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Michigan’s hire of Rich Rodriguez is a representation of Burke’s Ideals

March 28, 2011

Through our learning of Edmund Burke a few main ideals have been discovered. As learned in lecture and through Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France:

1) Edmund Burke believes that tradition is the most reliable source of political knowledge.

2) Edmund Burke is considered to be the creator of modern conservatism and one of the main beliefs of conservatism as learned in class is that “radical change from the past is always problematic and tradition is valuable.”

3) Knowledge is collective and cumulative and it is something that we have acquired over time. According to Burke, you can’t just figure things out for yourself, you need tradition.

I feel that the University of Michigan’s decision to hire Rich Rodriguez as its head football coach in 2007 and the years which followed that hire exemplify these Burkeian ideals. As the winningest program in the history of college football, the football tradition at Michigan is undeniable. Michigan has always had a tradition of playing hard nosed defense and running a pro style offense with a smash mouth, down hill running attack and a strong armed pro-style quarterback. Just as Burke believes that knowledge is cumulative and acquired over time, the tradition of Michigan football and it’s success has been acquired over time. Michigan has won 11 National Championships, and 42 Big Ten titles. From Fielding H. Yost to Bo Schembechler to Lloyd Carr, Michigan has always upheld a winning football tradition unlike any other.

As the father of modern conservatism Burke helped push the belief that “ radical change from the past is always problem.” With the hire of Rich Rodriguez in 2007, Michigan made a radical change from past tradition which led them into the worst three-year span in the history of the schools football program. Ignoring past success in its style of coach and style of football, Michigan hired a coach who ran a spread offense, and 3-5 stack defense. Michigan began to recruit smaller, quicker players, rather than bigger, stronger, more physical players like they always have. In these years of radical change Michigan had its worst season in school history, going 3-9 in 2008, faced NCAA violations for the first time in the schools history, and went 6-18 in conference play. Rich Rodriguez was not a Michigan man and therefore never got the support he deserved from Michigan fans, which made his task even tougher. Just as Burke’s conservatism states Michigan’s decision to make radical change in its football program was extremely problematic.

The major quote from Burke which stands out to me in this scenario is when Burke states,“ I put my foot in the tracks of my forefathers, where I can neither wander nor stumble.” Michigan ignored the success of the traditional style of its previous football coaches (forefathers) with its hire of Rich Rodriguez in 2007. This, according to Burke, opened them up to wander and stumble as they did from 2008-2010. With the recent hire of Brady Hoke Michigan looks to return to it’s traditional style of football and fix the problems it created by ignoring these traditions in its previous hire.


Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche.
Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2008.

Quote from Burke: Speech on Conciliation with America, 1775

Lecture: Professor Mika LaVaque-Manty

Image of Rich Rodriguez:

Image #2:

One Comment
  1. Pierre Gerondeau permalink
    March 31, 2011 2:18 PM

    This was a very interesting post using Burke’s ideas with modern society, and I liked how you incorporated sports into political theory. You made a lot of good points using Burke’s reasoning, such as that reasoning is collective over time, and that people should study the past and use past decisions to help them make current ones. Michigan is steeped in all kinds of traditions, and the hiring of RichRod is a great example to show what can happen when people break from the status quo and try something different. I also thought it would be interesting to think about how other political theorists would view the hiring of RichRod. We just finished Mill, and you probably wrote this before Mill, but I think Mill might agree with the hiring of RichRod. Although Mill would probably not like the results, assuming he was a fan of Michigan, he might say that all opinion (or hirings) are good to have, even if they turn out not to work, because now people know what doesn’t work and can revert to tradition to get Michigan football back to its glory days.

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