Rodriguez takes the reins at Michigan
Vail, CO Colorado
ANN ARBOR, Mich. ” Michigan’s coaching search may have lasted longer than it wanted and the school might not have landed its top choice, yet college football’s winningest program is thrilled to have West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez.
And the feeling is mutual.
Rodriguez, who flirted with the Alabama job a year ago, said it took a job of Michigan’s stature for him to leave his home state and alma mater.
“It was a very difficult decision to leave a place where I grew up,” Rodriguez said during his introductory news conference Monday morning. “It was going to take a very special opportunity and a very special place and I think that’s what this is.”
The 44-year-old Rodriguez represents the first head coach to come outside the “Michigan family” as athletic director Bill Martin put it, since Bo Schembechler in 1969.
“Do you have to be a Michigan man to be a Michigan coach? Gosh, I hope not. They hired me,” he said.
Before hiring Rodriguez, the Wolverines apparently went 0-for-2 in their first coaching search since hiring Schembechler away from Miami of Ohio, with LSU’s Les Miles and Rutgers’ Greg Schiano turning down reported opportunities to replace the retiring Lloyd Carr. Rodriguez, though, seems to be much more than a consolation prize.
He built West Virginia into a Big East power, winning the conference championship this year for the fourth time in five seasons and going 60-26 overall.
Rodriguez said he’s aware of the heightened expectations in Ann Arbor.
“I don’t want our team to expect to win,” he said. “I want our team to deserve to win.”
Rodriguez’s hiring marks the second time in eight months that Michigan has lured a coach out of Morgantown. John Beilein, who successfully built up the Mountaineers’ basketball program, now leads the Wolverines.
Rodriguez said he was excited to be back with Beilein, whom he described as a good friend and a former neighbor.
He said goodbye to the Mountaineers during an emotional meeting Sunday in Morgantown.
“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do sometimes,” West Virginia fullback Owen Schmitt said. “He did all he could for us. As far as I know he did a lot of great things for this university.”
Rodriguez said he doesn’t expect to coach West Virginia when it plays Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. He said it typically is the university’s job to make the decision on who would coach in the bowl game.
“My focus is going to be on the University of Michigan, and I don’t think it best serves West Virginia if I’m thinking about the Big House,” he said.
Don Nehlen, a former West Virginia coach and Michigan assistant, on Sunday said he expected Rodriguez to skip the Fiesta Bowl to focus on his new job.
“He’s got a lot of work right away at Michigan, where he has to assemble a staff and catch up on recruiting,” Nehlen told The Associated Press.
Carr has said he will coach Michigan in its Jan. 1 matchup with Florida in the Capital One Bowl.
Rodriguez said he doesn’t want to be a distraction to Carr and the current team as it prepares, but he does acknowledge the desire to get started right away.
As Nehlen predicted, some in West Virginia are not happy with the means by which Michigan got Rodriguez or the end result.
“I would hope and pray … they’ll look at what we’ve done over the last seven years there. … That we’ve left it in a pretty good situation,” Rodriguez said.
Martin and university president Mary Sue Coleman talked with Rodriguez, his wife and agent Friday in Toledo, Ohio. West Virginia athletic director Ed Pastilong met with Rodriguez on Saturday, saying they talked about general issues within the program.
Pastilong had said he was unaware Rodriguez went to Toledo and declined to disclose whether he had given Michigan permission to talk to the coach.
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin blamed the involvement of what he termed “high-priced agents” in college sports.
“I have known Rich for most of his life, from a boy whose only wish was to play football at WVU to a young man whose only wish was to coach at WVU,” Manchin said in a statement. “Something is wrong with the profession of college coaching today when a leader’s word is no longer his bond.”
Alabama’s interest in Rodriguez last year wore on the Mountaineers for several days before he agreed to a one-year contract extension through 2013. The deal included a $4 million buyout clause if he leaves before next September.
Like Beilein, Rodriguez will make enough money at Michigan to cut West Virginia a big check.
“The lawyers are working on it. … They’re a lot smarter than me,” Rodriguez said when asked about the buyout.
“The money thing was not an issue in this decision,” he said.
Mike Brown, Rodriguez’s agent, said his client and Michigan have agreed to the framework of a deal, but it had not been finalized.
Brown declined to comment on the buyout with West Virginia.
Martin said he was prepared to pay as much as $3 million for a coach, roughly doubling what Carr made annually.
Michigan is paying Beilein $1.3 million a season, plus bonuses, as part of a six-year contract.
When Michigan lured Beilein away from West Virginia last April, his contract had a $2.5 million buyout clause. Under an agreement with West Virginia, Beilein agreed to pay $1.5 million to the WVU Foundation.