Late Monday morning, Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez paced himself. Calmly, he moved into a large room of the Junge Family Champions Center, stepped to the podium and began to address the media.
“Normally I don't bring notes, I kind of speak what's on the top of my mind. But I did write a few notes down here for obvious reasons,” he said.
Rodriguez reminded the media of why he was there. It was supposed to be an exciting day, as they normally are in college football programs across the country. Full of optimism and excitement, the first game week press conference of the season normally comes as a jubilant celebration.
“I want to talk the majority of the time about Western Michigan,” Rodriguez said.
That didn’t happen.
Question after question flowed in about the allegations. Like a broken record, Rich Rod confidently spoke on the situation, despite his previous commitment not to.
He attempted to talk about the Broncos. He discussed the three-man quarterback situation. He talked about WMU’s own stellar signal caller in Tim Hiller. He talked about Bronco head coach Bill Cubit, and his gritty play calling against Rodriguez when he was at West Virginia and Cubit was the offensive coordinator at Rutgers.
But the inquiries kept coming.
Those lingering questions consumed the morning, bled over to the afternoon, and still remained a top story in the evening. The Rich Rod teary-eyed sob will likely go in the second tier of famous coach breakdowns at a presser, along with the likes of UConn men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun’s “Get Some Facts” flame up and U-M women’s hoops coach Kevin Borseth attacking a podium.
Hey, folks. There’s a game to be played Saturday. And unlike the past, this game against the Western Michigan Broncos is no tune-up.
The Broncos already displayed strong evidence of why it can win this matchup way before Sunday’s allegations broke. Coming off a nine-win season, WMU played in its second bowl game in three years last winter.
Despite losing some of its top contributors, the Bronco offensive line is among the most experienced in college football. Hiller, returning from knee surgery, is poised to be among the nation’s top quarterbacks… and that’s considering the likes of Florida’s Tim Tebow, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, and Texas’ Colt McCoy.
Now, the Broncos will enter Michigan Stadium to face a team in disarray.
Granted, fans of the Brown and Gold should not expect a fluff team in its opponent. This is a hungry team coming off its worst year in school history. It has a lot to prove, and a lot of motivation to succeed.
But one can’t help but think this is a distraction, considering the game has been put on the backburner.
For the doubters, it was evident on Monday. Reporters told that players would not address the situation, and were asked not ask questions on the matter. But the persistent members of the media pressed the issue, and the players cracked—against the instruction of the university.
Lineman Mark Ortmann said he felt the team was not overworked and even thought the incident was laughable. Linebacker Obi Ezeh talked about staying focused and eager to play football.
But perhaps the most interesting of them all was lineman David Moosman.
Listed at 6’5” and 293 Moosman displayed the stereotypical look of a big ugly in the trenches. Hair uncombed and grizzled beard covering his face, Moosman looked like a tough, battle-tested athlete ready to handle the pressure.
But instead, Moosman admitted that Michigan athletic director Bill Martin had addressed the team. He informed the interested ears in the room that he had talked openly to the school about the situation, and all players were expected to do the same.
The awkward feeling in the room was, quite frankly, indescribable.
Enter Western Michigan. Forgotten about and slipping under the radar, the team has never knocked off U-M (0-4 all-time). For a mid-major school on the up-and-up, this is the one shot it has at making a namesake.
And everyone has already forgotten the team will be in Ann Arbor this weekend.
Fans, friends, students and alumni of the University of Michigan should feel proud of their school. Saturday will mark the beginning of the 130th season of program history. The new renovations at Michigan Stadium, which included fancy luxury boxes, will debut as well.
Instead, it seems fans have decided to accuse reporters of trying to smear their coach, insulted naysayers and question the intelligence of anyone who disagreed.
Maybe it’s time to focus back on the football. After all, the wins may come at a premium once again, and it may be weeks away until the Rich Rod defenders are the ones calling for his head the loudest.