The Mountaineers' head coach will move to Michigan
West Virginia football coach Rich Rodriguez speaks to the media at a morning news conference Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va., but refused to address reports that he was a candidate for the University of Michigan job.
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A week more than a year since he pledged his allegiance to his alma mater and home state by spurning Alabama's offer, three weeks since he rejected the notion of potential new suitors by telling media "We're not done here ... you're stuck with me," Rich Rodriguez forcibly extricated himself from what he viewed as a messy West Virginia yesterday and left for Michigan.
More to the point, from his perspective he was shown the door.
Meetings throughout Saturday with West Virginia president Mike Garrison, chief of staff Craig Walker and athletic director Ed Pastilong -- with whom Rodriguez twice entered into discussions -- left Rodriguez believing he had no other choice but leave his old school and the program he built into a Top-10 regular.
Rodriguez was satisfied with his post-Alabama deal through 2013, the booster-built contract that guaranteed the seven-year coach not only $1.9 million per season but also the facilities and commitment, which were even more important to him.
One promise, made when he signed the contract in August, about facility improvements was already being withdrawn, he felt. Rodriguez supposedly never asked to revisit that contract or his financial terms Saturday, but he invoked that August promise along with additional requests such as increased pay for assistants. Yet Garrison and the others rebuffed his requests.
The coaching career of Rich Rodriguez, who will leave West Virginia for Michigan.
- 2001: Head coach West Virginia, 60-26 record in seven seasons.
- 2000: Associate head coach/offensive coordinator at Clemson
- 1999: Assistant head coach/offensive coordinator at Clemson
- 1997-98: Offensive coordinator, Tulane.
- 1990-96: Head coach, Glernville State, 43-28-2 in 7 seasons.
- 1989: Volunteer assistant coach, West Virginia.
- 1988: Head coach, Salem College, 2-8 in 1 season.
- 1986: Special teams/secondary coach, Salem College.
When Rodriguez told the Mountaineers at a regularly scheduled 1:30 p.m. meeting yesterday as part of their Fiesta Bowl preparations, he mentioned that the administration failed him and the program. Soon after, the Post-Gazette was the first to report that he had accepted the Michigan job.
Rodriguez, a Grant Town, W.Va., native, will be unveiled as Michigan's third head coach in roughly four decades at a news conference at 9 a.m. today inside the Junge Family Champions Center on its campus in Ann Arbor -- a new home for West Virginia expatriates with hefty buyouts.
Basketball coach John Beilein left Morgantown for Michigan last spring, ultimately negotiating his buyout to a $1.5 million payment over the next few years as donations to the Mountaineer Athletic Club.
Rodriguez, as part of the renegotiations that hastily followed the agreement in principle his representatives reached with Alabama officials, has a $4 million buyout. Half of that must be paid by Aug. 31. Agent Mike Brown last night declined to comment on the buyout, though Michigan athletic director Bill Martin has stated, after Lloyd Carr's retirement Nov. 19, that the Wolverines would help to overcome any such obstacles. Rodriguez might receive an interest-free loan to make that first $2 million payment, with the rest due within three years.
"It was a tough decision for Rich," Brown said from Toledo, Ohio, where he and the Rodriguezes flew last night because snow closed the Ann Arbor airport. Coincidentally, Rich and Rita Rodriguez flew to Toledo Friday -- after Michigan officials apparently twice contacted West Virginia of their intention -- to meet with Martin and school president Mary Sue Coleman, who apparently was smitten by the candidate's response that the "Michigan Way" would have to incorporate the Rodriguez Way if he was to replace Carr.
Brown added, "It was tough especially because of the great effort by the players over the years, the fan support and members of the Mountaineer Athletic Club."
Rodriguez is believed to be getting $2.5 million annually from Michigan, with incentives that could push that to $3 million.
Brown hammered out an agreement in principle with Michigan officials late Saturday, but Rodriguez didn't formally notify the Wolverines that he accepted the deal until yesterday. He informed his assistants, a few of whom might be asked to join him at Michigan. Then he met the players.
"I know it's not just all on coach Rod," cornerback-returner Vaughn Rivers of Perry Traditional Academy told the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail after a one-hour practice overseen at Mountaineer Field by associate head coaches Bill Stewart and Calvin Magee. "He's not being forced into anything, but I know he really wanted to be here."
Fullback Owen Schmitt added: "I know a lot of people are going to bad-mouth him. ... You got to do what's best for you."
Possible candidates to replace Rich Rodriguez as Mountaineers coach.
- Doc Holliday, Florida associate head coach. Longtime WVU assistant, Hurricane, W.Va., native.
- Jimbo Fisher, Florida State offensive coordinator. Fairmont native who is in line to replace Bobby Bowden when he retires.
- George Henshaw, New Orleans Saints offensive assistant. Former WVU All-America.
- Terry Bowden, ESPN/ABC announcer. Former WVU player and son of Bobby Bowden.
- Tom Bradley, Penn State defensive coordinator. No real tie, but no guarantee he'll replace Joe Paterno.
Rodriguez also clashed with Pastilong, who is close to West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin. In fact, the governor released a critical statement yesterday saying, among other things: "I have seen Rich become a victim of a college coaching system driven by high-price agents. ... Something is wrong with the profession of college coaching today when the leader's word is no longer his bond, and it does not bode well for the student-athletes who entrust these coaches with their futures."
Pastilong, in his statement, vowed to immediately begin a search for a coach to "continue our tradition of success."
Rodriguez leaving could conceivably hasten the departure of junior tailback Steve Slaton, who is contemplating a jump to the NFL. He told ESPN.com: "Learning another system and having another coach would be hard. But I'm not sure yet."
Carr intends to coach the Wolverines in the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl against Florida. What happens to the Mountaineers in the Fiesta Bowl is up in the air. Rodriguez apparently dated his letter of resignation Jan. 3, the day after the game against Oklahoma in University of Phoenix Stadium. However, it seems more likely that an interim coach will be named, if a new head coach isn't in place by then.
Stewart, the Mountaineers' tight ends and special teams coach, seems the easiest answer for an interim head coach. He has experience as a head coach for three seasons at Virginia Military Institute a decade ago.
West Virginia's world has spun wildly since Dec. 1. The Mountaineers lost to 28 1/2-point underdog Pitt, 13-9, lost a chance to play in the Jan. 7 national championship game and, ultimately, lost their coach.
"Dark times, dark times," said Jed Drenning, a Morgantown radio broadcaster and former player for Rodriguez at Glenville State.
"We lost a lot that [Dec. 1] night. A whole lot. It's the gift that keeps on giving. I don't know if a team has ever been punished more for not showing up to play."
First Published December 17, 2007 12:00 am