The Wolverine

October 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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60 THE WOLVERINE OCTOBER 2018 BY JOHN BORTON E veryone coming through the Michigan football program has a story. Very few have walked in Ryan Van Bergen's shoes. Five years, three head coaches, four defensive coordinators, and the constant swirl of change enveloped him from 2007-11. In a time of mas- sive upheaval for the Wolverines, a select few were called upon to keep things going. Van Bergen and his classmates sur- vived, finishing their careers with a victory over Notre Dame in The Big House's first night contest, a win over Ohio State and a Sugar Bowl victory. He doesn't possess a Big Ten cham- pionship ring, but a Distinguished Service Medal might be in order. Van Bergen quickly learned to adjust to audibles. "As far as stability before the 2007 season, you'd have said Coach [Lloyd] Carr would have been ce- mented in for another five years, 10 years, maybe," Van Bergen mused. "Him leaving was definitely not the expectation coming in. "I was trying to find a program with a lot of stability." That's not what the class of 2007 encountered. Carr 's final season roller coaster ride — beginning with the shocking loss to Appalachian State and ending with a thriller of a shootout win over Florida and Urban Meyer in the Citrus Bowl — marked the approach of the most unstable period in Michigan football over the past eight decades. Carr announced his retirement before the season ended, Michigan hired West Virginia coach Rich Ro- driguez, and everything began to change. For Van Bergen, the switch proved initially chilling. "I called my dad and was pretty broke up and emotional when we started hearing who was being con- sidered," Van Bergen said. "When Coach Rich Rodriguez got hired, I was disappointed simply because we were likely going to transition from a 4-3 defense — which I signed on to play for — into that 3-3-5 defense. "You're a blocking dummy when you're a defensive lineman in a 3-3-5. You're just trying to free up a line- backer. That's not what I wanted to play." Charles Van Bergen, an Air Force vet, delivered some down-to-earth input when his son pondered a transfer. "It was a pretty bleak outlook at one point," the younger Van Bergen said. "I talked with my dad and real- ized it's the school you play for, not the coach. I picked Michigan, and there was a reason. Stick with it, see it out. "It was a good conversation and led me the right way." Van Bergen's redshirt freshman season provided opportunity. He played in all 12 Michigan games, starting one at defensive end. But Michigan spiraled down to a 3-9 season, breaking a 33-year streak of going to bowl games. The 2007 Wolverines featured a sputtering of- fense, a defense that gave up 35 or more points half a dozen times and some notable confusion on Van Ber- gen's side of the ball. "Coach Rodriguez was a much more offensive-minded guy," Van Bergen recalled. "When the defense wasn't performing in some of the statistical categories as we had been recently, his first instinct was to say I need to take some control here and change some things up. "It got to where it was noticeable in team rooms. He's stepping on the toes of the defensive coordinator, or he's conflicting with some of the stuff your position coaches have just told you. When those things start happen- ing, it creates confusion, because you don't know who you're supposed to be listening to. "Two, you're not confident that everybody's on the same page. You're surprised that you got some information that conflicted. It was almost more of a micromanaging is- sue. Everything is subject to change if RichRod says so, and he's not even a defensive coach. It was frustrating in that aspect." Still, Van Bergen entered his third Michigan season with high hopes. Those were confirmed, the redshirt sophomore starting all 12 U-M games at defensive tackle. But following a 4-0 start — includ- ing a 38-34 win over Notre Dame — the Wolverines tumbled to a 5-7 mark, and pressure surrounding the program grew. "We started both 2009 and 2010 un- defeated, but we kept getting into Big Ten play and kept getting slapped around," he recalled.   WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Ryan Van Bergen Persevered Through Many Changes In his five years with the Wolverines, Van Bergen played for three head coaches — Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN ATHLETICS

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