Rodriguez embarrasses Michigan

The sentiment grew in resonance from the few remaining Michigan fans seated near the team as the clock mercifully counted down the closing moments of Michigan’s worst beating ever in a bowl.

“Har-baugh! Har-baugh!” they chanted on Saturday afternoon.

It caught the attention of some players on the bench, another demoralizing reminder of the sheer futility of their mission over the last five weeks. They were asked to save something that most already believed was beyond retrievable. They were expected to pretend the turmoil enveloping the man who coached them, recruited them and, in some aspects perhaps, parented them didn’t exist.

Why should anybody be surprised at the 52-14 bruising No. 21 Mississippi State administered on a dispirited Michigan team on Saturday in the Gator Bowl?

They were set up to fail when athletic director Dave Brandon steadfastly delayed rendering a final verdict on Rich Rodriguez’s future, creating an internal lack of stability that couldn’t help but negatively impact 20-year-olds whose degree of concentration gets challenged even within the most secure environment.

Rodriguez will take the hit for this disaster. He should. There’s no way he should keep his job.

Despite the near impossibility of the task, his primary charge as coach remained getting his team as prepared for game day as possible — and Rodriguez failed miserably. An equally physical and athletic Mississippi State defense exposed his grand offensive scheme for the snake oil that it is.

Nobody could use the excuse that Denard Robinson was banged up. He was healthy. Rested. The Bulldogs rendered him mortal.

Is there really any need for further evaluation?

Rodriguez put forth a sturdy, stoic front when assessing his situation afterward. He adamantly insisted that the program gradually had improved, but the words didn’t match the facial expressions. He looked like a condemned man waiting for a reprieve but nobody could find the governor.

“You’re asking the wrong person,” he said when asked about any established timetable for when he would meet with Brandon for that end-of-season review.

Does he think he will be back? “You’re asking the wrong person,” he reiterated. But he added: “I do.”

The most important person in Michigan football right now was conspicuously distanced from the proceedings. Brandon didn’t watch the game from the athletic director’s suite, instead giving his tickets to Rita Rodriguez, the coach’s wife. He apparently holed himself up in a catered bunker somewhere within EverBank Field, no doubt to insulate himself from probing questions about where the schedule stands for his final verdict now that the season officially is over, which was his long-standing mantra.

U-M officials said before the game that Brandon would say nothing definitive until he was ready and they did not know when that would be.

Rodriguez will take the fall, but he’s not alone. The blood of this program’s worst bowl day is on Brandon’s hands as well.