Commentary

Even with increased parity, lure of traditional powers is hard to resist

Originally Published: December 16, 2007
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Rich Rodriguez said he wouldn't leave West Virginia, his alma mater. He said it a year ago when Alabama offered him a lucrative contract. He said it earlier this month. On Sunday, Rodriguez left for the University of Michigan.

Earthquakes have the Richter scale. Coaching moves have the newly developed, very scientific Petrino-Saban scale. Rodriguez's decision to leave barely caused the needle to move. This move is justifiable, even if Rodriguez, 44, had to leave home to make it.

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesRich Rodriguez's decision to move to a traditional football power is understandable.

"It was a very tough decision for Rich," his agent, Mike Brown, said from Ann Arbor on Sunday night, "and it was not about money. It was tough, basically because of the great effort the players gave him over the years, the great support from the fans, and the great support of the Mountaineer Athletic Foundation and the people who made donations through it."

Brown refused to comment on the salary or the length of the contract the two sides have agreed to pursue. He also refused to comment on the status of the $4 million buyout in the contract Rodriguez signed when he decided not to leave West Virginia for Alabama.

"Rich knows he left the program in better shape seven years after he inherited it," Brown said.

Rodriguez went 60-26 (.698) at West Virginia. After going 3-8 in his first season, Rodriguez won at least eight games every season. The Mountaineers won at least a share of four of the past five Big East Conference championships. In Rodriguez's last three years, West Virginia went 32-5.

Rodriguez's decision to leave is justifiable because there's a difference between saying, "I will never leave," and "I will not be the next coach at _____."

The former might be heartfelt, but it also might be mere claptrap to keep players focused and recruits interested. It has the advantage of being open-ended, and all of us make open-ended promises that, although we intend to keep them, we might not. If you've stood before a table of caloric heaven at a Christmas party this week, you understand.

The latter is exact. Once you say that publicly, you have committed not to take a specific action. Rodriguez protected himself. On Saturday, when the subject of Michigan arose, he refused to talk about it.

The reason Rodriguez refused to talk about it is that he already had a foot-and-a-half out the door. By the time word leaked Friday afternoon that the West Virginia coach had met that day with Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman and athletic director Bill Martin, Rodriguez knew what Michigan would offer and liked what he knew.

A year and a week ago, Rodriguez's negotiations with Alabama became public early enough that West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin and some big-money Mountaineers boosters rushed to pony up enough money to keep Rodriguez from taking a more prestigious job.

We are all engorged with the parity college football served up every week this fall. But no matter how many Missouris and West Virginias threaten to stage a coup d'etat in this sport, there will always be royalty. Think of the schools whose tradition is immediately recognizable across the nation: USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, et al.

Michigan might be the last of these jobs open for a while. Pete Carroll isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Bob Stoops is ensconced in Norman. Bobby Bowden has anointed a successor at Florida State, and Joe Paterno has spoken of doing the same at Penn State. Tommy Tuberville, Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel -- where are they going?

Rodriguez already had turned down one of these jobs. A year later, he had a chance at another one. No slight to Alabama, but Rodriguez is a more natural fit at Michigan. There is a relationship between the two schools, and not just because John Beilein left Morgantown earlier this year to coach the Wolverines' men's basketball team.

Don Nehlen, who turned West Virginia into a regional power in his 21 seasons (1980-2000), came to the school from Bo Schembechler's staff at Michigan. He made the Mountaineers uniforms look like an Allegheny version of the Wolverines'.

Rodriguez made the leap. He brings with him the offense he has developed, a no-huddle spread that has worked everywhere he has tried it, from Glenville State in the NAIA to Tulane to Clemson to West Virginia. It will work at Michigan. He will open up the Wolverines in more ways than one.

Rodriguez is as open as his predecessor, Lloyd Carr, is buttoned-up. It's possible Fortress Michigan won't be so inaccessible to the media and the public. That's assuming Rodriguez changes Michigan rather than Michigan changing Rodriguez.

If he achieves the level of success with the Wolverines that he had with the Mountaineers over a long period of time, Rodriguez will be a worthy successor to Fielding Yost, Fritz Crisler, Schembechler and Carr. To be mentioned in the same breath as those coaches is the reason any coach who craves competition gets up in the morning.

It's the reason Rodriguez is leaving home.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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