John Bacon's Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football hit bookshelves yesterday. Bacon is a former Detroit News reporter and Bo Schembechler biographer who has now written three books on Michigan football. For obvious reasons, Three and Out focuses on Rodriguez's time at Michigan, but its early pages chronicle a series of events much closer to our hearts: The 2007 coaching search that led to Rodriguez's hiring, a search that for some time centered on our own Kirk Ferentz. While Iowa was coming off its worst season since 2000 and was only one game over .500 in the last three years, Ferentz made some sense for Michigan: He was originally hired at Iowa by Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman, he had the demeanor and MANBALL philosophy of Lloyd Carr and Bo Schembechler, and he was well-respected in the coaching community.
It's easy to forget those salad days, when we were green in judgment and gold in pants. It was a time when we were learning how to use FlightAware (which really helped a couple of years later when Lickliter was issued his walking papers) and writing Not Kirk Ferentz before we'd ever explored Twitter (I still say, without question, that Bellanca's post is the best thing ever written here). It wasn't just us, either; regional news was citing mGoBlog reports as legitimate sources. News was fluid. Rumors were facts. Things were weird.
Ferentz never accepted the Michigan job, obviously, though it has been common internet knowledge that it was likely offered. As happens with coaching searches, the behind-the-scenes discussions at Michigan regarding Ferentz didn't immediately see the light of day. Ferentz denied he had ever been offered the job, Michigan officially said it never offered the job and moved onto Greg Schiano, nothing to see here. Bacon's book blows the lid off that, but not in the way we thought. It turns out Ferentz wasn't offered the Michigan job after all. The person who vetoed his offer, though, is the last person we would have expected:
A year earlier, [Michigan AD Bill] Martin had decided Kirk Ferentz, whom [Mary Sue] Coleman had hired when she was Iowa's president, would be his top candidate. Shembechler respected Ferentz, and Carr would have supported him. Martin did not check with Coleman, however, and she did not tell him until after Carr stepped down that Ferentz would not be considered, perhaps because numerous Hawkeyes had serious off-field problems that fall. Whatever her reasons, the result was the same: Another solution had been eliminated.
It wasn't Schembechler or Carr deciding they didn't want to raid a fellow Big Ten school. It wasn't Sailboat Bill Martin deciding the program needed to change direction from its pro-style past. It was Coleman, who was largely considered the primary reason why Ferentz was under consideration in the first place, that nixed Ferentz's Michigan offer.
The question, from both Bacon and us, is why? Bacon suggests it may be due to Iowa's off-field disciplinary record, and it's a fair point; 2006 and 2007 were especially bad years off the field at Iowa. Coleman had always been in the "a coach can't babysit every player" camp when at Iowa, though. The more likely scenario, at least to us, has more to do with Coleman's status at Iowa. As a student at the University during her term, I have to say that Mary Sue Coleman was beloved throughout the UI community. She engineered her exit from Iowa City for minimum impact, as well, and spun it so that Iowa didn't feel slighted by her departure. Losing a university president is one thing, though, and Coleman knew that losing a head coach who had become a cult hero throughout the state was quite another. Poaching Kirk Ferentz from Iowa would have opened the wounds she had worked so hard to prevent in the first place.
Coleman's decision led to Rodriguez, which led to the meltdown, which led to Josh Groban and Denard Robinson and Henri the otter of ennui, to Shonn Greene and Ricky Stanzi and the 2010 Iowa November meltdown. It changed Big Ten football, and fans of both teams would split on whether it was for the better or worse. Regardless of the motive, we now have our answer. We know it was you, Mary Sue.