Les Miles was prepared to come home and all Michigan had to do was wait a few weeks.

But in a bungled coaching search that included unexplained and inconsistent behavior by former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, a "very un-Michigan like" hiring process finally set Rich Rodriguez up to fail.

That's the takeaway from "Three And Out," the new book by John U. Bacon that gives readers an all-access pass to Rodriguez's three cringe-worthy years as leader of the winningest college football program of all time.

The book may surprise Michigan fans, as Bacon is the Michigan professor who wrote a book with legendary coach Bo Schembechler. But here Bacon reports that those left to uphold the coach's legacy chop-blocked Rodriguez so much that Schembechler’s "The Team, The Team, The Team" mantra seems like a punch line.

While the best part of the book -- which will be released Tuesday ($28, Farrar, Straus and Giraux) -- is the access Bacon had to Schembechler Hall once Rodriguez arrived, the drama begins well before "Coach Rod" is introduced. Click here to read an excerpt.

A December 2007 conference call with Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman, former Athletic Director Bill Martin and Miles lays the groundwork for the search to replace Carr.

Miles tells the Michigan president he "would never say no to Michigan," but insists he can't jump from LSU until after the Tigers' upcoming bowl game. If Michigan waits and asks in January, Miles says, "I will be your coach."

At that point, instead of entering a holding pattern, the coaching search veers improbably.

Bacon writes that it is Carr -- winner of Michigan's most recent national championship in 1997 -- who first reaches out to Rodriguez. It is Carr who calls Rodriguez to gauge his interest in becoming the Michigan coach. And that call takes place only hours after the conference call with Miles.

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"Even if you haven't thought about it," Bacon reports Carr saying, "you should think about it now."

Readers are left to infer that Carr had a big role in picking Rodriguez, who took the job days later without setting foot on the campus. But then Carr, whose strong objections to Miles are documented early in the book, holds a team meeting after Rodriguez is introduced as the Wolverines' new coach, informing players he will sign their transfer papers if they want to leave.

Even in the infancy of Rodriguez's tenure, the outsider seems to be fighting an uphill battle against a tradition left by Schembechler, who ironically liked the West Virginia native quite a bit. Rodriguez's flaws are not hidden by any stretch, but many others' blind spots show up as well.

Indeed, the most chilling quote in a book full of them comes from Schembechler himself, who tells former Wolverines' quarterback John Wangler and running back Jamie Morris before his death in 2006: "When I leave this earth, we are going to see the true Michigan Men come out."

Schembechler proved prophetic, as too many supposed Michigan Men did too little to help the new guy, while the true Michigan Man emerges only toward the end of the book. And we're not talking about Brady Hoke.

The going narrative around Ann Arbor these days is that Rodriguez was a poor fit and more concerned with his own reputation than the success of the team. But that doesn't ring quite true in Bacon's book, as the interloper is painted as far too trusting and lenient in an environment where threats are both obvious and unseen.

Throughout the book, Rodriguez's emotions are put on full display. In private times, he demonstrates his pained desperation to meet expectations, while on other occasions, he grows weary by the mess swirling around him. Hopeful until the time he is fired by Athletic Director Dave Brandon, Rodriguez comes off as far more tone-deaf than selfish. He's clearly in over his head, unable to patch together a serviceable defense or convey his inner leadership skills, but his public drowning is greeted mostly with turned backs. After Rodriguez is fired, and tons of Michigan alums praise Hoke, one Wolverine tells a Detroit News reporter, "Where have they been the last two or three years?"

While Bacon succeeds in earning Rodriguez's trust in delivering behind-the-scenes observations, he fails to fully provide both sides of the story. The perspective of several key figures -- including and especially Carr -- is not included. The former coach didn't reply to any of Bacon's 11 interview requests. That leaves Rodriguez's predecessor looming eerily in every chapter as the proverbial man behind the curtain.

Carr's ubiquitous absence keeps "Three And Out" from being a complete record of undoubtedly the toughest stretch Michigan football has faced in its 132 years. We may never know if Carr, who has an incredible philanthropic legacy in Ann Arbor, was vindictive or simply heartbroken that the program he loves with all his heart was no longer the way he wanted it. But in a way, the omission is fitting, as readers will surely wonder what certain high-profile Michigan Men could possibly have been thinking. (A representative of the Michigan athletic department, reached by email Monday morning, declined to comment on the book.)

That includes Brandon, the A.D. who considered both Jim and John Harbaugh for the Michigan job in 2010 but is indirectly quoted as saying Miles would get the position "over my dead body." Brandon, a visionary at Domino's Pizza, ends up looking myopic in an awkward interaction with quarterback Denard Robinson after Rodriguez is fired. The climactic scene reveals that it is actually Robinson, Michigan's most electric offense-only player since Bo recruited Anthony Carter from the same South Florida region, who is most able to lead a bruised program forward.

Schembechler was right: A Michigan Man did show up. But it turned out to be Robinson, a mature-beyond-his-years Rodriguez recruit who probably would never have had a chance in Schembechler's spread-averse system.

Readers will finish the book knowing exactly why Rodriguez failed, but also wondering if anyone -- including Miles -- could have succeeded in the shadow of Fort Schembechler.

Click here to read an excerpt.

-- Jeff Arnold can be reached at jeffarnold24@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @jeff_arnold24.

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I once observed Donovan McNabb not as a quarterback, but as something resembling a civilian. A few years back, there was a night of championship bouts on a frosty night in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Midway through a Zab Judah fight, McNabb arrived and took an empty ringside seat. Problem was, it wasn't his seat. After a couple of rounds, the seat's owner approached McNabb, bent down and showed him his ticket. McNabb acknowledged its authenticity and promptly stood up and left.

He really didn't have to leave. He could have stayed there and convinced the ticket holder, either by way of his celebrity, or with a cash reward, that it was probably best, for appearances sake, that the quarterback remained where he was. This would after all, maintain the order of things. Of course this is the sort of entitlement we bemoan in our celebrities. It's also the kind of behavior we want to bemoan in our celebrities. I mean, we gotta have something to bitch about, right?

I think back on that cold night because now, McNabb is being unseated as starting quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings. At some point soon, he'll be something resembling a civilian. And, in true McNabb fashion, he's being classy. He's not making a stink. He's moving aside. And for some reason, this behavior in McNabb has always been the source of great frustration.

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You see, Donovan McNabb is not known for being crazy. He is known for being quite sane. And for being a successful quarterback. Six Pro Bowls, passing the equivalent of nearly 20 miles, and a Super Bowl appearance would suggest that he has been successful. And let's not forget the incredible impact he had at Syracuse, which has not recovered since he left.

But now that Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has relieved him of his duties, the Donovan McNabb conversation will begin anew. Surely words like "clutch" and "passion" will litter this discussion as we all try to decide what kind of football player this man was.

This conversation began a few years into McNabb's career. That's when Rush Limbaugh said he was "overrated." Now, I wasn't aware that a professional quarterback could be measured the same way one measures a college football team, so that summation still leaves me scratching my head. It's always been my belief that pro coaches reward talent, nothing else.

Overrated? Really? McNabb was a large man, cast in the mold of Boomer Esiason, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino. But unlike those men, McNabb could summon a burst of speed that would not only get him out of trouble but create opportunity. And there was that time in the open field when he stutter-stepped and left safety Mark Carrier lunging at air -- a rare feat for a 240-pound quarterback. Yeah, I know he never won a Super Bowl, but neither did the aforementioned other three. But were they overrated? (Ask a Dolphins fan now if Marino's overrated? Ask a Bills fan about Kelly. Ask a Bengals fan about Boomer.)

I think Limbaugh's issue was the so-called liberal media's failure to say bad things about McNabb. I suppose Limbaugh wanted them to properly excoriate a man who hadn't killed dogs, defaulted on a loan, made it rain at a strip club, presided over a ponzi scheme that separated people from their savings, or taken steroids to set the all time home run record.

McNabb has many faults, of course. He's been known to miss an open receiver, abandon proper footwork, and to rush his throws to the point where they end up in the dirt. In his bid to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, he fell short. And of course there was McNabb's worst offense of all -- failing to know that a regular-season game could end in a tie. Oh, the shame!

Amid the myriad of topics that have swirled around McNabb, his sober disposition has been the most intriguing. Last season, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan benched McNabb in favor of Rex Grossman, not on a whim, but on two occasions. The first was at crunch time of a game against the Lions. McNabb responded with a measured statement about it being a "coach's decision" and whatnot.

I'm not entirely sure what Shanahan's motive was. We're talking about Rex Grossman here, so I'm sure it had little to do with going to a "better" option. By embarrassing him, was he trying to get a reaction? Was he trying to make him angry? And if so, why?

I know humiliation is an effective tool when applied to the type of guy who has something to prove to the person who is attempting to humiliate him. McNabb had nothing to prove to Shanahan -- just like he had no reason to puff out his chest when he was sitting in the wrong ringside seat.

Still, the second time he was benched, McNabb wondered aloud about Shanahan's "lack of professionalism."

Interesting choice of words, don’t you think? Professionalism. In this context it refers to the demeanor of one who is above that which is rash or hysterical. But I'm not sure professionalism is still a virtue these days -- especially for a man like McNabb.

See, in the early 20th century, during the heavyweight reigns of Jack Johnson and Joe Louis, any prominent black man was characterized as either crazy or docile. Surely there were other descriptors available, they just didn't capture the (simple?) essence of black manhood like those two could. Of course, the man being labeled had little to do with the tag he got. But such was life in the early part of the 20th century. Maybe that's changed. Maybe it hasn't. Maybe we should ask Limbaugh.

McNabb is not crazy. As he has been for his entire 11-year run, his response to being benched has been neither dramatic nor fatalistic. He hasn't provided one of those famous sideline arguments where the star quarterback goes toe to toe with his coach and in the aftermath we all talk about it being a "turning point" or some "coming of age" in the quarterback's career. That would be silly in this case. McNabb is no fledgling prodigy. He's a proven commodity with battle scars to boot. Regardless of public opinion, McNabb has upheld a private standard. But I suspect this is his manner of dealing with conflict, great and small.

McNabb doesn't occupy his space in obsequious deference to others, like some citizen of a de facto Jim Crow society. But he does possess a certain armor that has yet to be penetrated -- by persons named Limbaugh, Owens, or Shanahan. There was a time when this sort of reserve was commended. There was a time when cool was cool. But on this day, the failure to reveal all of oneself, in loud and vulgar fashion, is a breach of social etiquette.

It seems dignity is a punishable offense.

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It was my first high school wrestling tournament, and I had only a vague idea of what I was supposed to do. I had my headgear on and was warming up by taking shots on an imaginary opponent. I had worked hard, but I didn't have the skill level to seriously compete. Still, I enjoyed wrestling for the most part, and tried my best.

Then, I saw her.

A girl was warming up across the mat from me. I immediately became worried. I wasn't necessarily scared of her. In real life, why would I be afraid of a 5-foot-6 girl who probably weighed no more than 120 pounds? But this was wrestling, and odds were that if she was out there, she probably had some technique. This made me uneasy, and, truth be told, a bit queasy. Boys do not lose to girls. Our society just does not allow it.

One time, in fourth grade baseball, a girl struck me out. How did handle it? Well, six years later, I still regretted it. Older and wiser now, I realize this is a sexist attitude. I should want to succeed because I am facing an opponent -- any opponent.

That still did not stop me from wanting to avoid wrestling the girl. If I was more skilled in wrestling, I would have taken her on, no question. But I wasn't any good. So I began to contemplate the unthinkable:

What if I lost?

I spent the next 20 minutes trying to guess how much she weighed, and was still on edge until I learned she was in a lower weight class then me and would wrestle someone else on my team. (She ended up losing.)

That was a close one.


This came to mind when I read the Prep Rally post about Mina Johnson, the Virginia eighth-grade football player who sat out a game against a North Carolina team last week because her team's opponent had reservations about playing against a girl.

Similarly, when Cedar Falls High School female wrestler Cassy Herkelman was given a forfeit during the Iowa state tournament last February, it became national news.

The forfeit was given when her opponent, Linn-Mar High's Joel Northup, conceded.

The national wrestling community's reaction was a resounding "WHAT!?" The Iowa state high school tournament is one of the most competitive in the country. Kids train tirelessely and shed pounds dangerously for it. In Iowa, arguably the state with the greatest wrestling tradition, this is huge.

"As a matter of conscience and my faith I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner," was Northup’s explanation.

Northup probably would have avoided the media storm had he said he "pulled a hammy" or ate a little too much and showed up overweight. Instead, Northup sounded to many like a Bible-thumping sexist whose views harkened back to the 1950s.

In the wrestling world, Northup's reaction is viewed with a sense of puzzlement and wonder. When I asked Dan Gable, the legendary wrestler and coach for Iowa, he said, "If somehow I wouldn't have been sat down and talked to, which I don't think I would have been, I don't think I would have ever even considered not wrestling against a girl. My background support system was just different than his."

The background support system -- family, coaches, friends -- is obviously a big part in this. To most wrestlers, they do not care who it is on the mat, be it a boy or a girl. Bubba Jenkins, a NCAA wrestling champion this year, said he would have tried to "crush her."

"Wrestle whoever they put in front of you regardless of the color or sex. The object is to win and beat anybody in front of you. . . . People forget that and put politics in it."

Northup evidently believed it is immoral for a boy and girl to press their bodies upon each other in a form of combat. Wrestling is probably the most "naked" of all sports. It is just you and your opponent, underneath. It is difficult to see the crowd, but the entire crowd can see you wearing little more than a thin layer of spandex.

It is also the sport that involves the most physicality. It is truly a test of outwilling your opponent. Wrestling is a sport where you develop a subconscious relationship with your opponent. He (or she) has gone through the same rigorous training you have, and you feel for each other. Very rarely is there dirty play in wrestling. The Greeks believed in this philosophy of one-on-one so much that wrestlers sometimes competed naked. Not much has changed today, other than a small, form-fitting singlet.

So, I can understand Northup's point of view to an extent. It is a little weird having to wrestle a girl. It does not seem right, in the traditional usage of the word. It is strange enough that you are going to spend the next six minutes basically groping a girl in a crowd of people, but your purpose must be to manhandle her and get her on her back and pin her any way possible.

Gable made a good point when he said "Now, do I believe boys and girls should wrestle each other from a competitive point of view? No. I think there's much more of a physical advantage for males based on genetics. I believe it should be male against male, female against female. Now, if there's not that opportunity, then so be it."

The problem is there are not enough girls competing for them to have their own division.

When Gable wrestled, he had never even heard of a woman competing in high school. "I'm not even sure there weren't a few out there -- none that I ever noticed or had any glory that made me notice. I don't think there was, because I think somehow I would've known about it," he said.

Frankie Edgar, the UFC champ, said he'd wrestled one girl, and that was in eighth grade. "I won."


Should Northup have wrestled Cassy Herkelman? Yeah, of course he should have. Should Mina Johnson have been welcomed onto the football field? Yes to that as well. But is it a bit odd to play against a girl? I can understand those like Northrup who say yes. In regular society, it is just not normal.

But he should have wrestled.

Brendan O'Hare is a freelance sportswriter who runs the sports blog www.pineriders.com.

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The ancient Greeks told tales about these giant beings they called Titans. The Titans once fought with the Greek gods. At stake was world supremacy. The Titans lost. So, the gods punished the Titans. 

There was one Titan named Atlas. When punishments were doled out Atlas was sentenced to hold up the sky. 

And he did. Atlas held the sky on his shoulders for many years.

One day Hercules, the son of Zeus wandered by Atlas. Hercules was looking for some golden apples. Atlas knew where they grew.   

Atlas told Hercules, "I'll get the apples if you hold up the sky while I’m gone."

So Hercules did.

When Atlas returned he watched Hercules struggle. The weight of the sky make Hercules sweat and groan. "Who would want to take back a job like that?" thought Atlas to himself. "I could leave Hercules here and walk away. Then I would be free forever."

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Hercules sensed what Atlas had in mind. So Hercules thought of a trick. 

"This sky is so uncomfortable!" said Hercules. "Hold it up for a minute while I get a pad for my shoulders. Then I'll hold it up again." 

So Atlas took the sky from Hercules.

But the minute Hercules was free, he ran away, never to return. So, Atlas had no choice but to hold up the sky forever. 

I'm not entirely sure why. But Atlas is dying. Perhaps the myth -- Greek, Roman, homespun, or otherwise -- has no place in modern lore. Perhaps our insatiable lust for "reality" has so usurped our collective spirit so that there is no use for the imagination. We seem to have no need for inspiration.

Problem is we're not actually seeking reality. We're seeking "parity." We want our mythical hero to be just like us. By magnifying his flaws and diminishing his accomplishments, we seek to make him human. But not in a comforting way. We want him cut low so that we may feel, in some way superior to him.

Perhaps it's always been this way. But for me there was a specific day on which I felt killing Atlas became a priority. I'm sure you remember that day. It was Sept. 28, 2003. On that day, Rush Limbaugh asserted McNabb just wasn't that good and the "liberal media" wanted to see a black quarterback succeed."

There were many days of righteous indignation, of course. Limbaugh was fired. But something happened after that. Within a year of Limbaugh's statement the collective sports media, in a concerted effort to prove its "objectivity," became fully committed to disparaging athletes. Whether it was through the investigative story or the op-ed page, the prevalent tone of sports media became nasty and vengeful.

At one time the pendulum swung toward a "Don't ask, don't tell" imperative, especially in regards to the private lives of athletes. But that day is gone. If an athlete is suspected of an unsavory action, either on or off the field of play, his feet will be held to the fire until every aspect of his legend has been burned beyond recognition.


Of the many incarnations of Atlas, the running back who came of age in Columbia, Miss., is among the most endearing. That's because he ran up a hill. This made his legs strong and his heart sound. Sure, he lifted weights and engaged in all the technologically advanced pursuits befitting a modern athlete. But what he did on that hill got to us.

There were other lasting impressions too. We remember the cheeky conversation he had with President Reagan after he set the all-time rushing record. We remember how he punished tacklers. We remember how he recklessly catapulted himself into the end zone. We remember that time he broke into the Oakland Raiders secondary where he met Jack Tatum: The game's most powerful runner entangled with the game’s most unforgiving hitter offered us a glimpse of how it may have looked when the Greeks and Titans got down.

By the time his team finally won a Super Bowl, the legend of Walter Payton was far greater than any ring he would wear.

But now we're supposed to make room for new memories. "Revelations," they're called, in the new biography that chronicles Payton's life. Sure, I have room for memories of painkillers. That's par for the course. There is no moral disillusionment associated with drugs like Vicodin, nitrous oxide or any agent used to numb debilitating pain. Not for me. And probably not for you either. Football is hazardous to your health. Always has been, always will be. Those who play ball will, in varying ways and degrees, be worse off for it.

Yes, I have room for memories of depression, even thoughts of suicide. Not even the most fleet footed of us can elude the profound complexity of the human experience.

But I have no room for the gratuitous disclosure of marital infidelity. Investigative journalism has a purpose in a civilized world. There’s reason to expose the likes of Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and Bernie Madoff. Their actions produced victims.

There is no good reason to expose the Payton household. To do so would publicly victimize Payton's wife Connie, and his children Jarrett, and Brittney. They've already suffered.

Besides, we already have all the information we need on the Payton family. The Walter and Connie Payton Foundation tends to the needs of neglected, abused, and underprivileged children. Its goal is to "encourage a better family unit." Enough said.

Pearlman says its "kills" him to do this to Payton's children. At first I didn't I believe him. But now I do. There's always that sting of guilt when you willingly do something you know is completely unnecessary.

Pearlman is a fine writer. I used to read him when he wrote for ESPN's Page Two. He went after Barry Bonds back when everyone was going after Bonds. He called Bonds "evil." Interesting choice of words. Arrogant, rude and evasive would surely suffice for someone who was all of those things. In the business of mythology, I suppose some hyperbole is in order, but descriptors like "evil" are best left for the Osama Bin Ladens of the world.

But this isn't about Jeff Pearlman. It's about us too. What "kills" him is killing all of us. We don't need to prove athletes mortal. They do that by themselves. The legend of Tiger Woods? Dead by his own hand.

What's accomplished by destroying the myth? Is the miserable life made less miserable? Perhaps for a moment. But the misery returns once it's discovered that someone else is thriving.

And once all the myths are laid to waste then what?

I don't know.

All I know is that the sky is falling.

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Sunday's edition of "60 Minutes" was supposed to be memorable for Andy Rooney's farewell commentary and the Grouch-in-chief didn't disappoint. But we'll go out on a limb, so to speak, and say folks will be buzzing just as much about the profile of mountain climbing legend Alex Honnold.

Honnold, 26, scales mountains like those in Yosemite National Park without standard safety gear such as ropes or harnesses. One wrong step and we will be talking about the late Alex Honnold. Just watching the footage from the "60 Minutes" segment is enough to send even those without a fear of heights scrambling for the Dramamine.

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Click here for the full story on "60 Minutes."

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