Defection, missed recruit among UM's Rodriguez woes


ANN ARBOR - It has rained all spring on new Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez, and that's odd considering the Wolverines have been relegated to practicing indoors.

But at seemingly every turn during Rodriguez's first spring camp at UM, there has been controversy or bad news waiting for him.

As the Wolverines get set for their final intrasquad spring scrimmage today at Saline High School, here's a rundown of the headaches Rodriguez has experienced, in no particular order:

•Perhaps his best, or at least most established returning offensive lineman, Justin Boren, abruptly left the program, citing "eroded" family values.

•Terrelle Pryor, the western Pennsylvania prep star and top quarterback recruit who would fit perfectly into Rodriguez's spread-option offense, chose Ohio State over UM.

•Campus-wide construction forced the team to practice mostly in the university's cramped, outdated field house. Only recently have the Wolverines been able to work outdoors at area high schools.

•At least two Big Ten coaches have publicly questioned

Rodriguez's recruiting ethics since he took over the Wolverines. Purdue's Joe Tiller called him a "guy in a wizard hat selling snake oil," and last week Ohio State's Jim Tressel said the Big Ten gentlemen's agreement in recruiting was applied "only between gentlemen" - which many understood as a jab at


•And, of course, there's the ongoing legal fight with West Virginia, Rodriguez's former employer, over a $4 million buyout clause the coach is refusing to pay.

"I'm trying to get out of the news," Rodriguez told reporters recently. "A lot of it has been things that haven't been pleasant. Let's just talk about the positive things and Michigan football. All that other drama is like National Enquirer-type stuff."

Unfortunately, Rodriguez's on-field life hasn't been easy, either. He's trying to install a completely different offense from the one the Wolverines ran under Lloyd Carr, and he only has three or four returning starters - depending on who you consider a starter - since Boren left.

His top two quarterbacks - Steve Threet and Nick Sheridan - have yet to take a snap in college football, and Threet has suffered an illness and a thigh bruise this spring. Running back Carlos Brown missed most of the spring because of a broken finger suffered lifting weights, a development Rodriguez called "probably the biggest disappointment of the spring."

His defense is returning seven starters but is also learning a new scheme, and Rodriguez frets when the defense so much as gives up first downs to his young-and-rebuilding offense.

Rodriguez also has been open about his program's lack of depth at several positions, about flu-like symptoms that affected several players, and about all of his players' struggles to adapt to new strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis' ambitious program.

But Rodriguez is trying to change what has been perceived by some as a culture of complacency at UM, and he knew his first year on the job would be difficult.

"Everything is new. There's a lot of different ways to do things and our way is sometimes different from someone else's way," he said. "It's like you're dealing with all freshmen. The program is what it is, and I'm not auditioning for the job or asking for opinions on it. I've got enough coaches and people that help me to implement it, I've got enough players who are buying into it. I'm never going to lose sleep on guys who don't want to work or be pushed to another level, but gosh it goes slower than you'd like as a coach.

"But we've got time. Hopefully we'll get it right by August 30th."

That's UM's first game under Rodriguez - at home against Utah. By then he will have settled on a quarterback between Adrian High grad Threet, Sheridan, or true freshman Justin Feagin (or maybe not), put together an offensive line, and settled on the portions of his spread-option scheme he thinks his young team can handle.

For now, all any outsider will have to go on is today's scrimmage. Media members are among the lucky few invited to watch the scrimmage because of the small capacity of Saline High's stadium. The event is closed to the public.

All eyes will be on Threet - if he plays - and Sheridan to see who is ahead in the competition between quarterbacks, and on the offense in general to see what gains have been made in picking up the new scheme.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, isn't putting much stock in the scrimmage.

"Saturday [is] probably the least important of all the practices we have, basically a scrimmage between offense and defense," he said. "We'll evaluate it and see who makes plays and plays hard, but as far as a teaching tool, we'll miss that day from a teaching standpoint."

UM's last practice of the spring will actually be Wednesday, when the coaching staff is expected to go over things it wants the players to work on over the summer.

They have until Aug. 30 to get it right.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

or 419-410 5055.