Rich Rodriguez, The Most Successful Head Coach in WVU History

Rich Rodriguez took the West Virginia Mountaineers to unprecedented heights as the head coach of his hometown team. 

MORGANTOWN, West Virginia — Today, former West Virginia head coach and Grant Town, West Virginia native turns 60 years old.

Back in 2019, when I was a writer for Mountaineer Sports, I had a conversation with him that I will never forget. I reached out to Rich Rodriguez for an interview to ask him the questions that no one else ever had.

For me, the football seasons with Rich Rodriguez as coach were some of my finest memories as a West Virginia fan. Rich Rodriguez always represented passion and enthusiasm for the game, innovation and and a level of success at West Virginia that I didn’t think possible before.  When Coach Rodriguez left for Michigan in 2007, I was disappointed like every other true fan.  I hated to see him go, but I didn’t have the deep, visceral hate that some fans felt towards him and his departure from WVU.  I didn’t view it as a betrayal but rather as a business decision by someone that desperately wanted to reach his full potential in his profession.

I followed him closely at Michigan.  I wanted him to be successful and win the national championship that I felt he deserved.  I have an unremitting belief in his brand of football.  When it didn’t go as planned at Michigan, I watched his Arizona teams closely.  I followed his time as an offensive coordinator at Ole Miss and saw him succeed during his return to head coaching at Jacksonville State this past season.

Perhaps as a boy growing up in West Virginia, he represented something to me that not many other West Virginia-born citizens did.  He worked hard and became an enormous success doing what he loves to do.  He is a self-made, West Virginia born and bred success story.  West Virginia does not have an overwhelming number of examples of this. Bob Huggins, Nick Saban, Mary Lou Retton, Chuck Yeager, Jerry West are a few, but the list isn’t lengthy.  Rich Rodriguez exemplified what I wanted growing up.  I didn’t necessarily want to be a football coach, but I wanted to be great at a job that I loved.  I wanted to have the same passion and enthusiasm and dedication that Rich Rodriguez showed on the field and in the locker room.  I will always look up to him for that reason.

When I learned that I would be interviewing Coach Rodriguez, I knew that I could take a couple of different approaches to it.  This interview was different than with previous interviewees that are universally adored like Jevon Carter, Eugene Napoleon, Damian Owens, etc.  I could bombard him with rumor-laced questions and accusations, immediately putting him on the defensive and abruptly ending the interview before it got started.  Or I could ask the questions that I truly care about and have always wondered.  I chose the latter.

My goal in this interview is for all West Virginians to see Rich Rodriguez as I see him. Admittedly and openly, I want to change a collective negative perception of someone I look up to and also did so much for West Virginia University.  I understand the difficult climb that I will face in changing your minds in any way.  I can already feel the oncoming eye rolls as I tell Coach Rodriguez how “loved and missed he is back home.” If nothing else, I got to talk to one of my heroes and express my appreciation for what he’s done for me and the university that I love so much.

Rich Rodriguez is a West Virginia hero. The story of Rich Rodriguez is that of a small-town West Virginia boy who made it big doing what he loves to do.  The most successful Head Coach in West Virginia football history, he took the Mountaineer football program to heights not thought possible.  Clearly this opinion is not shared by all West Virginians. Rich Rodriguez is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of the university.  Some people in the state still believe that he is a traitor, that he turned his back on the state and all of us fans.  This is simply not true.

For anyone to hold a grudge for the way that he left the program is unfair.  Dealing with an uncooperative administration in Morgantown, fighting for improvements to the program and being denied every step of the way, Rodriguez was also pursued by several other programs at the same time. Michigan offered him everything that he wanted at WVU and more.  This was not about money, this was about winning championships.  Michigan gave him a fresh start and a better chance to compete for championships long-term, at one of the most storied, successful programs in history, without the headaches of dealing with an administration that didn’t have the same vision for success that he had.  Who among us wouldn’t have made the very same decision?

Rich Rodriguez loves West Virginia and its people.  The pain in his voice when he discusses the 13-9 loss in 2007 against Pitt tells it all. He’s still tortured by that game to this day.  If you are one of the few people that still believe that he somehow overlooked the biggest game of his life because he was focused on leaving WVU for another job, you will know how ridiculous that is when you hear the emotions he still feels about that loss.

Rich Rodriguez brought us some of the best memories in West Virginia sports history. His final three seasons at WVU:  11-1 and a Sugar Bowl win against Georgia, 11-2 and a Gator Bowl win against Georgia Tech and, finally, a 10-2 record, one game away from the National Championship.  Pat White. Steve Slaton.  Owen Schmitt.  The pregame speeches.  The revolutionary, trailblazing Zone Read Spread offense. The unprecedented success. Thank you for all of the wonderful memories, Coach Rod.