ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Rich Rodriguez insists he has great support from his bosses at Michigan, along with alumni and former players.
Like any coach, he has critics — and they are a little louder now after a 34-17 loss to Michigan State.
"We lost that game so they're going to come back out and start doubting everything we've done," defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said Monday.
Just like last year, the Wolverines got off to a great start this season before losing to their in-state rivals.
Unlike last year, the game wasn't even close.
Michigan gave up twice as many points as they scored Saturday at home — after losing last year by six points — for its first three-game skid in the series since 1965-67.
"We lost to Michigan State, what, you wanna take me and hang me off the building now?" Rodriguez asked. "I mean, there might be a few people who want to do that, but it's the same people that probably wanted to do that after the first five games, too, they just weren't saying it publicly."
Michigan put up a school-record nine losses in Rodriguez's debut season and a 5-7 record after winning the first four games last year. That turned up the heat on Rodriguez heading into his third season, and he's also a prominent figure in an NCAA investigation into how much practice time his players were putting in.
The embattled coach had seemed to quiet his detractors with a 5-0 start this season, but now they're predicting his team will collapse again.
Bouncing back won't be easy for Michigan this week because it hosts No. 15 Iowa on Saturday.
"It's a great challenge and a great opportunity," Rodriguez said.
Kind of like coaching at Michigan.
Rodriguez was lured away from West Virginia to replace retiring coach Lloyd Carr after the 2007 season, inheriting the prestige of college football's winningest program and some holes that have been tough to fill. The Wolverines didn't have many experienced, NFL-caliber players on campus when Rodriguez took over,
"Some issues we have, I've told y'all, aren't going to get solved overnight," Rodriguez said. "We just got to minimize them the best we can so we can still win ball games."
That won't be easy.
The second half of Michigan's schedule seems tougher than the first, hosting Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin and traveling to Penn State, Purdue and Ohio State.
And at some point during that stretch, the NCAA is expected to make a ruling on five major rule violations that the Rodriguez-led program is facing over offseason workouts and practice habits. The school has accepted responsibility for four of them, but challenged the NCAA's contention that Rodriguez failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance.
Michigan receiver Kelvin Grady said he wishes those who don't support Rodriguez would find another team to support.
"Coach Rod is building something special right now," Grady said. "At the beginning of the season, we weren't on anybody's radar and no one was talking about us. We started 5-0 and shocked the world. Now, we lost a game and people want to talk.
"Those people should find another ballclub to root for because we're going to follow coach Rod because he's going to take us where we want to be."
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon reiterated his support Monday night.
"We still have the good team and good coaches we had a week ago," Brandon said. "After we played five games, all I heard was great excitement and enthusiasm from our fans. Then, we didn't play well and we lost. That happens."