Rodriguez's bandwagon will roll sooner, not later

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Well, that didn't take long ...

ANN ARBOR -- Think West Virginia would return the buyout and take back Rich Rodriguez?

So wrote Ann Arbor News columnist David Mayo Sunday, the "Mourning After" Michigan's shocking loss to Toledo at The Big House.

Sadly, his voice is not alone.

Welcome to Michigan, Coach Rod!

Not that Rodriguez is doing a very good job of ingratiating himself to the demanding locals. Not by losing to a Mid-American Conference opponent for the first time in Michigan history. Not with the Wolverines looking at maybe a 40-0 spanking at Penn State Saturday and another 40-0 licking at Ohio State Nov. 22. Not with Michigan surely missing out on a bowl game for the first time in 34 years and headed toward its worst season in 46 years.

But giving up on the man after six games?

Please.

"We live in an instant society," Rodriguez was saying over the telephone yesterday. "Everybody wants it to happen right now. So do I. But it doesn't usually work that way ...

"Now we've got to go play at Happy Valley, and they're playing as well as they have in years."

Penn State might win, 50-0.

Won't that make 'em happy in Morgantown? All over West Virginia, for that matter? They still haven't forgiven Rodriguez for bailing on the Mountaineers after their stunning home loss to Pitt Dec. 1 cost them a chance to play for the national championship. They'll never forgive him for that, not to mention the fact their team and program are considerably less with him gone. I mean, have you watched the West Virginia offense this season?

Like him or hate him personally, Rodriguez is a great coach and he will win big at Michigan if they don't run him out of town first. It's only a matter of time. Rodriguez needs to bring in players who are a fit for his unique spread offense, which always seemed to be a step ahead of everybody else's when he was at West Virginia. Getting quarterback Terrelle Pryor out of Jeannette High School in the spring would have hastened the process greatly, but that didn't work out, and Pryor picked Ohio State. That's recruiting. You win some, you lose some.

But delays don't necessarily mean denials.

"I've been through this before -- unfortunately," Rodriguez said.

It's easy to forget that West Virginia went 3-8 in 2001, his first season as the Mountaineers head coach.

"I'm convinced [a turnaround] can happen even quicker for us here," Rodriguez said.

The man has good reasons.

Michigan is a far better, more storied program than West Virginia.

The Big Ten Conference is a much better football league than the Big East.

"It's going to be terrific here," Rodriguez said. "I truly believe that."

That doesn't make these rough times any easier, though.

"No one likes it when 110,000 people are booing you," he said.

The ringing in his ears from the jeers kept Rodriguez up most of Saturday night.

That and the horrid 13-10 loss to Toledo, which came in with a 1-4 record and had been giving up 35.8 points per game.

"I couldn't sleep, of course. I was laying in bed, just thinking about everything," Rodriguez said.

"My wife finally had to remind me that it's not like we have a sick child or been in a tragic accident. We have another game in a week. I'm thankful we have another game."

Rodriguez might not feel that way after No. 3 Penn State gets done with the Wolverines.

Penn State could win, 60-0.

The Michigan offense, with just one returning starter -- a tackle -- from a year ago, has been awful. Rodriguez's biggest need is a Pryor-like or Pat White-like quarterback -- it says here he will get one -- to run his system. The Penn State defenders must be slobbering at the thought of going against an offense that has committed 19 turnovers, most in the Big Ten.

Michigan's defense also has been lousy. It can't deal with spread offenses. "At times, we haven't played as fast as we need to play," Rodriguez said. "Some of our problems playing in space that hurt us last year against [Appalachian] State and Oregon have bitten us again." Toledo wide receiver Nick Moore had 20 catches for 167 yards Saturday. It makes you wonder what kind of staggering numbers quarterback Daryll Clark and the Penn State receivers will put up.

All of this is a little hard to believe, actually.

Penn State is a 231/2-point favorite against a team that has beaten it nine consecutive times.

I'm guessing Michigan still will show up, though.

"The kids have been super," Rodriguez said. "Their attitude has been great. They've never quit on me. I keep telling them that things can turn quickly as long as you stay the course. I believe in what we're doing. I believe in our program. I believe in this school. Most of all, I believe in them."

At Michigan these days, that makes one who does.

Bottom line, big picture?

The Rodriguez bandwagon will fill quickly, sooner rather than later.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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