As we now know, that move didn’t pan out. While Rodriguez looks back fondly on his three tumultuous seasons at UM – he was fired on Jan. 5 after compiling a 15-22 record – he says that reflection is mostly to learn from his mistakes, to follow his former players, and to scout the potential 10-win team he’ll be talking about on the CBS Sports Network, where the 48-year-old Rodriguez works as a college football analyst. We spoke with Rodriguez about his past, current and future jobs.
What was going through your mind last weekend, watching your former quarterback Denard Robinson lead that late charge at the Big House?
I felt a lot of pride. But there was also a sense of frustration. I was sitting there thinking, “gee, I’d still love to be coaching there.” To be honest, it’s hard to watch Denard and some of those guys, because I feel like they’re mine. But I know, in the end, they’re Michigan guys. At the end of the day, they’re like your kids: You just want them to be healthy and happy. So to watch Denard have such a big smile on his face – it makes me happy that he’s happy.
If you could do it again, what would you do differently at Michigan on Day 1?
I thought I had done enough research into the school. I also went into it very open-minded as far as who I would hire, particularly on the support staff. But given a second chance, I would have asked more questions before my first press conference, and I would have kept asking questions after the first two, three days on the job instead of assuming, “well, this is the way we have always done it. It must be OK.” You know what happens when you assume.
There were, of course, those NCAA rules violations for failing to comply with practice time rules. Were you surprised that Lloyd Carr didn’t extend an olive branch, so that you’d have a better handle on things?
He was probably thinking, “I just want to stay away from it. They have a new coach, let him do his thing.” We tried to get him involved, but with retired coaches, they want to get away a bit. That’s why they retire. But they also want to feel that they’re always welcome back.
Nine months have passed since you were fired. How do you feel about your three seasons in Ann Arbor?
I still get frustrated, and I haven’t shied away from saying that. We fought through a lot of stuff for three years, and pushed forward because we knew we were going to have a lot of fun, win a lot of games, and do everything to win championships. I’m still convinced it was headed that way – it was just taking longer than a few people wanted it to.
We watched you interview your successor, Brady Hoke, during the national signing day coverage on CBS Sports. Did you reach out to Hoke after his hiring?
We actually talked on the phone that day. I said, “hey, if you ever need or want to, just give me a call.”
So you think Hoke has a 10-win team on his hands?
He’s all set up for it. I said that my first spring. I said to the president and the athletic director, “I’ve done this before. It’s going to take three years.” They just said, ‘Well, keep reminding us of that.” I did, but I guess it was too late.
Will you return to coaching?
There’s a lot of things that have to line up first. It has to be the right opportunity and the right fit. It would be somewhere where they want my system and they’re going to have everybody pulling in that direction. That’s crucial. If everyone is pulling in the same direction, even if you’re not at a big-budget school, you’ll have a shot.
When you make a comeback, which coach do you want to face the most?
Coaching against Penn State’s Joe Paterno was a thrill, but I never beat him. If you ever coach against a legend and get a win, that’s a notch on your belt, so I’d go with him. Joe is one of my friends, but I never got that win against him – I did as a player but never as a coach.
PSU won’t play WVU anytime soon, but would you consider a return to Morgantown?
I never close the door on anything. That’s my home, and they’re primed for success now and in the long term. When we were doing well at West Virginia, it was because we had everyone pulling in the same direction. At the end, one of the reasons I left was because I had some disagreements – no, not disagreements – different philosophies on whether others were still moving in the same direction that I was.
Sounds like a fresh start may be in order.
To be honest, I’m hoping my next job will be my last in college football. Somewhere I can coach for 15 years, turn it over to some young guy, and let him go.