He did just that, and it cost him his job.
Rodriguez was fired Wednesday after going 15-22 in three disappointing seasons, including an 0-6 record combined against rivals Ohio State and Michigan State, and staining the proud program with a handful of NCAA violations.
“Michigan is not used to this,” said athletic director Dave Brandon, who met with Rodriguez on Tuesday and again Wednesday before announcing the firing.
“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 highly successful at West Virginia before arriving in Ann Arbor, was just 6-18 in Big Ten play and 11-11 at home. The school will buy out the final three years of Rodriguez’s contract for $2.5 million, bringing its overall cost in hiring and firing him to $12.5 million.
Brandon said he will immediately begin a search for a replacement amid speculation that candidates might include Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, a former Wolverines quarterback, and former Michigan assistant Brady Hoke, now San Diego State’s head coach. A SDSU spokesman said Michigan hadn’t asked for permission to talk to Hoke.
Harbaugh has declined to comment about the Michigan job and a Stanford spokesman would not say whether Michigan had asked for permission to speak with him.
His brother, Ravens coach John Harbaugh, said he thought “the Michigan thing is done now.”
“I think that’s over. I don’t think he’s interested in doing that,” he said Tuesday on WBAL radio in Baltimore. “That’s hard for him because he loves Michigan.”
Brandon said he has talked with Harbaugh and “will continue to talk” with him because he’s “a Michigan man” he has known for years.
“I personally believe that Jim Harbaugh is headed to the NFL, that’s my opinion,” Brandon said.
Another potential candidate, LSU coach and ex-Michigan assistant Les Miles, said he likes his current job with the Tigers.
“I very much enjoy where I’m at,” Miles said Wednesday during a Cotton Bowl news conference. “I don’t think anybody has any reason to be concerned in any way.”
Brandon said a candidate with head coaching and recruiting experience, especially in the Midwest, would have an edge in the search.
“My timetable is: Go fast, but do it the right way,” Brandon said.
Rodriguez was not available for comment after the decision was announced. Rodriguez and his son drove away from Schembechler Hall at 6:45 p.m. EST.
“It’s really hard on all of us,” defensive tackle Mike Martin said before a private team meeting.
It didn’t get easier inside a somber gathering in which both Rodriguez and Brandon addressed the players.
“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.”