Rodriguez, WVU locked in stalemate over contract extension

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Bill Haber, Associated Press
West Virginia football coach Rich Rodriguez wants better pay for his assistants and better facilities for the team.
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While Rich Rodriguez steered West Virginia University to a Big East football championship share or outright title each of the past three years, almost every other conference coach was rewarded with a contract extension.

As a result, almost every other conference coach -- possibly as many as five of the other seven -- annually makes more than Rodriguez.

Yet his slipping salary rate, something university officials have offered to bump upward, isn't the reason talks over a contract extension have reached a stalemate between Rodriguez and negotiators for his alma mater, even though his most recent season was capped by the school's first BCS berth and a stirring Sugar Bowl victory.

The two sides have hit a wall in discussions the past two weeks, said a source familiar with the situation, because the fifth-year coach seeks additions to his contract such as a formal university commitment to higher pay for his assistants, facility improvements and standards equal to other comparable coaches -- for instance, West Virginia's $2 million buyout clause is the conference and Division I-A exception rather than the norm.

A $3 million buyout clause in his contract prohibited Mountaineers basketball coach John Beilein from accepting the North Carolina State job in April.

Rodriguez, a Mountaineers player under predecessor Don Nehlen and a native of coal-mining Grant Town, W.Va., has maintained publicly and privately that he wants to remain at West Virginia for the duration of his coaching career. He talks about staying at his alma mater and maintaining a top-tier program for decades, much like Joe Paterno at Penn State and Bobby Bowden at Florida State.

The buyout clause, which started with the seven-year contract extension he signed after a 9-4 season in 2002 that relieved pressure from a criticized athletic department, is merely another facet from which Rodriguez cannot get university officials to budge, the source said, adding that one sticking point remains a $50,000 difference in across-the-board raises he's requesting for his assistants. It seems to those around Rodriguez that the coach's loyalty is being used against him as leverage in negotiations.

His base salary last season was roughly a combined $850,000, which ranks him no better than fifth in the eight-team Big East, and possibly lower.

Since Rodriguez's last extension, Louisville's Bobby Petrino (about $1.4 million per year), South Florida's Jim Leavitt ($1 million), Connecticut's Randy Edsall ($900,000) and Rutgers' Greg Schiano ($875,000) received salary boosts from new contracts that placed them ahead of the Mountaineers' coach. Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, entering his second season, is believed to be among that group as well with a package worth about $1.1 million annually.

There are three years left on Rodriguez's existing contract, though many athletic departments seek at least five-year commitments for recruiting purposes.

West Virginia officials have been negotiating with Rodriguez on an extension since after the Sugar Bowl, where the Mountaineers upset Southeastern Conference champion Georgia, 38-35, to finish with an 11-1 record and a No. 5 ranking, the best in school history.

Rodriguez couldn't be reached yesterday.

A spokesman said it's athletic department policy to refrain from publicly discussing such personnel matters as contracts. The source said, however, that athletic director Ed Pastilong has been replaced in negotiations by university president David C. Hardesty and general counsel Tom Dorer.

Rodriguez made at least an extra $185,000 in bonuses this past season after achieving incentives for a BCS bowl ($75,000), a Big East title ($75,000), a Top-25 finish ($15,000) and Big East coach of the year ($10,000). Still, those incentives pale in comparison to other coaches at an equivalent or marginally greater level of success, such as Iowa's Kirk Ferentz getting $50,000 for a Top-25 finish and Michigan State's John L. Smith getting $125,000 for a non-BCS bowl.

And Smith is one of the few coaches, if not the only other coach, in Division I-A football reported to have a buyout price tag equal to Rodriguez's, but with a guaranteed salary of $1.65 million.

"If you look at how short the average stay is for a coach [between three to five years] at a Division I-A school, you're going to want to maximize you're earning potential as much as possible," said Todd Bell, media relations director for the American Football Coaches Association.

"It's getting harder and harder for a coach to stay at a school the length Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden have. Because of that, schools are willing to lock people up to long-term contracts. Generally, if you're going to want to be successful in your conference, you want to have a budget equal to or surpassing others in your conference, including the coaches -- head coach and assistants. That's true of any sport."


Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724.


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