Rodriguez leaving West Virginia to coach Michigan

Updated: December 17, 2007, 2:39 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan has hired West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez as its next football coach following a search that featured two other top prospects deciding to stay put.

Rodriguez, whose Mountaineers (No. 9 BCS, No. 11 AP) are preparing for their second BCS game in three seasons, will take over Michigan's program from Lloyd Carr, Michigan athletic department spokesman Bruce Madej said Sunday.

"I am thrilled to have Rich Rodriguez as Michigan's new coach," athletic director Bill Martin wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press on Sunday. "Rich brings an exciting brand of football to Michigan Stadium. We welcome the entire Rodriguez family to Ann Arbor."

A source told ESPN's John Buccigross that the primary reason for Rodriguez leaving West Virginia was his deteriorating relationship with the athletic department. Sources also told Buccigross that former Auburn coach and West Virginia native Terry Bowden, who played for the Mountaineers and who was a graduate assistant there, has been in contact with WVU about the Mountaineers' head coaching position.

Former West Virginia coach Don Nehlen, who coached Rodriguez when he played for the Mountaineers and was on Bo Schembechler's staff at Michigan, endorsed the move.

"I felt it was a great opportunity for Rich," Nehlen told the AP in a telephone interview from Morgantown, W.Va. "There are not many Michigans around."

Rodriguez, who informed his players at a 1:30 p.m. ET meeting Sunday that he was leaving for Michigan, will formally be introduced by the Wolverines at a 9 a.m. ET news conference on Monday morning at the Junge Family Champions Center on campus. WVU recruiting coordinator Tony Gibson and offensive coordinator Calvin Magee flew to Ann Arbor on Sunday evening with Rodriguez.

Rodriguez was extremely emotional in the meeting with his West Virginia players that lasted less than 10 minutes Sunday, a person at the meeting told ESPN. He had difficulty telling his team, "Others have contacted me but this one I had to listen."

A source close to Rodriguez told ESPN that the Michigan deal will average in the range of $2.5 million per year, which would be more than a half-million per year raise from his West Virginia salary.

Maisel: Michigan Makes Sense

Rich Rodriguez's decision to leave his alma mater for Michigan isn't comparable to Petrino-gate. Even though Rodriguez got the Mountaineers to the brink of a national title, Michigan offers something West Virginia can't: the opportunity to test himself against the game's best coaches, writes Ivan Maisel. Story

"The players are upset because he said he's going to leave before the bowl game," James Dykes, the father of West Virginia defensive tackle Keilen Dykes told ESPN's Joe Schad. "At least coach them in the bowl game. James just called to tell us and I know he is very upset about this."

Assistant head coach Bill Stewart and Magee ran West Virginia's one-hour practice on Sunday. Rodriguez was not present. "We tried to be excited," Keilen Dykes said. "We're all hurting right now, but we can't cry."

There was no immediate word on who would coach West Virginia in the Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma (No. 4 BCS, No. 3 AP) in Glendale, Ariz.

Michigan's reputation seemed to take a hit during constant coverage of its first coaching search since hiring Schembechler nearly four decades ago. The school had permission to talk to LSU coach Les Miles, who played for Schembechler and also was an assistant under him, but couldn't bring him back to Ann Arbor. It also talked with Greg Schiano, who decided to stay at Rutgers.

The 44-year-old Rodriguez seems to be much more than a consolation prize.

He built West Virginia (10-2) into a Big East power, winning the conference championship this year for the fourth time in five seasons and going 60-26 overall.

"I'm pretty sure the next guy will do a good job but Coach Rod was West Virginia," Running back Steve Slaton said. "It's a business. He has to think of his family first. He'll have emotions. But I can't be mad at him because he gave me a chance."

Carr plans to coach the Wolverines in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1 against No. 9 Florida.

Rodriguez's West Virginia contract, which ran through the 2013 season, had a $4 million buyout clause if he left before next September. After several days last year, Rodriguez turned down Alabama's reported six-year, $12 million offer after the Mountaineers gave him a one-year contract extension.

When Michigan lured basketball coach John Beilein away from West Virginia last April, Beilein's contract had a $2.5 million buyout clause. Under an agreement with West Virginia, he paid $1.5 million to the WVU Foundation.

Madej said he did not know how the school and Rodriguez would handle his buyout.

"Honestly I don't know why he chose Michigan instead of Alabama," Slaton said. " I'm still going to go through the decision [with the NFL draft]. I have to make a big decision for me.

"Learning another system and having another coach would be hard. But I'm not sure yet."

Freshman Ryan Mallett gained experience this year with the Wolverines, filling in for banged-up Chad Henne, and his father said people shouldn't assume his son is transferring because he might not fit into Rodriguez's offense that features a mobile quarterback.

"I talked to Ryan today and he's going to keep an open mind and is looking forward to hearing what coach Rodriguez's plans are," Jim Mallett told the AP. "So, we'll just have to wait and see."

Mallett's decision might be easier if Terrelle Pryor decides to commit to Rodriguez and the Wolverines.

The star QB from Jeannette, Pa., said he informed Rodriguez that Michigan became one of the five schools he was considering when the coach told him he was going to lead the Wolverines.

"We talked at 10 a.m. this morning and I told him Michigan just got on my list," Pryor told the AP on Sunday night.

Pryor is also considering Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State and Florida.

After watching Pryor play on tape, Nehlen said he reminds him of Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young.

"If that kid comes, he's probably more important than Rich," Nehlen joked.

Rodriguez met with Martin on Friday to talk about the Wolverines' coaching job.

Rodriguez, 44, was back in Morgantown on Friday after taking a flight from Ohio, and he was unwilling to talk about any possible interest in the Michigan job.

"Going to practice. I'm going to practice," he told The Associated Press on Friday, getting into his car after a trip to Toledo.

Rodriguez again refused to discuss Michigan's vacant coaching job on Saturday.

At the opening of a previously scheduled news conference about West Virginia's trip to the Fiesta Bowl, Rodriguez said he would only talk about the game against Oklahoma.

"It may be disappointing to you, but I am not going to talk about any rumors or innuendo or jobs or what else is floating out there," Rodriguez said.

"I'm not going to address the rumors or anything of that nature," Rodriguez said. "If any questions are asked about that, the press conference will be over."

The questions about Michigan persisted, and Rodriguez fired back.

"You all have not understood what I just said. One more question and this conference, unfortunately, and you all have been super, but if the questions persist outside of that then this thing will be over," he said.

A reporter then asked whether Rodriguez would coach the team in the Fiesta Bowl.

"You're a tricky guy," Rodriguez said.

Some players indicated Rodriguez hadn't spoken to them about Michigan and that they were under orders to keep quiet.

"I'm not supposed to talk about that. I'm sorry," offensive lineman Ryan Stanchek said Saturday.

West Virginia athletic director Ed Pastilong spoke with Rodriguez on Saturday.

"We talked about general issues within the football program," Pastilong told The Charleston Gazette, declining to be more specific.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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