Friday, August 29, 2008

A New Era Begins at Michigan

It was the evening of January 1, 2008 and I was basking in the afterglow of having just been present at one of the Michigan Wolverines greatest football wins of the past decade. After a season of lows and highs, the Maize and Blue sent Coach Lloyd Carr out with a win in his last game over Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators.

Tomorrow a new era begins at the University of Michigan. Rich Rodriguez will coach his first game for the Wolverines and for the first time since 1969, a non "Michigan man" will be at the helm. I, for one, am more excited about this season opener than I have been in years. Much of that can be attributed to the unknowns. Will the offensive line be able to get the job done? Is the quarterback position going to be a liability? How will the freshmen do? Will the defense be as fast and strong and good as predicted?

Though I'm excited, I'm also nervous. This team could be good enough to go to a major bowl OR they could end up with a losing record for the first time in my lifetime. USA Today has a great feature on Coach Rodriguez and the new beginnings in Ann Arbor. Some highlights from Kelly Whiteside's article:
"New coach. New offense. New stadium. New era, beginning Saturday against Utah. What makes these changes so intriguing is Michigan's status as an unrelentingly successful college football icon. One of the most tradition-rich programs, it is the winningest school in major college football history. One of the significant challenges for new coach Rich Rodriguez is the delicate balance between ushering in change and upholding tradition.
"The perception is that everything has changed. I've heard people say that, 'He's trying to change the culture,' and that's not true at all," says Rodriguez, who was hired from West Virginia and became the first head coach outside the Michigan "family" since Bo Schembechler arrived in 1969. "I'm embracing the culture. Are we running a new system as far as plays and maybe some different training methods? Sure."
There is good reason Michigan revels in its past. It's maize-and-blue history is unmatched: 11 national championships and 42 Big Ten titles; legendary coaches such as Schembechler; distinctive winged helmets; the famous fight song, The Victors; and of course the Big House, which will resume its status as the largest stadium in the country, seating 108,000-plus once renovation is complete. This combined with Michigan's academic reputation and relatively police-blotter-free past have created, depending on your point of view, either an aura or an arrogance. "I think tradition is good," senior defensive end Tim Jamison says. "It just needed a little update."
Others say Rodriguez's fiery on-field demeanor is not much different than Schembechler's. Plenty of parallels between 1969, Schembechler's first season, and 2008 have already been drawn. Those first rigorous practices in 1969 have become legend, causing Schembechler to put up a sign — "Those Who Stay Will Be Champions" — over the doors to the practice field. Rodriguez invited members of that team to speak to his squad about that season. Billy Taylor, a halfback on that 1969 team, left impressed. "Rodriguez is a young Bo Schembechler with a Southern accent," Taylor says. "Rodriguez is a Michigan man in heart."
You can read the whole article here. Here's to a solid performance tomorrow afternoon against Utah. Go Blue!

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