Back in August of 2010, I sat down for an interview with Coach Rich Rodriguez of (at that time) the University of Michigan Wolverines football team. (You should watch it.) It was an interesting time in Coach Rod’s career - the results of the NCAA’s investigation into practice hours was still unreleased, Coach Rod’s seat was pretty warm, and pretty much everyone was weighing how many losses it would take to get Rodriguez fired. It was an interesting time in my life too, as I was serving as a campaign assistant for the Bill Schuette for Attorney General campaign. (Now AG) Schuette was in a tough primary fight, culminating at the August 28, 2017 convention.
How exactly did OTE score this interview? Enjoy -
In 2010, I was based in Lansing, Michigan as a Campaign Assistant for the Bill Schuette for AG campaign. Campaign jobs, as a rule, are horrible, but this one I quite enjoyed. Schuette was a great boss, patient and hard-working and humorous; his Campaign Manager, a Notre Dame fan named Rusty Hills, was also a wonderful person to work with. My job involved meeting thousands of people across the state (I like people) and helping sheperd delegates from all over Michigan to think positively about Mr. Schuette. The pay, well you know, but I got the feeling that this whole political thing fit me rather well, so I rock and rolled daily, fueled by so many red bulls I built a Red Bull tower in my office of drank bottles. Unsanitary, but made for a good campaign story.
That said - OTE was chugging along at a good pace, featuring Ted Glover, JDMill, the legendary Bama Hawkeye, someone named OTE Randy, and of course Jon Franz (co-founder and now Hollywood-livin’ attorney). So that’s where we find ourselves in early August of 2010.
I was delivering Schuette for AG signs to a big-time Schuette supporter in Port Huron one day; the signs were dropped off and I was departing when a whirling dervish of maize and blue came shooting into the office, thanked me for the signs...I saw the Michigan apparel, mentioned I had a sports blog all about the B1G, how we had a nice readership. Guy says that he has season tickets, in fact a nice suite, and loves Michigan football. Out of nowhere, this super-fan says “Hey, you want to meet with RichRod? Maybe do an interview for the blog?”
“Oh, sure” - I agree, but in my mind, this is some random guy shooting off at the mouth; not another thought about the interaction crosses my mind.
The next day, I’m delivering signs in Grand Rapids when he calls me up. “Be at Schembechler Hall, noon tomorrow, be ready to propose your interview idea.” WHAT IS HAPPENING?? I tell the campaign that I’ll do some work in Southeast Michigan, write up an interview outline, and head down to AA.
MEET THE TEAM
I find myself in the office with RichRod, our whirling dervish super-fan of a friend..and that’s it. August practices have just begun and RichRod is pissed. Real pissed. He’s visibly unhappy about the NCAA investigation into practice hours. Why? Because he doesn’t believe Michigan did a thing wrong and now they’re being targeted by the Freep and the NCAA.
Step back here one second and put yourself in my shoes: 27 years old, super college football fan, a Michigan fan for years, a blogger...just randomly sitting there with Rich. Surreal doesn’t do it justice.
So I pitch the idea: “Hey Rich, we’ve got a little blog, but we’ll send it out to the big sites, get some good traffic, talk about offensive schemes and the roster, that’ll be our focus. I think people will like the football discussion. What do you think?” How am I here? Why is anyone allowing me to talk and use words?
Rich agrees, in fact, he’s into it. “Good,” he says, “let’s give a straightforward discussion of Michigan football, of some of the players, of the offense, instead of the tabloid-type focus on supposed scandals. But Graham, you need to get to know the program a bit, meet some of the players...before you can do this interview. Come back next week, come to practice, then we’ll set up the interview.”
THE TEAM THE TEAM
I go to practice. I talk with Rita. Bullshit with Will Campbell. See the practice facilities. The intensity. The way this team is united and angry and passionate and ready to stop being bad at football. Hang with Dusty. How am I here, what am I doing here? Amazing, amazing, amazing times. The interview is scheduled for August 24. I roll in, survive, ask some good questions, we get good footage. Rich is accommodating, friendly, informative. I leave Ann Arbor on cloud nine, Radiohead’s Idioteque playing as loudly as you could imagine.
The Republican State Convention is held at the Breslin Center on August 28, 2010. We awake at 2am to get the convention hall papered with Schuette signs. I leave the convention at 11am to drive to Columbus, as Jon Franz has picked a most inconvenient date to get married to his wonderful bride Mary. I pull into the church at 430pm, the wedding is at 5pm. Tux on, Jon and Mary have their beautiful wedding, everyone says they do, and as I stand outside the church to celebrate the newly married couple, I receive texts saying that Schuette has won a closely contested delegate vote at the convention (In Michigan, we choose SOS and AG candidates at conventions, where approximately 2000 precinct delegates vote on the nominees.) Bill won by about 100 votes. I am happy.
The reception is a true party. I assume there are photos.
I wake, attend the morning breakfast and discover the healing power of mimosas (I was a late bloomer to “hair of the dog”) and drive back to Michigan, stopping to review final edits on the RichRod interview - major props to the awesome editing folks. Have you ever watched a project come to fruition and you just can’t stop smiling? That was me. I was worn out, hungover, etc. But this was something else. The interview is released on August 31. We get some amazing hits and good attention; we put forward strong content for our readers.
WHAT HAPPENED HERE
Quite clear how this happened: By 2010, the program and Rich’s status were both a mess. No one liked the scandal, even if it turned out to be much ado about nothing, so many folks felt Rich (plus the losing) was tarnishing UM football. The school didn’t know, or wasn’t extremely interested, in how to deal with Rodriguez at this time. The alumni were split over whether to support Rodriguez or to withhold their support from the program until Rich left. RichRod felt embattled and felt he wasn’t getting support from the school. (Read John Bacon’s awesome book, 3 and Out, for an unbelievably in-depth look into the Michigan program under RichRod in 2010.) So Rich’s circle of confidantes was a bit constricted at this time.
All this turned into a perfect storm, which allowed a young campaign assistant to stop randomly into a RichRod-supporting alum’s office, mention his blog, and end up pulling a sweet interview. So that’s the story.
It means the world to me that Off Tackle is still going and has long-time readers and has connected people all over America through a shared B1G connection.
OTE was supposed to be the voice of the fan, which isn’t always pretty or cohesive or elegant, but it’s a real and somewhat unvarnished voice. This interview was the ultimate manifestation of that vision, a normal guy sitting in the coach’s office, asking questions, watching film...being the voice of the fan.