Good Riddance!

Heads up!  Today’s blog will be about a sports issue, but one which has implications relating to human character and the way we think about our fellow citizens.

“Good riddance” is the subject of a note sent to me by a family member who, like me, was pleased to see Rich Rodriguez fired as the head coach of the University of Michigan football team.  Yes, I was pleased to see him go, I wasn’t in favor of hiring him in the first place, but my happiness was mixed with a healthy dose of sorrow and sympathy for Rich Rodriguez and his family.  Exploring these emotions further, it prompted me to write this blog about how I, and we, tend to detach ourselves from the details of such situations, and this detachment keeps us feeling good when perhaps we should feel less so.  Look at such an event in a certain way and it has elements of tragedy to it.

Rich Rodriguez came to Michigan (college football’s winning-est program) 3 years ago and has amassed what is a consensus poor record, 15 wins against 22 losses, including 6 consecutive losses to arch rivals Ohio State and Michigan State.  His tenure was troubled from the start, including a contract dispute with his previous employer West Virginia, NCAA violations, player defections, and of course the win-loss record.

But let’s look at this from his side for a minute.  He came to Michigan 3 years ago from his home state of West Virginia, and gave up his job there to move to Ann Arbor and take over perhaps the greatest college football program in the nation.  He was going to be paid slightly more than he made at the University of West Virginia, but it is likely he moved mostly because coaching at Michigan was one of the most fulfilling (and prestigious) positions in college or even any sport.

He moved his family, including 2 children Raquel (now 15), and Rhett (now 11), to a new town to achieve career success.  For any of you who have moved children of these ages, you know that it alone can be extremely sensitive and sometimes traumatic.  Add to this the controversy from the first day he was hired, when some cheered but others jeered publicly and loudly (the web address “www.FireRichRodriguez.com” was sold the day after his hiring).  And as the record accumulated and deteriorated over 3 years, these children surely were exposed to a tremendous amount of negative material about their father.  Add to that the fact that these children probably saw their father very infrequently given the time demands on a Division 1 football coach (it has been said that these coaches work a 70 hour work week).  To see his children and gain hints about the sacrifice these kids made, see this link.

But this is not just about the children and the family.  It’s about RichRod himself.  Imagine being a prideful father moving your family to a new city to pursue success, working 60-70 hours a week to achieve that success, attempting to deepen your relationship with the community you are in, “parenting” a team of 55 men/players who are looking to you for leadership, and balancing this with all the challenges parents and husbands have.  The effort and responsibility is monumental, the sacrifices huge.  Yes, RichRod made a lot of money, but money is just one of many relevant considerations and often times does not begin to compensate for the overall equation.  In this case I would bet Rich Rodriguez would give most of the money back to have a winning program, stable employment, and a permanent home in Ann Arbor for his family.

The message I’m trying to convey here is that there is always more to a story than meets the eye, and often beyond the headlines and our immediate emotional reactions to them there is much more worth considering and understanding.  To see someone (and a family) make these kinds of sacrifices, to work this hard to achieve a goal, and to fail, is not a reason to celebrate.

I’ll say again, I’m pleased Rich Rodriguez is no longer Michigan’s coach.  At the same time, I feel badly for him, his wife, and his 2 children.  I wish them luck and good fortune in the future, and hope that they are surrounded by supportive friends and family as they work through what will surely be a difficult emotional transition for all 4 of them.

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