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Clock is ticking for Michigan's Rodriguez

Photo by Mike Phillips

Photo by Mike Phillips

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon might ask Rich Rodriguez why he should keep his job in a private conversation soon after the Gator Bowl.

Publicly, Rodriguez doesn't want to say what his answer would be.

"It would sound like I'm lobbying," Rodriguez said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I've got a great job, and we're looking forward to finishing it."

Brandon might not give Rodriguez that chance with three years left on his six-season contract that pays him about $2.5 million annually.

The first-year AD has steadfastly stuck by his plan to evaluate Rodriguez after the season, which closes against No. 21 Mississippi State on New Year's Day.

Brandon has refused to waver from that plan while speculation swirls that he's going to fire Rodriguez and try to hire Stanford coach and former Wolverines quarterback Jim Harbaugh to lead college football's winningest program.

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he doesn't know what his brother is going to do.

"I'm just assuming he's going to stay at Stanford," he said. "He really likes it there, he loves those players, but you just have to see.

"I don't think there's any other jobs that are open right now anyways," he added.

Not yet.

Rodriguez is 15-21 overall, 6-18 in the Big Ten and 1-10 against ranked teams in three seasons at Michigan, where the once dominating Wolverines have fallen out of the national picture and BCS conversation.

Brandon has said the NCAA violations -- related to practices and offseason workouts -- committed under Rodriguez didn't give him cause to terminate his contract. If Brandon and school officials decide to fire Rodriguez without cause on or after Jan. 1, the buyout drops from $4 million to $2.5 million.

Perhaps showing signs of cracking under the intense scrutiny, Rodriguez broke down at last month's team banquet -- tearing up about the affect his job has had on his family -- quoted the Bible and Josh Groban, then played a song from the musician.

Otherwise, though, Rodriguez's players have said their coach has looked and sounded the same as he had for three seasons.

"He's still an upbeat guy -- yelling and screaming at us during practice -- because I don't think all of this has affected him," receiver Darryl Stonum said. "It takes a big man to carry the load he is and still lead us into the bowl game, and he's doing it."

The Wolverines are scheduled to travel to Jacksonville, Fla., on Sunday, to continue preparing for a game that might be pivotal for their coach.

Rodriguez simply shrugs off the suggestion that the pressure he's facing isn't showing.

"You just do your job," he said. "Coaches want consistency from the players, and they want it from us. No matter what else is said, you want to have the same approach. To do anything other than that would cause anxiety among the staff and players."

Rodriguez has had a stress-filled existence since he was lured away from West Virginia on Dec. 17, 2007, to replace retiring coach Lloyd Carr at Michigan.

A messy divorce from Rodriguez's alma mater led to a lot of mudslinging and a $4 million buyout -- of which Michigan paid $2.5 million -- and a school-record nine losses in his first season with the Wolverines.

Just before the 2009 season that began with a 4-0 start and finished with a 5-7 flop, the Detroit Free Press quoted anonymous players saying the Rodriguez-led program was exceeding NCAA limits on practice and training time.

Bill Martin, who hired Rodriguez, stepped aside as AD almost a year ago and Brandon, who played for Bo Schembechler at Michigan, was hired in what sparked another wave of questions about a coaching change if this season wasn't special.

"Some people were going to be negative from Day 1 no matter who the new coach was here," Rodriguez said. "I don't ignore the negatives because there are things we need to fix, but there are a lot of positive things that we can build upon for the future."

The Wolverines won their first five games this year, lost three straight, then won two in a row to become eligible for a bowl before getting blown out by Wisconsin and Ohio State to close the regular season. Michigan's offense was explosive, led by dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson, and the defense was one the nation's worst.

Rodriguez was cleared in November of an allegation that he failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance with NCAA rules, but he and the once-proud program couldn't quite celebrate the relative victory because the governing body handed the school a third year of probation.

Despite the problems on and off the field, Rodriguez and his staff have secured some commitments from prospects after the regular season. Rodriguez said it's exciting to think about how much easier it would be to recruit if there was more positive news surrounding him and the program.

"The first year, we didn't have much time," he said. "The second year, there was drama. Then, there was the NCAA thing. Now, there's another obstacle."