Under Rodriguez, the program was hit by the kind of news it dreaded.
Just before the 2009 season, anonymous players told the Detroit Free Press that the Rodriguez-led program was exceeding NCAA limits on practice and training time.
“We know the rules, and we follow the rules,” an emotional Rodriguez declared a day after the report was published.
Yet the school later acknowledged that it was guilty of four violations. It was put on three years of probation, though Rodriguez and the school avoided major penalties. Paul Dee, chair of the Division I infractions committee, nonetheless compared the coach’s role to that of being captain of the ship.
“Some of the things that did occur did not get all the way to the coach, but ultimately, the coach bears a responsibility for the program,” Dee said.
Rodriguez is widely considered one of the architects of the spread offense that has become the rage in college football, creating his version of three- and four-receiver sets at tiny Glenville State in 1990. He turned the Mountaineers into a Big East power, winning four conference titles and 60 games in seven seasons.
The folksy man from Grant Town, W.Va., recruited two players who could lead the Michigan offense — Robinson and Tate Forcier — and they helped the 2009 team get off to a strong start that put the team on the cover of Sports Illustrated. His defenses never kept pace.
Rodriguez might’ve been willing to fire his second defensive coordinator, Greg Robinson, and let the new hire run his own assistants and scheme to keep his job. But he didn’t get that chance.
AP Sports Writer Noah Trister in Allen Park, Mich., and Stephen Hawkins in Irving, Texas, contributed to this report.