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It's hard to feel sorry for Rich Rodriguez

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, whom Maryland fans know pretty well from his days at West Virginia, said something earlier this week I thought was pretty timely (at least for this blog), considering my post yesterday about Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen and some of the criticism he has faced over the years.

Rodriguez, who is in the middle of a humiliating rebuilding season in Ann Arbor, let some of his frustration slip when he was asked, in the buildup to the Ohio State game, about some of the criticism he has been getting from Michigan's fan base. This year, for the first time since 1974, the Wolverines won't be going to a bowl game, and thus far Rodriguez looks a little out of his league despite all the success he had with the Mountaineers.

"It's amazing some of the things that people would say [on a message board] or yell at you of a personal nature," Rodriguez said. "You almost want to tell them, 'Get a life.' ... There's a whole lot bigger problems. Look at the economy."

Rodriguez is factually correct, I suppose. Certainly the state of the economy is a larger issue than the state of Michigan football. Although it would be pretty ridiculous if the financial crisis suddenly became a shield for any kind of tough questions in the world of sports. Can you imagine?

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Reporter: So, Coach, what happened on that disorganized drive in the fourth quarter?

Football coach: Man, how can you criticize us for failing to score a touchdown when the American auto industry is on the verge of declaring bankruptcy and the housing market is is shambles? We should be talking about Detroit dragging its feet on fuel efficiency standards, not blown assignments and poor play calls!

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Reporter: OK, Coach, what's your opinion on the role that credit default swaps played in today's game?

What Rodriguez is probably getting at, at least I assume, isn't that criticism in general is unfair, but that criticism that's of a personal nature might make you want to tell someone to "get a life."

Fans do have a right to voice their opinions, and any coach with a shred of common sense understands that. Fans criticize, at least for the most part, because they care a lot about the sports they follow. If we didn't care that much, people like Rich Rodriguez wouldn't get paid millions and millions of dollars to teach college boys where to line up and whom to block. There are certainly more important subjects to be passionate about.

(Instead, we could be fill up M&T Bank Stadium with 70,000 people every week to cheer or boo a famous author depending on whether he offered up a worthy follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize-winning debut. "You stink Philip Roth! We ought to trade you for Michael Chabon!")

Passion is the currency that funds sports. It's why we buy HD televisions, pay for tickets, hats and jerseys, and seek out reporting, analysis and commentary about our favorite teams.

It's hard to feel sorry for Rodriguez, even if he does feel like the criticism at Michigan has gone over the top. Rodriguez wanted the Michigan job because his salary, the facilities in Morgantown or the number of people willing to fawn over him were never quite enough at West Virginia. If you want to coach at a school like Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, Florida or LSU, you can't cry when the fans have high, and even unrealistic, standards. You knew exactly what you were signing on for.

Rodriguez could have been a god at West Virginia, his alma mater, but his ego wanted something more. He shopped around his services to the highest bidder, all the while declaring he was a Mountaineer for life. Now, the task of implementing his scheme at Michigan has turned out to be tougher than he thought it would, and he's not thrilled about taking all the heat. (Can't imagine he's a big fan of this site, FireRRod.com, which counts down the days until Les Miles' LSU contract expires.)

It always made me smile a little that Rodriguez thought Scott McBrien wasn't much of a quarterback when he took over for Don Nehlen at West Virginia. He more or less ran McBrien out of the program, and did so in a way that McBrien refused to talk about years later.

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McBrien walked on at Maryland and, without ever publicly uttering a harsh word about his former coach, he whipped Rodriguez three straight times, including a 41-7 humiliation in the 2004 Gator Bowl in which McBrien threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another. Rodriguez looked utterly perplexed that day in Jacksonville trying to explain what had just happened.

If nothing else, both then and now, Rodriguez makes you believe in the idea of sports karma.

Photo: AP


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