Over the past two years, the college football world has poked fun at Rich Rodriguez and the University of Michigan football program. Showing he's not overly sensitive to the criticism, Rodriguez was often self deprecating when addressing a room full of people last night at The Pinnacle in Maumee.
“It's good to be invited anywhere,” Rodriguez said, in the first of several zingers that drew laughter from the crowd.
Rodriguez served as the guest speaker of the 48th annual National Football Foundation Wistert Chapter Hall of Fame Scholar-Athlete Awards Dinner. Thirty area high school senior football players were honored for their successes on the field, in the community, and academically.
Prior to the event, Rodriguez sat down with The Blade for an exclusive interview.
The media coverage of your program has been tough. In your opinion, has it been fair?
“That's an interesting question. I've never really thought about it much. You understand it's part of the job. A lot of people say there's so much more media coverage [at UM] but really, at West Virginia, we had quite a bit of media coverage, and good media coverage. As a coach sometimes you say, I don't know if that was really a fair assessment of the situation, but at the same time you have to be thankful that we're having the coverage.”
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You've often complimented UM fans for their support. Are you surprised they haven't been more fickle because of your rocky tenure?
“There's always going to be negatives. I think more than anything people want to win, and they want to win now. That's society, that doesn't bother me at all. We all want the same thing. We all want success and to do things the right way. I'm confident we're on the right track.”
Is it fair to say you hold [sophomore-to-be quarterback] Tate [Forcier] to a tougher standard than other members of the team?
“To be honest with you, we are probably easier on the freshmen than we are on the upperclassmen, so I'm probably going to be tougher on him. I've told Tate as you get older I'm going to expect more out of you. I really think he's done a great job in the weight room the last six or seven weeks, but that's not an issue for him as far as commitment to football. It's everything that's encompasses being a UM athlete. Tate went through some freshmen trials with that and now it's time for him to grow up and go.”
Your new boss [athletic director David Brandon] is a former UM football player. Is that a good thing?
“I think it's going to be a huge plus. I think Dave understands being a student athlete at Michigan and he understands about being a football player. He's been around our program enough the past couple of years that he kind of understands what's going on. I think he's a very sharp guy. I think he's going to do great things for our university and he'll do what [former AD] Bill Martin started and continue on.”
Where do you foresee the three local players — Whitmer's Kevin Koger, Clay's Jordan Kovacs and Wauseon's Elliott Mealer — on the depth chart to begin spring ball?
“I told the team the other day, I don't want you to be concerned with where you're at on the depth chart. I want you to be concerned with getting better fundamentally and to prove that we can win with you. I think Jordan and Kevin have done that in some respects, but we expect them to take another step, and I think they will. Elliott Mealer has taken another step by looking at him in the weight room. All three of those guys are going to have big roles for us in the fall.”
How would you describe your relationship with Ohio State coach Jim Tressel?
“We've got a great relationship. We got to know each other a few years back at various functions. Apparel companies will send you on a little week's vacation — the coaches and their spouses — so we got to know each other there and we both serve on the [American Football Coaches Association] board which is a neat thing to do. I have great respect for him. A few years back he sent his staff over and we visited with them to talk schemes. Obviously at the time I didn't know I was going to be competing with him. He's done a great job. He has a tremendous staff. For us it's a rivalry that we have to get better at. Our players know that and think about it every day.”
What must be done this year to avoid even more negative headlines?
“Just playing better and winning games — that helps a lot of it -— and continuing down our path of building what we hope is the best program in America.”
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