Rodriguez was not available for comment after the decision was announced. He and his wife, Rita, drove past TV satellite trucks and reporters camped out near Schembechler Hall and entered the back door of the indoor practice facility.
“It’s really hard on all of us,” defensive tackle Mike Martin said before a private team meeting.
“What would you expect the atmosphere to be like when you lose a member of your family?” defensive tackle Dominique Ware asked reporters.
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, a relief for him at the time. Then he stood helplessly on the sideline on New Year’s Day as Mississippi State handed Michigan its worst bowl beating ever — 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.”
Rodriguez finished 7-6 this season, losing six of the last eight games. The improvement wasn’t enough from his 5-7 finish last year and the Michigan-record nine losses in his debut season in Ann Arbor.
The last season clearly weighed on Rodriguez.
He surprised supporters and players alike at the team’s postseason banquet when he broke down and cried, talking about the toll his job had on his family. He then quoted the Bible and Josh Groban and played a song from the musician in a surreal scene.
“I think that his three years here … can somewhat be defined as three years of turmoil,” Brandon said. “It seems like it was one thing after another. It clearly impacted recruiting. It clearly impacted the positive energy that the team needs to be successful. It created a lot of hardships and a lot of distractions. Clearly, we need to put ourselves in a position where that is all history.”
Michigan’s former athletic director, Bill Martin, hired Rodriguez away from West Virginia after the 2007 season in a messy divorce. The school Rodriguez had played for and rooted for as a kid had extended his contract a year earlier, and he didn’t want to pay a $4 million buyout. Michigan eventually agreed to pay West Virginia $2.5 million, leaving Rodriguez to take care of the rest.
Rodriguez didn’t inherit a roster full of talent from Lloyd Carr. Quarterback Ryan Mallett transferred to Arkansas and offensive guard Justin Boren left for Ohio State, making his transition even more challenging, and Boren also claimed that the program’s “family values” had eroded.