- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 5, 2011

ANN ARBOR, MICH. (AP) - Michigan fired coach Rich Rodriguez on Wednesday, ending a disappointing three-year tenure marred by embarrassing losses and NCAA violations at college football’s winningest program.

Athletic director Dave Brandon announced the decision after meeting with Rodriguez on Tuesday and again Wednesday morning. He said the two had an “open, honest and direct exchange.”

“I believe this is the best decision for the future of Michigan football,” Brandon said. “We have not achieved at the level that I expect.”

Rodriguez, who was the head coach at West Virginia before arriving in Ann Arbor, finishes 15-22 at Michigan. Rodriguez was just 6-18 in Big Ten play and 11-11 at home. The school can buy out the final three years of his contract for $2.5 million.

Brandon said he will immediately begin a national search for a replacement amid speculation that Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, a former Wolverines quarterback, and former Michigan assistant Brady Hoke, now San Diego State’s head coach.

Brandon said he has talked with Harbaugh and “will continue to talk” with him.

“I personally believe that Jim Harbaugh is headed to the NFL, that’s my opinion,” Brandon said.

Brandon said a candidate with head coaching and recruiting experience would have an edge in the search and he didn’t set a deadline for making a decision.

“My timetable is: Go fast, but do it the right way,” Brandon said.

Rodriguez was not immediately available for comment. He and his wife, Rita, drove past TV satellite trucks and reporters camped out near Schembechler Hall Wednesday and entered the back door of the indoor practice facility. A team meeting was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

“Everybody finds out info before the players cause they feel that if they were to tell us we would blabber it to the world,” defensive back Troy Woolfolk wrote on his Twitter account.

Rodriguez’s final season was pivotal and it didn’t go well on or off the field.

He helped the Wolverines win seven games to earn a postseason bid, then stood helplessly on the sideline on New Year’s Day as Mississippi State handed them their worst bowl beating _ a 38-point drubbing _ in a Gator Bowl loss that looked all too familiar.

Quarterback Denard Robinson couldn’t consistently make the sensational plays he did during a jaw-dropping start to the season. And Michigan’s young defense, which ranked among the nation’s worst, was overmatched again.

“There’s a thought of getting a defensive-minded everything,” Brandon said when asked if he was looking for a head coach who emphasizes defense. “I want the ball boys to be defensive-minded.”

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