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Published: Sunday, 11/30/2008

Controversy dogs UM's Rodriguez

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez walks off the field after losing the final game to Ohio State to finish the season 3-9. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez walks off the field after losing the final game to Ohio State to finish the season 3-9.
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ANN ARBOR - Standing at the podium for his season-ending press conference last Monday, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez was asked if he had heard one of his player's stinging comments following the Wolverines' loss at Ohio State.

"No," Rodriguez began. "Should I have? Is there more drama coming?"

Rodriguez would like to leave behind more than just the losing in 2008. He'd also like to wave good-bye to the controversy, scrutiny and strange situations he's been in the middle of since agreeing to leave West Virginia and coach the Wolverines Dec. 16.

Rodriguez has suffered through problems like an ugly and public legal fight over a buyout clause with his former employer and a nine-loss season at UM - the worst in school history.

Mixed in between were brush fires like trying to give an incoming freshman the coveted No. 1 for a jersey number or doing away with season-long team captains. Those issues seemed to grab as many headlines and dominate an equal amount of Internet chat rooms.

"There was a lot of big deal made out of little mouse doo-doo," Rodriguez said.

Controversy is usually present when a traditional power such as UM goes 3-9 and misses a bowl game, especially as the season evolves from bad to worse. Since the Wolverines lost 21-14 to Northwestern on Nov. 15 in their second-to-last game this year, Rodriguez has dealt with the following flare-ups:

•Receiver Zion Babb was kicked off the team for repeatedly violating team rules, while defensive tackle Jason Kates and safety Artis Chambers left the program.

•Rodriguez said he wanted to tell angry fans who say or write hateful things about football players and coaches on blogs to "get a life." His comment took on a life of its own.

•Quarterback Steven Threet, UM's starter for most of the year, had a separated shoulder and couldn't play against Ohio State. Still, questions were raised about why Threet was left home for the trip to Columbus, even though he went with the Wolverines to Minnesota despite having a concussion.

"What do you want him to do, stand out here and be cold?" Rodriguez said.

Right tackle Stephen Schilling was also out against the Buckeyes with a sprained knee, but he traveled to Columbus and stood on the sideline.

•Not only did the Wolverines get into a heated exchange with the Buckeyes before the game, but they were bickering amongst themselves in the first quarter. They were forced to burn a timeout because of a problem with defensive substitutions, and linebacker John Thompson and safety Charles Stewart were seen yelling at coaches.

Stewart had to be restrained at one point during the timeout.

"Some of the coaches left right after the game to go recruiting," Rodriguez said Monday. "But I will talk to them about it."

Following that 42-7 loss to Ohio State, Rodriguez openly questioned whether he'd continue to be as forthcoming with the press, wondering aloud if fewer words would lead to less drama.

But he backed off.

"As coaches we're in the public life, so we have to realize that." Rodriguez said. "It's a big boy world, so I understand that. I mean, I've been there for a little bit. It does make you, I guess, want to be a little more reserved at times. That's not my personality.

"I mean, I want to be open and honest and transparent. We'll be that. I'll continue to be that. Doesn't mean I don't get ticked off when somebody writes something that ain't true. That's what happens."

There are more possibilities on the horizon for controversy, especially if Rodriguez decides to fire an assistant coach or a high-profile player elects to transfer. But what the coach is really hoping for while he tries to rebuild the program after a disastrous season is a little peace and quiet.

"Nothing on that ESPN ticker, no statements on he said, she said," Rodriguez said. "No drama on lawsuits, you know, accusations. I mean, it was absolutely ridiculous. And y'all know it."

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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