Ducking and Dodging

Michigan head coach in waiting Rich Rodriguez was at his dissimulating, manipulative best when he met the media on Monday in Ann Arbor.

Rodriguez, who declined all comment when asked about the Michigan job during a Saturday press conference in West Virginia, hid behind the tired cliché of "it's in the past" when asked about the process that led him to accept the Michigan job.

Repeating a story he has told the WVU media on numerous occasions, Rodriguez trotted out the scene from the movie The Lion King where the monkey hits the lion over the head. When the lion asks why, the monkey replies, "Don't worry about it. It's in the past."

While many media members laugh at the analogy, it's not one that holds here. Rodriguez, as he has many times in the past, neatly avoided questions about a sorry and sordid affair by giving no comment while it's underway, then trotting out the cliché when it is over.

Perhaps the more telling factor is that Rodriguez has to resort to a Disney movie in order to explain his philosophy – and has to recycle it many times to boot. He was obviously uncomfortable when asked questions about the process that brought him to Michigan, and ducked them in a manner that has become all too familiar with Mountaineer fans and the media that routinely covered him.

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Rodriguez was also dishonest in answering a question about recruiting players that had already committed to West Virginia, or those that the Mountaineers were recruiting. He indicated, without actually denying, that he had not contacted any of those players, and that he was in the process of contacting Michigan recruits. However, at least three WVU commitments and/or recruits have said that either Rodriguez or a member of his staff who is following him to Michigan have contacted them in the last two days. In light of the criticism that Rodriguez leveled at a former assistant coach who did the same thing when he departed West Virginia a year ago, it's not hard to question the coach's apparent change of position on this matter.

The new Michigan man also apparently crossed the line when he introduced his agent, Mike Brown, and noted that he had been "instrumental in the process". However, just two days earlier, Brown was quoted as saying that the meeting between Rodriguez and Michigan officials in Toledo on Friday was "news to him". Those two statements seem to conflict, but Rodriguez was not pressed on that issue either.

Such comments bring anything Rodriguez has to say concerning the move into question. He was obviously ill at ease when talking about leaving West Virginia's players in the lurch, although he did say he was confident they would be able to handle the situation. He noted that he was straightforward with the players, but apparently that didn't include answering questions from more than one player in the brief meeting when he announced his departure and tried to lay the blame at the feet of the WVU athletic administration.

Even more laughable was Rodriguez' contention that he was happy that the entire process was conducted in a "first class manner". Apparently Rodriguez has a different definition of "first class" than most. In his eyes, clandestine airline flights, bullying media with threats to close down press conferences, keeping his superiors in the dark and the refusal to answer questions before, during and after the fact from both the media and players are things to be proud of, and constitute "first class" behavior.

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The final disappointment in this whole saga is the commentary of former West Virginia head football coach Don Nehlen. Nehlen has been quoted in several media outlets as saying "this is a great opportunity for Rich", and leaving the impression that West Virginia was inferior to Michigan. That is just the latest in a long line of snipes from the former West Virginia coach, who let it be known that he was displeased with the way Rodriguez snubbed his former coaching staff when he was hired and the massive increase in pay that Rodriguez received when he came on board.

Nehlen has also been quick to note that West Virginia, under Rodriguez, should have gone undefeated and competed for national championships, insinuating that current WVU teams played far easier schedules than his squads. The comments didn't draw much attention at the time, but they certainly indicated something of Nehlen's state of mind concerning Rodriguez. And it is certainly a reversal of Nehlen's outlook as a coach, when he routinely built up foes like Pacific and Ohio University to look like NFL squads.

At various times, Nehlen seemed none to pleased with Rodriguez, so it must be assumed that relations are now better that Rodriguez has landed the one job that Nehlen wanted throughout his entire career. However, it's disappointing to again see Nehlen cast West Virginia in a negative light.

Certainly, Michigan has a more storied tradition and has achieved much more in football than West Virginia. However, Rodriguez isn't going to be coaching Fielding Yost's teams or the powerhouses of Bo Schembechler – something that Nehlen and many Michigan people are failing to recognize. That's certainly not to say that Rodriguez won't be successful at Michigan. He has the ability to do so. But the idea that tradition is a big reason to move from a program that has had more success over the past 3-4 years? That's as outdated as Lion King references.


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