I posted earlier about Michigan’s own illustrious history of both returning player and recruiting class attrition, and the impact it can have on a football team’s depth chart. When players leave a football team, it can thin depth chart in dramatic ways that are not immediately evident. After Rich Rodriguez conducted 2008 post-season interviews with all of the Michigan football players to make sure they were really on board and “All in for Michigan”, several players still decided to part ways with the Wolverine football program including wide receiver Toney Clemons, and offensive lineman Dann O’Neill and Kurt Wermers.
I guess this is the part in the movie where Wolverine fans everywhere are supposed to be frozen in terror at what must surely be the systematic destruction of the entire football program from within.
There’s only one minor problem with all of this flailing about in uncontrolled panic.
It’s not news.
That football players end up leaving when a new regime takes over should surprise no one. It doesn’t happen universally with all coaching changes. But we know that player departures have been a common occurrence in Rich Rodriguez’s coaching past - and at far more worrying rates that what the media is currently observing at Michigan.
Players leave college football teams for all sorts of reasons. Many times these athletes leave because they don’t see eye-to-eye with the head coach and his staff. Other times players leave for reasons that have nothing to do with the head coach at all. Injuries, academics and personal issues can all lead to similar outcomes.
It might be interesting to look at the player defections that occurred when Rich Rodriguez first arrived at West Virginia in 2001 when he took over the reigns from long-standing Mountaineer head coach Don Nehlen.
It might very well surprise that unimpeachable squad of sports journalists at ESPN to know that there was a lot of player attrition at West Virginia during Rich Rodriguez’s tenure there. I carefully reviewed West Virginia’s complete football rosters between 2000 and 2007. Normally such rosters are posted around the August time frame shortly before the college football season begins. These fall rosters included incoming freshmen players (new recruits). In West Virginia’s case there were a very high quantity of players on these historical rosters, which no doubt included a good number of walk-on players (non-scholarship). I also analyzed the West Virginia depth charts during Nehlen-Rodriguez regime between 2000-2007 to consider key players on the two deep (first and second team offense and defense). I took into consideration graduating seniors each year, and made sure to capture those players with remaining eligibility. By comparing player names on back-to-back annual August football team rosters, one can fairly easily deduce which players left the football team each year. I did not factor in those player defections that may have taken place between 2007 and 2008 after Rich Rodriguez left West Virginia to coach at Michigan. All of this took a good amount of time to work through. I totaled up the numbers, and came up with some pretty shocking results.
It would require an incredible amount of time that I don’t have (and access to a lot of hidden or expensive information) to determine the exact dates when players left the WVU football team under Rodriguez, or to determine their individual reasons for doing so. The numbers below indicate the quantity of players that left.
This is not an indictment against Rich Rodriguez nor against any of the players who left the team while he was head coach. It’s simply an estimated tally.
Here are the totals of player departures by season, by class, and taking into consideration graduating seniors (Player Departures with Eligibility).
If we assumed that 50% of these players left the WVU team each year for reasons other than hating the head coach and his ways, i.e. personal issues, family issues, want to concentrate on academics, health issues, debilitating football injury, doesn’t want to play football anymore, wants to move closer to home, then the remaining 50% still seems like a rather high number (to me at any rate).
Again, these numbers take into consideration freshman recruits and walk-ons for each year.
|Rich Rodriguez 2001-2007|
|Year||Fr.||So.||Jr.||Sr.||Total Player Departures||Player Departures with Eligibility||Total WVU Roster Count||% Roster Attrition|
Below I add some more detail as to quantity of player defections by position group. It’s interesting to look at this chart and then consider which position group might have struggled most with the workout regimen of Mike Barwis. It would appear that offensive lineman, linebackers, receivers and secondary position players dropped off the team most frequently during this period of time:
|Rich Rodriguez 2001-2007|
I submit two more detailed examples of the above analysis.
West Virginia finished 7-5-0 and won the Music City Bowl game vs. Mississippi 49-38.
There were 14 graduating seniors in 2000. Players with eligibility (Freshman, Sophomores, Juniors) from 2000 who were not on the 2001 team roster are shown below. We see 32 players departing the West Virginia roster (46 if we include the 14 seniors). Apparently 12 of these 32 had scholarships. The remainder may have been walk-ons. Some detail of the Nehlen players from the 2000 season that were not found on the 2001 Rodriguez team roster:
|Jamien Harvey||LB||LB||So||2nd Team LB|
|Jared Hostetler||QB||QB||Fr||Nephew of NFL QB Jeff Hostetler and former WVU QB.|
|Jeremy Sherman||G||OL||Jr||2nd Team OG|
|Josh Kelly||C||OL||So||2nd Team C|
|Rondrick Smith||G||OL||So||2nd Team OG|
|Scott McBrien||QB||QB||Fr||2nd Team QB. Transferred to Maryland.|
|Sean Berton||TE||TE||So||1st Team TE. Transferred to NC State. Not happy with the new coach?|
|Shannon Washington||DE||DL||Jr||2nd Team DT|
|William Perry||DT||DL||So||2nd Team NT|
West Virginia will finish 3-8-0 in Rodriguez’s inaugural season. The Mountaineers will be coming off their worst college football season results since the 2-9-0 record in 1978 under then coach Frank Cignetti. More veteran players (26) with remaining eligibility decide to hit the road:
|Caleb Cooper||TE||TE||Jr||1st Team TE|
|Cecil Hagwood||DE||DL||Fr||2nd Team DE|
|Danny Embrick||QB||QB||Fr||2nd Team QB|
|Greg Mittleider||T||OL||So||2nd Team OT|
|James Woodruff||CB||SEC||Jr||2nd Team CB|
|Justin Williams||C||OL||Fr||2nd Team C|
|Sedrick Lewis||DT||DL||Jr||2nd Team DT|
|Tim Frost||T||OL||Jr||1st Team OT|
And on and on it goes.
Again, I will not pretend to know why these players left the football team. Whether they hated Rich Rodriguez or Barwis or simply had better plans for themselves and their lives, I cannot say. Don't know. I simply find it interesting to see this number of player drop offs year-to-year and have begun to ask myself what this means for Michigan football. This does provide some new perspective for Michigan fans as to just what in the hell Rich Rodriguez means when he says things like “when we get our numbers back up” in terms of the future Michigan football rosters.
All I can say is “wow”. I didn’t expect to find this. I admit that I might be “missing something” in my analysis. Like the whole eligibility deal. A kid could be listed as a junior on some college football roster, but have sophomore eligibility, etc. There could be errors there. But this doesn’t explain why players obviously and completely “disappeared” from one season to the next.That can only be explained by players leaving the team. And a lot of them clearly did.
Again, without conducting thorough player interviews it’s difficult to tell why these players left. It would however not be surprising to find out that a significant number of players from the Nehlen era left the WVU football team either due to Rodriguez’s coaching methods or style, or to his hellish conditioning boot camp under Drill Sergeant Barwis. Or both. Furthermore, the player attrition did not cease or level off once Rodriguez’s program became more firmly accepted and established at West Virginia. It is clear that even new WVU recruits and walk-ons departed the program early.
A Word About Rodriguez’s Coaching Style
Much has already been written about Rodriguez methods to motivate his football players. Rodriguez is confrontational, demands perfection, and swears like a trucker during football practice. For some WVU players, this would have been a dramatic change to the Don Nehlen’s coaching style. For some players the change must have been extremely upsetting, particularly those on the receiving end of such tirades. Players that screwed up in practice were chewed up and torn down in front of everybody. No exceptions. No favoritism.
Is this tactic effective to achieve desired results on the gridiron? There are different schools of thought on coaching style and discipline. Some players really respond well to the less confrontational, but still demanding, approach of Jim Tressel, Pete Carroll, Steve Spurrier and Tom Osborne, as examples.. Other football players excel under the fear of totalitarian retribution akin to the leadership of Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes and Rich Rodriguez -the “Three yards and cloud of profanity” approach.
I’ll close with a quote from a former starting linebacker at West Virginia 2001-2004, Scott Gyorko, who was quoted in this Freep article back in December 2007:
After enduring a rough season, Rodriguez is less abrasive yet still firm. With time, he has gained a better understanding of his players and vice versa.I suspect things will change at Michigan when the team performance improves. However, given past data, it would be a mistake to assume that football player departures at Michigan will decline under new head coach Rich Rodriguez.
"When he first got here, he was really strict and wanted things his own way," WVU sophomore linebacker Scott Gyorko said. "Now, he's more laid-back and is settling down. He's different on and off the field. Off the field, he's really approachable and is nice. On the field, he's a head coach and he wants things done his way and he's going to have his way."
Rodriguez hears the comments about him being more relaxed and chuckles. According to him, the change comes from how his players are performing.
"One reason I'm so-called mellow is because we're doing what I want," Rodriguez said. "Sometimes, it's not bad when you have an edge when you're trying to get something going. I tell our kids, 'The only time we get on you is when you screw up. If you don't make as many mental mistakes, we won't yell at you.' They understand us more as people and we understand them better as people. It's like a family. The more you're around each other, the more you understand and love each other."