In his new book entitled Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football, author John Bacon highlights the struggles that Rich Rodriguez faced during his failed tenure as head football coach here at Michigan. Anybody in this state with half a brain understands the prestige of our storied, tradition-rich football program. Anybody who’s paid attention over the past few years is aware of Rodriguez’s blatant disregard for that tradition (allowing a defensive back to wear the fabled #1 jersey, his persistently foul language, etc.). This created a chasm between the “Michigan Men” traditionalists and the Rodriguez supporters who welcomed the coach from mysterious West Virginia; along with his mysterious new state-of-the-art offensive system. Detroit News sportswriter Wojo provides good insight to the circumstances surrounding his tenure & dismissal.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the sector, college athletics is just as tainted as American politics: Money talks while winning trumps observance of common sense (See: Ohio State University, Penn State University). Bacon writes that Rodriguez was figuratively pinned up against the wall by more-or-less xenophobic (and wealthy!) Michigan alumni/donors who were afraid of an outsider (a Hillbilly!) leading Michigan’s gilded football program. Bacon argues that the presence of this group, coupled with other outside distractions made it difficult for Rodriguez and his players to focus on winning football games – the only thing that could have potentially saved his career at Michigan. In making this argument, he brings up the term “faction” on multiple occasions.
Madison’s definition of a faction, which we tweaked to put into terms of class discussion, comes out as: a group of people bound together by a common interest; adverse to either 1) the interests of other citizens or 2) the existing good/common good/status quo/conventional wisdom. Did Rodriguez supporters constitute a faction? We could have a contentious debate over that, but I for one don’t think that Bill Martin went out looking for somebody who would revolutionize the program. I think the Rodriguez hire was a product of ineptitude and laziness on the AD’s part. Like it or not, this new face on the program became the status quo. By cheering for Michigan like an average fan, you’re cheering for the common good, for the coach to be successful.
Let’s look at the Old Guard, who actively advocated for Rich Rodriguez’s failure. Madison speaks of members of factions being united “by some common impulse of passion,” (168). He goes on to describe the causes of faction “being sown in the nature of man….A zeal for different opinions concerning…speculation of practice…have in turn divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other, than to cooperate for their common good,” (169).
Sabotaging the common good. For some common impulse of passion. Sound familiar to anybody? Madison also cites the various and unequal distribution of property as a common source of factions. Indeed, money and pride are the reason that these powerful alumni wanted to flex their muscles and show that they had as much of an impact on the program as anybody.
When decision time came last winter, a pro-Rodriguez faction was making its argument clear (“Just give him another year to turn the defense around and we’ll win a national championship!”). Athletic Director Dave Brandon had to do something to close the divide, and quickly. In the end, he ignored Madison. Extending the sphere? Suppress them with representatives? Both options are impossible to do in the business of college football. Instead, Brandon decided to extend his (Old Guard) viewpoint to be accepted by everybody. He would get dissatisfied Rodriguez fans to shut up by hiring somebody who he thought could win. He made a brilliant, gutsy decision by hiring the personification of everything that Rodriguez wasn’t. The Old Guard was happy with this new gamble.
Eleven months later, everybody is happy. And Dave Brandon is having the last laugh – what used to be his faction is now the norm. On his first full day as head football coach, Brady Hoke said something to Drew “Fair and Balanced” Sharp that sounded arrogant. But ten wins later, we wear that arrogance as a badge of honor – because This is Michigan.