Rodriguez meets Michigan officials?
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West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez spent most of yesterday in Toledo, Ohio, but not in meetings with Michigan officials about their coaching vacancy, his agent said last night.
Mike Brown denied reports in Detroit media and "The Sporting News" saying his client met with Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman and athletic director Bill Martin. If so, Brown said, "That's news to me." Brown, who said he was in Atlanta despite reports that placed him in Toledo, said Rodriguez flew to Ohio to see a financial advisor.
Rodriguez apparently flew from Morgantown to Toledo on a chartered twin-turboprop plane around 8 a.m. yesterday and returned shortly after 5 p.m. -- the time of a scheduled meeting prior to the 11th-ranked Mountaineers' first, full Fiesta Bowl practice.
When he entered the Mountaineers' Puskar Center and was approached by a reporter from the Metro News radio network in West Virginia, Rodriguez said he merely met with a financial advisor in Toledo. He then declined to comment on Detroit and national media reports that he, along with one of his agents, was discussing the Wolverines' vacancy with Michigan administrators there, Metro News reported.
The Wolverines have sought for almost a month, albeit unsuccessfully, to find a successor to Lloyd Carr, who retired Nov. 19 after 13 seasons. Rutgers' Greg Schiano withdrew last week after meeting with Martin for five hours in New York. LSU's Les Miles, a Michigan alumnus and reputed front-runner for the job, signed a new contract with the Tigers yet still spoke by telephone with Coleman and Martin earlier this week, although he maintained his stance that he is not leaving LSU.
Meanwhile, West Virginia officials, coaches and players seemed taken aback by Rodriguez's one-day venture to northwest Ohio.
"I don't know anything about it," athletic director Ed Pastilong told the Charleston Gazette. "The only person who can clarify that is Rich Rodriguez."
Michigan is the place where former West Virginia men's basketball coach John Beilein landed in the spring. That path ended acrimoniously, with Beilein personally paying $1.5 million toward the buyout clause in his existing West Virginia contract.
Rodriguez, meantime, has a $4 million buyout -- doubled after his dalliance with Alabama and after his West Virginia contract was reworked. He signed that deal in August. If he were to leave his alma mater by Aug. 31, 2008, he would have to pay half that buyout amount, with the other half due three years later.
Rodriguez, 60-26 in seven years at his alma mater, stayed home-- he is from nearby Grant Town -- a year ago after boosters rushed to his support. They not only helped to pay him slightly less than what Alabama offered, at $1.9 million annually, but, more important to the homegrown coach, they pledged to build new facilities and grow his program. In the past year, a new academic center and VIP seats have been constructed at the Puskar Center end overlooking Mountaineer Field, and the locker rooms are scheduled to be redone soon after the Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl against third-ranked Oklahoma.
It's possible that Rodriguez, as he has said openly and often, simply listened to Michigan officials and is not interested in their tradition-steeped position -- such an interview could only raise his profile and reputation among potential recruits plus others around college football. After all, he and his program took a hit Dec. 1 from the 13-9 loss to Pitt that knocked the Mountaineers from No. 2 and a berth in the national championship game.
Outside of a mourning period that continues almost throughout West Virginia, there apparently has been little negative around the program to dissuade Rodriguez from his stated goal one year ago to remain with the Mountaineers and build a national contending team. He offered then a mantra that he reiterated often amid this past season: "We're not done yet."
First Published December 15, 2007 12:00 am