Thursday, July 17, 2008

Rich Rodriguez wasting no time changing culture at Michigan

Read an article this morning from ESPN The Magazine about Rich Rodriguez, who's taken over at the U. of Michigan. Some key points/excerpts:

- He connects with people: An uncanny mix of in-your-face firebrand and aw-shucks charmer, Rodriguez uses his West Virginia twang to spin folksy stories that play well with recruits, their parents and the media.

- He expects you to work hard in order to improve. As word spread that Rodriguez was leaving West Virginia to take the Wolverines job, Mountaineers safety Ryan Mundy, a Michigan transfer, started getting frantic calls. And Mundy told all 20 former teammates who called the same thing: "Be prepared to run. Everything's way more up-tempo. If you're not willing to bust your ass, you should leave. But if you stay, you'll love it."

- He won't hesitate to make changes to the team's environment: His first order of business was gutting Michigan's strength program. Out went the machine-based system that had been in place for four decades. In came an Olympic lifting program (cost: over $1 million) geared toward improving core strength and hard-wiring bodies to make explosive movements.

- He motivates in creative ways that reinforce his message: Rodriguez...invited members of Schembechler's first team to speak to his squad. When former All-America linemen Reggie McKenzie and Dan Dierdorf detailed the radical change they endured—and later embraced—it stunned the current team.

- Bring energy: New strength coach Mike Barwis, a former MMA fighter, also encouraged the players to loosen up. "Barwis likes you to be loud in the weight room," says [Michigan DE Tim] Jamison. "All the time, high energy. He's brought more fun into it. He doesn't want you to be uptight."

- He likes a sense of urgency: The tempo change was dramatic. "If Bo [Schembechler] could see these practices, he'd love it," says Jim Brandstatter, a lineman on the 1969 team. "It's eerily similar to the culture shock when Bo took over. They're being physical. They hit. They wear pads every day." Among the new Michigan mandates: Practices double as conditioning (no walking—even linemen sprint into stances), and a QB is live in drills until he proves in a real game that he can handle pressure.

- Don't take criticism personally; it's about improving: Rodriguez isn't shy about cursing, especially if someone doesn't hustle or makes the same mistake twice. "Rod cusses. A lot," says former NFL QB Shaun King, who played at Tulane when Rodriguez ran the offense there. "He takes some adjusting to. I hated his ass at first." Says Michigan wideout Greg Mathews, "You have to learn how to not take it personally."

[Blogging from Athens tonight. Today, we visited the Olympiacos soccer stadium. The Olympiacos club team has an amazing complex. Looking forward to the FIBA games tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday.]