. "While I am disappointed to depart Ann Arbor before we were able to reach the level of success we had in our sights, I am confident that the players who remain have the potential to do great things and to return the Wolverines to greatness. I would like to thank our fans and our student body for their tremendous support. There is great passion for Michigan football and I have made lifelong friends through this experience."
Brandon said he will immediately begin a national search for a
replacement amid speculation that Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, a
former Wolverines quarterback, and former Michigan assistant Brady
Hoke, now San Diego State's head coach, are possible candidates.
Brandon said he has talked with Harbaugh and "will continue to
talk" with him.
"I personally believe that Jim Harbaugh is headed to the NFL,
that's my opinion," Brandon said.
The San Francisco 49ers met with Harbaugh for five hours Wednesday, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported.
Harbaugh has declined to comment about the Michigan job and a Stanford spokesman would not say whether Michigan had asked for permission to speak with him. His brother, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, said he thought "the Michigan thing is done now."
"I think that's over. I don't think he's interested in doing that," he said Tuesday on WBAL radio in Baltimore. "That's hard for him because he loves Michigan."
Meanwhile, LSU coach Les Miles, who was pursued by Michigan before it hired Rodriguez to replace Lloyd Carr, said Wednesday he has had no contact from the school about becoming coach at his alma mater.
During a news conference for the AT&T Cotton Bowl, Miles said he was there to "speak about LSU" and its game Friday against Texas A&M.
"Michigan will be fine. They'll always be Michigan," Miles said.
Brandon said a candidate with head coaching and recruiting
experience would have an edge in the search, but he didn't set a
deadline for making a decision.
"My timetable is: Go fast, but do it the right way," Brandon
Rodriguez was not available for comment after the decision was announced. Rodriguez and his son drove away from Schembechler Hall at 6:45 p.m. EST.
"It's really hard on all of us," defensive tackle Mike Martin said before a private team meeting.
It didn't get easier inside a somber gathering in which both Rodriguez and Brandon addressed the players.
"What would you expect the atmosphere to be like when you lose a member of your family?" defensive tackle Dominique Ware asked reporters.
Rodriguez's final season was pivotal and it didn't go well on or off the field.
The Wolverines won seven games and a berth in the Gator Bowl, but he could only stand by helplessly on the sideline on New Year's Day as
Mississippi State handed them their worst bowl beating -- a 38-point
Quarterback Denard Robinson couldn't consistently make the
sensational plays he did during a jaw-dropping start to the season.
And Michigan's young defense, which ranked among the nation's
worst, was overmatched again.
"There's a thought of getting a defensive-minded everything,"
Brandon said when asked if he was looking for a coach who
emphasizes defense. "I want the ball boys to be
Rodriguez finished 7-6, losing six of the last eight games. The
improvement wasn't enough from his 5-7 finish last year and the
Michigan-record nine losses in his debut season in Ann Arbor.
He was 1-11 against ranked teams and 0-6 combined against rivals
Ohio State and Michigan State.
The season had clearly weighed on Rodriguez.
He surprised supporters and his players at the team's postseason
banquet when he broke down and cried, talking about the toll his
job had on his family, then quoted the Bible and Josh Groban and
played a song from the musician in a surreal scene.
"I don't think Rich Rodriguez has had a peaceful night sleep
since he arrived in Ann Arbor," said Brandon, who was lured to
Michigan a year ago from his job as chairman and CEO of Domino's
Pizza. "I think that his three years here ... can somewhat be
defined as three years of turmoil. It seems like it was one thing
after another. It clearly impacted recruiting. It clearly impacted
the positive energy that the team needs to be successful. It
created a lot of hardships and a lot of distractions.
"Clearly, we need to put ourselves in a position where that is
Michigan's former athletic director, Bill Martin, hired Rodriguez away from West Virginia after the 2007 season in a messy divorce. The school Rodriguez had played for and rooted for as a kid had extended his contract a year earlier, and he didn't want to pay a $4 million buyout. Michigan eventually agreed to pay West Virginia $2.5 million, leaving Rodriguez to take care of the rest.
Rodriguez didn't inherit a roster full of talent
from former coach Lloyd Carr. Quarterback Ryan Mallett transferred to Arkansas
and offensive guard Justin Boren left for Ohio State, making his
transition even more challenging.
The Wolverines took pride in winning with class and by the rules
for three-plus decades under Bo Schembechler, Carr and Gary Moeller.
Under Rodriguez, the program was hit by the kind of news it
Just before the 2009 season, anonymous players told the Detroit
Free Press that the Rodriguez-led program was exceeding NCAA limits
on practice and training time.
"We know the rules, and we follow the rules," an emotional
Rodriguez declared a day after the report was published. He
insisted the off-field "drama" didn't affect his team.
The school later acknowledged that it was guilty of four
violations. It was put on three years of probation, though
Rodriguez and the school avoided major penalties in part because
the NCAA agreed that the coach didn't fail to promote an atmosphere
and compliance in his program.
Still, Paul Dee, chair of the Division I infractions committee,
compared the coach's role to that of being captain of the ship.
"The coach is ultimately responsible, but that doesn't mean
that the coach is involved in all of the activities that
occurred," Dee said. "Some of the things that did occur did not
get all the way to the coach, but ultimately, the coach bears a
responsibility for the program."
Rodriguez is widely considered one of the architects of the
spread offense that has become the rage in college football,
creating his version of three- and four-receiver sets at tiny
Glenville State in 1990.
Rodriguez recruited two freshmen who could lead his offense --
Robinson and Tate Forcier -- and they helped the 2009 team get off
to a strong start that put Michigan on the cover of Sports
Illustrated. His defenses never kept pace.
Toward the end of the collapsing 2009 season, Rodriguez took a
few not-too-subtle shots at Carr and his staff in terms of
recruiting talent to Ann Arbor.
"The last three Februarys, or four Februarys, have hurt us a
little bit," Rodriguez said. "The next two or three Februarys
will be very critical. That's where it starts."
Rodriguez might've been willing to fire his second defensive coordinator, Greg Robinson, and let the new hire run his own assistants and scheme to keep his job. But he didn't get that chance.
"Rich is a good person and coach," Brandon said. "It's
unfortunate that it didn't work out at Michigan, but I'm sure that
Rich and his staff will find opportunities at other institutions."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.