Cook: Rodriguez leaves some key issues on the table
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No couch-burning in Morgantown last night?
Don't the people down there realize this truly was a day worth celebrating? Rich Rodriguez changed his mind at the last second and turned down a huge-money offer from Alabama to stay as West Virginia's football coach. Isn't that a lot better than a win against Pitt or Louisville or Virginia Tech, which used to be enough to set the sofas blazing?
On the other hand ...
Do you think maybe the good people of West Virginia, happy as they might be about keeping their successful coach, are just a bit leery about how trustworthy Rodriguez really is and a little worried that he could break their hearts the next time someone comes knocking on his door with a big offer?
There really are two sides to this intriguing story.
It makes me feel dirty, actually.
For obvious reasons, it's terrific news for the West Virginia program that Rodriguez is staying. He's a superb coach, maybe the best offensive mind in the college game. Hardly any opponent has stopped his Mountaineers from putting on a thrilling, high-tech show and scoring a zillion points with their one-of-a-kind spread offense. Although West Virginia badly underachieved this season, losing two games -- including one at home to South Florida -- and settling for the Gator Bowl instead of its team goal -- the national championship game -- the Mountaineers will be back next season to be a Big East Conference favorite and should be strong in the still relatively weak league for years to come. Star quarterback Patrick White and fabulous running back Steve Slaton again will lead the way next fall, the thought of which should be enough to get any football fan through the long, cold winter and the equally long, stifling summer.
But there's also a troubling aspect to all of this.
The night before West Virginia played Rutgers a week ago, Rodriguez took the drastic step of calling a state-wide radio show to express his outrage at speculation that had him leaving for Alabama. "I plan on being the coach at West Virginia the rest of my career, if they'll have me," he practically screamed.
That same night, Rodriguez faced his players and made the same pledge. They believed his every word. Many worship the ground he walks on. He has made them successful in the game they love, probably beyond their wildest dreams.
Less than a week later, Rodriguez had a lucrative contract offer to become Alabama's coach.
So much for his word.
It's hard to believe Rodriguez wouldn't have followed through and bailed on West Virginia if university officials hadn't stepped up at the last minute yesterday and matched Alabama's $2 million-a-year offer, just six months after they rewarded his 2005 Big East championship and Sugar Bowl win against Georgia with a big raise and a new seven-year contract. His salary is a crazy amount for any college coach, but it must seem especially staggering in West Virginia, a state that's not exactly awash in money and where many good, hard-working residents struggle to make ends meet.
But, hey, that's big-time college football these days for you.
They must be sick in Alabama.
They must think Rodriguez has no integrity after he reneged on his commitment to them, instead using their offer to get a better deal at West Virginia.
Even the most die-hard Mountaineers fans also must find that unsettling.
They must be wondering if the extortion ever is going to stop with Rodriguez.
What's to prevent the next big-name school in a better conference from going after Rodriguez next year or the year after or the year after that?
There's reason to think Rodriguez will be high on Florida State's wish list when Bobby Bowden finally steps aside.
There's also reason to believe Florida State is Rodriguez's dream job.
It's funny, Bowden left West Virginia for Florida State 30-some years ago, at least in part, because he thought it would be easier to coach offensive football in warm, dry Tallahassee than in the late-season cold, sleet and snow of Morgantown.
Might Rodriguez take that same path one day?
Or will he merely use the opportunity to extort even more money from West Virginia?
First Published December 9, 2006 12:00 am