By Dave Wischnowsky–
Jim Harbaugh’s not coming. And Pat Fitzgerald isn’t either.
But Les Miles still might be. Or maybe it’ll be Brady Hoke, some mystery candidate or, hmm … – the Ghost of Bo Schembechler? – that will be stalking the Michigan Stadium sidelines next season.
Yes, we might not know who will be the next head football coach at the University of Michigan, but we can know this:
No matter the name of the new Big Shot at the Big House, the Wolverines aren’t likely to soar back to their lofty perch atop the Big Ten any time soon.
In fact, if Michigan fans want to know what they’re in for during the post-RichRod era, all they need to do is look in a mirror located about 750 miles west of Ann Arbor.
It’s called Lincoln, Neb.
As I’ve watched with Dark Ages of Michigan Football unfold under Rich Rodriguez’s guidance (or lack therof) during the past three seasons, I’ve been struck with how similar the Wolverines’ current situation is to that of what the University of Nebraska struggled through last decade.
In case you don’t recall the particulars, in 2003, Nebraska ousted head coach Frank Solich following a nine-win regular season and then embarked upon a coaching search that saw the Cornhuskers miss out on their reported first choice (Arkansas coach Houston Nutt) and instead opt for Plan B (Bill Callahan, the recently fired head coach of the Oakland Raiders).
Callahan, who had no ties to Nebraska, came to Lincoln and introduced a foreign offense (the pass-happy West Coast) to aprogram that had traditionally relied – and prided itself – upon another one (the running-focused I Formation). Along the way, Callahan – who again, had no ties to Nebraska – tread upon many of the Huskers’ time-honored traditions and alienated most of the program’s former players from almost from Day 1.
Under Callahan’s reign, Nebraska’s proud defense struggled but its offense set numerous school records. His teams made two bowls, but finally, after four disappointing seasons, the Huskers canned their controversial coach following a disastrous 5-7 campaign in 2007.
Any of this sound familiar?
It should. Because, at Michigan, after head coach Lloyd Carr stepped down following the 2007 season, the Wolverines missed out on their reported first choice to replace him (LSU’s Miles) and settled on Plan B (West Virginia’s Rodriguez).
Rodriguez – who was not a “Michigan Man” – came to Ann Arbor and introduced a foreign offense (the Spread) to a program that had traditionally relied – and prided itself – upon another one (the Pro-Style). Along the way, Rodriguez – who, again, was not a “Michigan Man” – tread upon many of the Wolverines’ time-honored traditions and alienated most of the program’s former players almost from Day 1.
Under Rodriguez’s reign, Michigan’s proud defense struggled but its offense set numerous school records. And, finally, following three disappointing seasons, the Wolverines canned their controversial coach this week after they were routed by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.
The situations at Nebraska and Michigan – two of the most demanding programs in college football – are starkly similar. And, really, with the ill-fitting coaches they hired, the programs have no one to blame but themselves for their hard times.
Nebraska football now is back among the living. But Wolverines fans likely can only hope to experience as quick a turnaround as new Huskers coach Bo Pelini was authoring before Nebraska lost three of its last four games this season to spoil a 9-1 start.
Even with a 30-12 overall record and two 10-win seasons during the post-Callahan cleanup, though, Nebraska fans already are grumbling about Pelini, who hasn’t won them a national title yet.
Or, jeez, even gotten to one.
In Lincoln, Pelini had to cycle out the players that Callahan had recruited to run the West Coast offense, and is still struggling to establish his own (see: this season’s 9-6 loss at Texas A&M). In Ann Arbor, Michigan’s next coach not only will have to cycle out Rodriguez’s offensive recruits – unless he opts to stick with the spread – he also will need to rebuild a defense out of the shockingly porous one that Rodriguez left behind.
For Pelini, the championship-starved natives in Nebraska are restless. But, for the next coach at Michigan – where the win-starved natives already are livid – it will be much worse. And contrary to what Michigan fans believe, the U of M job – with all its pressures and a shoddy roster – isn’t very appealing. And it will not be a quick fix.
No matter what they demand.
Perhaps, on Nov. 19, when Nebraska visits Michigan Stadium, Bo Pelini can tell the Wolverines fans that.
I mean, they’re a reasonable bunch. I’m sure they’ll listen … right?
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.