WVU's Rodriguez is Alabama-bound

Deal for him to succeed Mike Shula as coach of the Crimson Tide expected within 24 hours

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The Grant Town guy with the down-home, West Virginia euphemisms, the Mountaineers' alum with the wit about jumping off the Westover Bridge, the patent-holder and purveyor of the modern spread offense, the coach with the ballcap, steely sideline demeanor and red-and-green wristbands waving in plays just before the snap -- you can color him gone.

Gone in a Crimson Tide.

Rich Rodriguez, 43, is set to leave his home state and alma mater to accept the head coaching post at tradition-steeped Alabama. Although last night he officially had not accepted a deal in principle that Crimson Tide officials considered within the Top 10 -- perhaps as high as Top 5 -- of the highest-paid, Division I-A coaches, it was considered mostly a formality. A deal should be struck within the next 24 hours, with a few remaining details left for discussion between Alabama administrators and Rodriguez's agents, Mike Brown and Eric Metz.

"It's just a matter of time," a source told the Post-Gazette. "Dot some I's and cross some T's."

After attending a news conference in Jacksonville, Fla., promoting the 13th-ranked Mountaineers' appearance in the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl, Rodriguez flew home to Morgantown to tell his wife, Rita, and family of their impending Alabama adventure. Now it's unlikely Rodriguez will coach in that bowl.

All along, he reiterated that he planned to finish his coaching career at West Virginia "if they'll have me." Apparently, he didn't believe they would have him at the price of the facilities and BCS-maintaining pace that he desired.

Plans changed.

"It's been tough on me, but I've not let it distract from my day-to-day duties," Rodriguez said at the Gator Bowl news conference. "When other people have come to talk to my staff or myself personally, it's very flattering. I'd rather have it that way than the other way. I coached a long time, and nobody ever called. Now some people have expressed an interest in my staff and myself, and, while it's flattering, it's not changed who we are."

He appears headed for a six-year, $13 million-plus deal instead of the seven-year, $8.65 million extension he acrimoniously forged with West Virginia administrators before signing in late June. It wasn't so much the money -- Alabama also must pay a $2 million buyout to West Virginia in addition to the $4 million it is giving deposed coach Mike Shula -- as it was what Alabama provided and West Virginia didn't in facilities and guarantees.

Crimson Tide athletic director Mal Moore, a former Alabama player and coach who was part of seven of the school's 12 national championships ( to West Virginia's zero), has presided over $54 million in improvements to the program's Tuscaloosa facilities. Included in that was a renovation to historic Bryant-Denny Stadium, which this past season re-opened to seat 92,138 -- making it the seventh-largest campus facility in NCAA Division I-A. The refurbished stadium helps to bring in $2 million to $3 million in game-day revenue.

Rodriguez believed West Virginia administrators dragged their feet over projects they promised him: Half the $2 million toward a new academic center has been realized in donations, but the $4 million fund-raising effort for locker-room renovations has not begun.

In the 10 months between the time he directed the Mountaineers to their first BCS bowl appearance, a stirring, 38-35, Sugar Bowl victory that Big East Conference commissioner Mike Tranghese labeled the league's single-most significant triumph, and a program-record fifth consecutive bowl trip upcoming, the edges frayed in the relationship between Rodriguez and his old school.

First came the bitter wrangling over his extension, which paid him $1.1 million this season but brought the two sides to loggerheads over such issues as facility upgrades and a total of $50,000 in assistants' raises. Then came what Rodriguez perceived as the slow pace of the promised building improvements.

As for potential replacements, Mountaineers administrators likely will consider LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher of Clarksburg, W.Va., and Salem University; Florida associate head coach/safeties John "Doc" Holliday, a Hurricane, W.Va., native and from 1979-99 a Mountaineers assistant after three letter-winning seasons at linebacker; New Orleans Saints assistant George "Duke" Henshaw, a 1967-69 Mountaineers lineman; and possibly Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and East Carolina coach Skip Holtz.

Bill Haber, Associated Press
West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez finally threw his hands up and decided to take the Alabama coaching job.
Click photo for larger image.

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


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