One group was ecstatic. Early in the 2007 season, Appalachian State, a Division II school, had edged U-M in Ann Arbor using Rodriguez's very sexy spread offense. The following week, Oregon shredded Michigan with the Rodriguez Spread. For many fans, the humiliation only confirmed their conviction that Michigan football was shackled by stodgy and pedestrian ideas.
Rodriguez had championed the spread in obscure places--Salem College and Glenville State--before taking over as offensive coordinator at hapless Tulane and helping to lead it to a 12-0 season. At West Virginia, Rodriguez inherited a mediocre program and made it a national power. Michigan fans who considered Lloyd Carr's coaching too conservative looked for a similar transformation--and they expected it pretty much overnight. Add Rodriguez's avant-garde system to the Wolverines' abundance of talent, these optimists reasoned, and Michigan would roll.
I found that scenario to be somewhere between the curious and the lunatic. I just couldn't buy the assumption that four decades of winning seasons, from Schembechler to Carr, were somehow deficient, that the Wolverines' talent had been held back by unimaginative coaching. Yet it was the majority view, held by even the thoughtful and brilliant. Former Ann Arbor attorney Jon Rowe, for example, told me last year that the 2008 Wolverines "would go 11-1, at least."