Factions within the Family

           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.

Rich Rodriguez: Beleaguered

Rich Rodriguez: Beleaguered

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).

The Old Guard

Champions of the Old Guard

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.

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5 Responses to Factions within the Family

  1. Courtney M says:

    You raise some interesting points in this blog, and I like how you included in the title “Family” because here at Michigan, that’s exactly what our athletic community is. I am a student-athlete, and I know that we all take extreme pride in our athletics. We boast phrases like, “The team, the team, the team”…”The Leaders and Best”…I could go on forever. This is what makes the hiring of Rich Rod so strange… We have a tradition of hiring a “Michigan Man” to coach our football team, and I think it goes without saying that former coaches at Michigan upheld this tradition. But Rich Rod? I know someone who was a part of the athletic medicine staff at WVU when Rich Rod coached there, and he said this guy acted the exact same way there too. I guess I’ll never understand what we were thinking in hiring him, but it’s clear that Rich Rod didn’t fit into the “Family” here at Michigan.

    Also, just a little side note… John Bacon used to be highly supported by our athletic community, but he said some pretty controversial and derogatory things directed at the athletic department in this book, and it wasn’t received very well. He made a lot of people upset, and unfortunately his comments caused many people to draw back their support for him.

  2. Justin says:

    I think the Old Guard constituted a faction much more than Rich Rod supporters constituted a faction. Surely, the Old Guard was rooting for RR to fail, and subsequently rooting for Michigan to fail with him at the helm. They were adverse to the interests of other citizens (Michigan fans) and the common good of the football program (winning). Everyone else, on the other hand, including RR supporters, simply wanted the team to win. I don’t think those not in the Old Guard and those who were neutral towards RR wanted Michigan to lose, so the status quo was seemingly a desire for Michigan to win (duh). RR supporters weren’t adverse to the status quo in this instance, so they weren’t a faction.

    But then, of course, what’s-his-name gets fired and Brady Hoke wins ten games. And no more factions exist. Perhaps Madison never realized, but it seems to me as if the easiest way to control a faction’s effects is to simply win a lot football games… and beat Ohio.

  3. allenle2011 says:

    This was a very interesting way to look at Michigan football, and the downfall of the infamous Rich Rodriguez. I completely agree that the Old Guard was a faction. They were a group of people bound together by common interest adverse to the status quo. What I think would be interesting to look at as when this Old Guard faction began to voice their dissatisfaction with Rich Rod. I say this because I am almost 100% positive that Lloyd Carr, a member of the Old guard, had a hand in the hiring of Rodriguez. So when did Carr begin to root for the failure of the same man that he helped to get hired?

    By the time the Gator Bowl rolled around last year, it was not just the Old Guard that created a faction against the status quo. A large number of Michigan fans were actually rooting for Michigan to lose because it would be “a means to an end”. Essentially, a bowl game loss would seal the fate of Rich Rod. Michigan fans rose up in faction because they wanted to see the beginning of a new era of Michigan football. They wanted to see a TRUE Michigan man lead us to victory.

  4. mkay2209 says:

    I think miswain is spot on by defining the Old Guard as a faction. They wanted Rich Rod to fail because he wasn’t their ideal, traditional coach. But it makes me ask, what did Michigan achieve by having this faction upset the new status quo?

    We gained Brady Hoke and a 10-game winning season. I don’t agree 100% with what happened during the Rich Rod era, but I do think Michigan, as a football program, will be better off with Hoke. Granted, I haven’t read Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football (it’s on my holiday reading list), but a coach, especially at such a prestige program, needs support from the entire Michigan community. Rich Rod never had this, and this is why Rich Rod failed. I don’t think just the faction had to do with his short fall.

  5. tremble53 says:

    I disagree with the fact that you believe that these factions caused failure. The people against RR were very adamant from the beginning but that had no influence on the outcome. In fact had RR been able to win games here all would have been forgiven. RR could not win games at Michigan thats it. It is a fact that factions within a fan base are cured by winning. The RR supporters and those against him at the beginning would have all fell into one group had he won some more games. If you follow college football closely you would recall a certain coach being booed by fans as he got off his plane shortly after being hired. Thats right, fans showed up at the local private airport to voice their displeasure with the hiring. Who was that coach you might ask? And how soon was it before he was fired? That coach was none other than Gene Chizik head coach of Auburn. A few short years and a National championship later the man is a god to Tigers fans. He can now do no wrong. This was also the case with Dabo Swinney at Clemson. Fans were irate over the hire. Taking to every blog covering the ACC to complain. Now after a couple of years, an ACC title and a orange bowl birth all is right. The fact is that wins talk in college football. Thats it plain and simple. If Coach Hoke were to have gone 6-6 or 5 – 7 there would have been people coming out of the wood work telling us he was under-qualified or that we should have gotten Harbaugh. The fact of the matter is when things are going well factions are quieted. This is the case in the NCAA and on Capitol Hill. If RR was able to win games here the factions would have fallen apart and he would have become an adopted Michigan man. Factions are reactionary to a bad situation. Especially in college football when things are going well all are silent and happy. Either way I’m glad Brady is here and am looking forward to January 3rd. Go Blue.


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