Thursday, December 22, 2011

'Three and Out' will leave you with new respect for Rich Rodriquez, Michigan football

If you’re looking for a last minute gift for that football fan on your Christmas list, I highly recommend one of the finest college football books you’ll ever read, John U. Bacon’s “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football.”

Released on Nov. 1 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, “Three and Out” ($28) tells the story “of how college football’s most influential coach took over the nation’s most successful program, only to produce three of the worst seasons ever for both Rich Rodriquez and the University of Michigan.”

Many college football fans in Alabama will remember Rodriquez as the highly successful West Virginia coach, who turned down the head coaching job at the University of Alabama in December 2006. Alabama hired Nick Saban instead, and Rodriquez left West Virginia after the next season to take the head coaching job at Michigan.

Rodriquez gave Bacon, a Michigan grad, complete access to the Michigan program with the only condition that Bacon allow Rodriquez to read the final draft of his book for factual accuracy. Over the next three years, Bacon “saw it all, from the meals and the meetings, to the practices and the games, to the sidelines and the locker rooms.” What follows is probably the best book about college football that you’ll ever read.

Bacon makes the argument that Michigan has the greatest college football tradition in the country, something that football fans in our part of the world won’t like to hear. However, Bacon make a strong case, and it’s hard to argue with him at the end of the book. By the time Rodriquez took over the Michigan program, the Wolverines had won more games than any other team in the history of college football, and they had the nation’s longest active bowl attendance streak.

When Rodriquez landed in Ann Arbor he quickly discovered that he had a lot to learn about the traditions at Michigan, and the book shows how he was set up for failure in many ways. From struggles for power among insiders in the school’s athletics department to the controversy over Rodriquez’s $4 million buyout at West Virginia, Rodriquez had to deal with more than a few problems off the field.

In addition to their off-the-field problems, the Wolverines also struggled on the field as young and unsuited players struggled to master Rodriquez’s unique no-huddle, run-oriented spread option offense. Fans of X’s and O’s football will be fascinated by the portions of Bacon’s book that talk about Rodriquez’s invention of the shotgun formation zone-read style of play, which he first developed at Glenville State College in West Virginia.

Of course, anyone who follows college football knows how the story ends. Rodriquez was fired after the 2010 season after leading the Wolverines to three of their worst seasons ever. He spent most of this past season as a football analyst for CBS before the University of Arizona announced on Nov. 21 that they’d hired him to be their next head coach.

In the end, I thought this book was great, and I highly recommend it to anyone in the audience who calls themselves a football fan. The book will leave you with a new respect for football at Michigan and in the Big Ten as well as for Rich Rodriquez.

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