The Lightning Rod

Morgantown, West Virginia – Long before “Three Guys” with Tony Caridi and no name local radio hosts interviewed Rich Rodriguez, I picked up my phone and called him while he was the offensive coordinator at Ole Miss.  My goal was simple: I wanted to ask every difficult question of him that West Virginians have wondered for the past 15 years.

To his absolute credit, Rodriguez did not ask for any question restrictions for the interview and everything was fair game.  What quickly became abundantly clear was Rodriguez was completely unaware of how disliked he is in the state of West Virginia.  West Virginia fans don’t just hate him, they despise him.  The mere mention of his name brings about anger and bitterness unlike anything else in West Virginia sports history.

What’s even more surprising is the lack of appreciation that West Virginia fans show towards one of our own.  You see, 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.

Rich Rodriguez loves West Virginia and its people.  The pain in his voice when he still 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.

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?

This is not to say that West Virginia is not as capable of winning big as Michigan. Rather, Michigan’s administration’s vision was more in line with Coach Rodriguez’s vision for success at that time.  Rodriguez wanted a “culture change” at WVU.

He wanted more operational control over money that was raised through a booster organization he founded.  He wanted to use this money to make improvements.  He didn’t want the program to remain stagnant.  He wanted to keep pushing the program to be bigger and better.  He had many other simple requests:  free game passes for high school coaches, seats at WVU basketball games for football recruits, things that would help the program and not cost the university a thing.

Unfortunately, his requests were denied.   If the administration at WVU was not so short-sighted and frankly incompetent, Rich Rodriguez would still be our Head Coach today.

Rich Rod shouldn’t be remembered for his departure from Morgantown; rather, we should look back on the beautiful story of Rich Rodriguez.  The story of Rich Rodriguez should be a celebration of one of our own and his dazzling, magnificent time at West Virginia University.  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.