Mailbag question: Coach Rod and "Passion"


Posted at 8:00am — 4/13/2010

Mailbag question: Coach Rod and “Passion”

Hey guys,

I thoroughly enjoy the website, and I am happy to be a part of such a passionate and committed fan base.

On some of the other websites there has been some rumblings that the coaches, and possibly even Coach Rod in particular, can be too critical on kids, and/or overly abusive, which in part creates a negative environment. Furthermore, some people say that it is not the “Michigan way,” and could even be the reason for some of the recent losing.

Have you guys ever seen anything like what I described above in your dealings with the program? How do you find Coach Rod and his coaches’ demeanor to be in practice? Are people taken aback by him just because he is different from Carr, or is some of the concern justified? What is your philosophy on dealing with kids, can being hard on them toughen them up or just break them down?

Just a note, I really like Coach Rod, and desperately want him to succeed, so I’m not trying to stir the muck. I just want a trusted insiders’ perspective.


Dave C.

Go Blue!


Thank you for the question and the comments, others may not write about your concerns, but with the first year publicity accorded Coach Rod’s practice history, perceptions and stereotypes all across the nation remain, whether accurate or not.

There are members of our GBMW staff who have been around Michigan football and Michigan practices since the Bo days.

All four coaches (Bo, Mo, Lloyd and Coach Rod) would undress players when necessary. Nobody was tougher on players than Bo. He would “fire” players and coaches during practice sessions.

All coaches want hard-nosed players commonly given the metaphor of made out of rock. Like the rock cycle, coaches can take a player and melt him down or harden him up, or both. Like the rock cycle the processes involved in coaching and molding are ongoing and change daily.

Concerning communication tactics, there are many schools of thought on how to successfully deal with and communicate with players. Anything from Father Flannigan to Attila the Hun and everything in between has been attempted in dealing with players to achieve better performance. The purpose of building or melting must never become personal, however.

Some teaching and communication methods have centered on the dominating psychological school of thought in vogue during the time a coach underwent college preparation, with the overriding intent of the future coach to teach and coach as a life’s work. In the 1950’s to the 1980’s, the behavioral model was dominant, not only in coaching but also in how students were taught and disciplined in schools. This approach was rooted (and still is) in changing human behavior. To be short, a coach provided a stimulus that should evoke a desired response from the player. Negative and positive rewards became embedded in coaching styles, along with the earlier stimulus-response that somewhat predated behaviorism.

The dominant school of psychology is now the cognitive school, where mental processes, thinking skills, and reflective thinking are the hallmarks for changing behaviors and associated performance through better brains. This is all well and good except for the basic realization that football is still largely stimulus and response behavior. And so the modern coach has melded both approaches regarding teaching the game and discipline.

But humans are not so easily managed, and so another argument in dealing with players has evolved. Shortly stated, this argument placed in opposition the question of a coach’s consistency in dealing with various players. Should a coach treat everyone in perfectly equal accord, showing predictable and consistent coaching behavior; or should a coach surrender to the realization that humans are different and instead deal with players in different manners, in essence the old carrot versus the stick argument?

By the way, this quandary still exists for coaches and when things go south, players and other involved parties frequently offer up differing treatment of players as a negative to employers.

And so Dave, the question of player treatment will not go away, it will evolve with policies from employing bodies, but it will not go away. Making judgments about coaching strategies and what is vocal necessity (shouting, etc,) and what is negative or demeaning are really in most cases in the eyes of the beholder. Some look upon Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes as models, some as villains.

What players should expect and appreciate are clear expectations and guidelines from the coaching staff and reasonable adherence to said primary, capstone guidelines. There is always room for individual variance of player treatment on minor day-to-day issues regarding common communication or practice circumstances. The best coaches have a sense of how and when to do things that work and are referred to as master psychologists. Some major programs place great emphasis on building “proper” player psychology.

And now let us enter the discussion about Coach Rod and his comparison to Carr that naturally entails the perception of others towards Coach Rod and previous coaches.

Coach Rod is on record as saying you need “thick skin” to play or coach in this program. He is critical of his players and coaches when he believes it necessary to get the most out of them. This is not unusual, although the modern climate has probably positioned some of this typical player/coach interaction more into the private realm. Notice how calculated NFL coaches are when addressing players in a critical manner at a press conference. Rarely do such comments nowadays appear to be based solely on emotional outbreaks, but instead are premeditated to send a message.

Early in his Michigan tenure, Coach Rod’s verbal spouts quickly became news, and his use of “colorful” language quickly became well documented. Going back to the early spring practices when Coach Rod first arrived, one can see how his use of language and associated verbal and physical techniques at practice grabbed headlines. Like everything else in the fluid world of headlines, the press has moved on to other events.

Our experience and connections clearly and without hesitation inform us that Coach Rod now conducts practice in a more “non-controversial” style. Simply put, we all here believe that Coach Rod is more comfortable with the practice progress, players, and the entire general setting, and in short he has simply calmed down. We have noticed a clear difference in the practices we have been able to witness since his arrival. Is Coach Rod an intense, fiery competitor? Hell yes he is, and we think this is a good thing. Just because Coach Rod has left some of the sailor language in the coaches’ office, do not get the false impression that he is ready for a calm existence in a monastery. Coach Rod is intense and there is indeed urgency in his approach. In short, he is like most college head football coaches.

Coach Rod does indeed have a passion for coaching, and he is in charge of the Michigan program, that is the bottom line reality.

The processes used for program development and the final product arrived at are up for discussion along the way, not only at Michigan but also with very program.

The Michigan fort mentality (very closed door, small insider number, and closed mouth mentality) had its advantages, but once the fort approach ceased, the result was certain to be pent-up negativity from many who were not part of the fort regime. So in reading the various sites over the last few years, one can sometimes (not always) see which side of the fort mentality the authors/editors or other contributors placed an anchor upon.

The difference in the above schools of thought has been referred to by some as “Old Michigan versus New Michigan.”

And so predictably two factions, neither really strong, and both being stereotyped and pigeonholed, have evolved. One faction has been labeled “Old Michigan.” This faction “allegedly” is upset with the hiring of an “outsider,” especially one with the mannerisms and current (while at Michigan) success level of Coach Rodriguez. This faction by some accounts “allegedly” has people in places of power and influence that take glee in sabotage and negativity. This may be true.

The other faction is labeled “New Michigan.” This faction “allegedly” has taken great joy in the retirement of Coach Carr and in the process became very critical of his manner and success (perceived to be a lack of success). Further, this faction appears to be very protective of Coach Rodriguez to the point of anointment, for the sake of change, and labels anyone not “all in” or skeptical in any way has program haters, to be dispatched to never-never land. This also may be true.

Certainties are needed for good discussion. The most important certainty is that Coach Rodriguez is the current coach of the Michigan program and he has clear differences with historical predecessors, from press conferences to recruiting, to schemes on both sides of the ball. Like every other coach who ever put a whistle around his neck, Coach Rod has learned and adapted, and that phenomenon is going on right before our very eyes.

A second certainty is that any schism is counterproductive. There are always differing opinions, and such natural variance does not count as a schism. It (a schism) is only when two or more competing agendas power play with sufficient intensity to cause a true and visible rift. When the pressure and the ante increases to the breaking point, one faction will “win” and one will “lose,” but damage will have been done. At this current time Michigan needs to repair any tectonic cracks from the immediate past and not open a schism to the breaking point.

We here love the questions pertaining to the Michigan program and discussing the ramifications that such questions bring. This site appreciates what all the former coaches of Michigan have accomplished and the legacy that has been solidly put into place.

This site also contends that Michigan needed some change in important program areas. There is little true debate here as to the role of change, but the amount of change (tune-up versus a cash for clunkers total overhaul approach) will be debated and discussed. Expectations and results will be discussed. What constitutes success will be discussed. This is the way of human nature, especially from a group of individuals (major university football programs) that have a large attachment to the Michigan football program.

Well Dave, you got a little more than you bargained for in this response, but we hope you and all the readers were engaged in and thought about the contents contained in the material above.

We at GBMW love the Michigan family, especially All our Children in the football program. We hope that their coaches are indeed A Guiding Light that protect against the Edge of Night in what has become The Days of Our Lives.

One final note:
You can tell a big difference from this years practices to the first years. Everybody we have talked to have said the samething as well and your not walking on egg shells like you was the first year. The players and coaches seem to be having fun and a good time. The first year it seemed like a warzone.

Written by GBMW Staff

Go Blue — Wear Maize!