Rich Rodriguez might be using his thumb to hitch a ride out of town soon.

Rich Rodriguez might be using his thumb to hitch a ride out of town soon.

Ugh.

Less than eight hours after I posted my Michigan blog yesterday, more disheartening news came out of Ann Arbor in the form of NCAA violation allegations. ESPN blogger Adam Rittenberg put it best in his report, saying the most troubling aspect of the story isn’t the allegations themselves, but the people who made them.

Former and current players allege that the Wolverine coaching staff not only mandated their athletes to workout well beyond the time alloted by NCAA regulations, they also covered up these infractions by telling the players that the extensive workouts were in fact permitted by the NCAA, although they most definitely weren’t.

This is another example of what some involved in the program believe to be a rift between coaches and players. Since coach Rich Rodriguez arrived in Ann Arbor, a discord has grown in the locker room. Rodriguez upset alumni and former players right off the bat by bringing in a whole new staff and doing away with several long-standing Michigan traditions, most notably doing away with team captains for the season, and instead appointing different captains for each game. After his first season at the helm that saw UM reach a new record of futility, he also told overcritical Wolverine fans to “get a life.” But the most serious black eyes have come from those who have just got up and left town. Several players and recruits abandoned UM citing an “eroding of family values”, as one offensive lineman put it. He than abruptly transfered to hated rival Ohio State.

Pot, meet kettle.

Of course, the players spoke out on these workout violations spoke on condition of anonimity, a tactic not only cowardly, but childish. To play devil’s advocate on behalf of the coaching staff, when someone is accused of wrong doing, they should at least be granted the right to know who the accuser is. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that these allegations, if proven to be true, will add another blemish to a program mired in uncertainity and

Some will try to play it off, saying that most NCAA programs tend to push the limits when it comes to workouts and practices, but Michigan has never been like most programs. In the 20 years that I can recall following Wolverine athletics, the football team has never been cited for major infractions. There was always a certain aura of pride in doing things the right way, opposite of the current “win at whatever cost” philosphy. The term Michigan Man was coined to describe guys like Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr. I don’t think Rodriguez quite fits in to this category.

Now, with this coming out and depending on what the NCAA does, the football team could very well be heading down the same path as the basketball team did a decade ago after the fallout of the Bill Martin scandal. It was a long uphill battle for the hoops squad to become relevant again, and the fact that the football team is already on shaky ground after RichRod’s disasterous initial campaign does not bode well.

Any optimism for the upcoming season has now been swept under the rug, much like the coaching staff allegedly attempted to do with these training transgressions. If the product on the field does not significantly improve from the past season, the cries for RichRod’s ouster from Ann Arbor will only grow louder.

Here is to a hot seat that just became hotter.

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Coach Rich Rodriguez leads Michigan out of the gates in his second season at the helm.

Coach Rich Rodriguez leads Michigan out of the gates in his second season at the helm.

Opening day for college football is right around the corner, and as a sports nut and a devout fan of Michigan football, this is usually the time of the year that excites me most. But for the second year in a row, questions and concerns swirl around the once-proud program. Instead of hopes of competing for a conference championship and national title, the Wolverines just hope to be competitive in each game, something that they could not achieve last year when they hit rock-bottom and set an all-time record for futility.

3-9. First losing season since the 60s. The nation’s longest consecutive bowl streak snapped. First ever loss to a MAC team. These

Things  will be better this fall, but not by much.

Once again, the keys to the offense will most likely be handed to an incoming freshman. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are highly-touted athletes, but it remains to be seen how quickly they can make the jump from high school ball to the big stage of powerhouse college football. Not only is there a big difference in the talent level, every aspect of the game is faster, louder, harder, more intense and more intricate. The offensive line should be improved, led by four seniors highlighted by Stephen Schilling, which will help whatever fresh-faced kid coach Rich Rodriguez throws under center. The running backs and recievers will be solid, but there is no visible playmaker or go-to guy in the clutch. Or at least none of stepped up to fill that role yet.

Even a bigger question mark will be the defense, which last year was supposed to be the anchor of the team, but instead gave up more points throughout the season than any other Michigan defensive unit did before them. Running attacks gashed the front seven and passing attacks cut the secondary apart on a weekly basis. There are few bright spots, however, in end Brandon Graham and linebacker Obi Ezeh, both who should be up for All-Conference honors.

The only player garnering any All-American attention heading into the season is punter Zoltan Mesko, who did make the Playboy team. I will say that again – the best and most consistent player on team is the punter!

A lot will be known after the season’s first game against Western Michigan, but if memory serves me right, Michigan did not fare well in its last opener to a MAC team. The Broncos have a star quarterback in Tim Hiller who will pose problems for a defense that will be searching for its identity early in the season. If WMU pulls of the upset, it could be a long, cold fall for Wolverine fans. A victory over their I-94 rivals could give the Maize and Blue a huge confidence boost heading into the following week’s matchup with Notre Dame, who are poised to finally have a breakthrough season after going through their own growing pains. This matchup looms large for both squads and will be a make-or-break game.¬† The last time the Irish played in Ann Arbor, they failed to score a point and turned the ball over six times. But both teams are vastly different now, and both teams seem to be heading in opposite directions. ESPN analyst and former Irish coach Lou Holtz actually has pontificated that ND will play for the national title. But anyone who follows college football even in the slightest knows that a) this will most likely not happen and b) Holtz is a kook.

The schedule actually lays out well for Michigan, with eight home games on the slate, including contests against conference heavyweights Penn State and Ohio State on friendly grounds. If the Wolverines can get out to a quick start in non-league games and pick off a team or two on the road, a bowl game is a certainity. But on the flipside, tripping up early would have awful consequences for a team that needs its confidence and its wits about them to have any hope of having a winning season. Being on the front end of a .500 record would prove to be a successful campaign for most fans, but traditionalists are accustomed to playing for a Rose Bowl year in and year out, and anything less than double-digit wins is a disappointment.

Prediction: 7-5, 4-4 conference

Sorry for the absence…

August 26, 2009

Brothers

Brothers

Well, its been nearly six weeks since my last post to this blog and I apologize to all my loyal leaders (if I have any). I will do my best to make sure that I do not disappear for an extended period of time again. But a lot has happened in that time span. Most notably, my older brother, Shawn, tied the knot on August 1st in the Upper Peninsula, a gorgeous backdrop for what was undoubtedly the most important day of his life.

It was another step in the maturation of who has become one of my biggest role models. As I had mentioned in my Best Man speech, he and I did not get a long all that much when we were younger. We tormented each other constantly, which would eventually lead me to me getting my ass kicked. But as we grew older, things began to change. The difference in age will always be the same, with he being four years my elder, but our maturity levels began to match up throughout the years, and we both figured out how important and wonderful one was to the other. He and I have a lot of different characteristics, in fact we don’t really have all that much in common. I am laid back, to a fault in some regards, where he is high strung. He prefers to constantly be on the go, whereas I like to relax. I enjoy heavy metal music and horror movies, he prefers radio hits and slapstick humor. But we make it work, and we rub off on each other in some aspects. He is an accomplished cook, and that is something that I love as well. He takes great pride in creating a spectacular meal (and I take great pride in wolfing it down). He loves to entertain guests, and I think I get that from him.

It was all put in perspective during the wedding though, when I realized how great he is, as a man and as a brother. I thought the waterworks might be turned on during the nuptials, but instead I just had an ear-to-ear grin the whole time. I was so proud of him. He is smart, successful and loyal. And I know he is lucky to have finally met someone he can call his own, someone he can spend the rest of his days with, someone to grow old with. We should all be so lucky. And he knows how lucky he isas well, and that has humbled him. The woman he married, Megan, is a beautiful and intelligent lady who has a great family, one that I am now happy to be part of.

The two of them have been very supportive of me during my ardous move to Chicago. They have been there every step of the way, providing advice, financial assistance, laughs and the occasional shoulder to lean on. I don’t know if I am a burden on them as a young couple, but I am grateful for what they both have done for me. I hope down the road that I can pay them back somehow. And I also hope that in the future, I can be as lucky as he is.