West Virginia players, officials react to Rodriguez's departure
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia was sitting pretty less than three weeks ago, with only Pittsburgh standing between the then-second-ranked Mountaineers and a berth in the national championship game.
West Virginia lost the regular-season finale and a chance for the trip to New Orleans. On Sunday, the Mountaineers lost their coach.
Michigan announced it had hired Rodriguez, just as the Wolverines had lured basketball coach John Beilein away last April.
"It's a rough day," West Virginia cornerback Vaughn Rivers said after practice Sunday. "Now we just have to pull together as a team and get ready for a bowl game.
"Coach Rod was a man about it."
Rodriguez informed his players before practice Sunday afternoon. Rivers said Rodriguez was emotional to the point of tears, but did not elaborate on his decision.
"It was very surprising to me," linebacker Marc Magro said. "My gut feeling last year was he was staying. My gut feeling this year was he was leaving, honestly."
Rodriguez, who played under former WVU coach Don Nehlen, leaves with a 60-26 record, bringing the Mountaineers four Big East titles and two straight bowl wins since taking over when Nehlen retired after the 2001 season.
Associate head coach Bill Stewart and offensive coordinator Calvin Magee ran the brief practice in Rodriguez's place.
There was no immediate word on who would coach West Virginia in the Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma in Glendale, Ariz.
WVU president Mike Garrison said in a statement the university is looking forward to the game, but did not elaborate on who will coach.
"This coaching change will do nothing to lessen the support we plan to give our players on the field in Phoenix," he said.
Garrison said the university hopes to hire a replacement who understands and values "the incredible opportunity that it is to be the head coach of the WVU Mountaineers -- a team that represents not just our university, but the entire state of 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. "His dreams came true and he brought back with him to West Virginia a love and a loyalty for our state that I thought would never change."
Agents, however, have turned Rodriguez's dreams "into just another back-room business deal," Manchin said. "Something is wrong with the profession of college coaching today when a leader's word is no longer his bond."
Athletic director Ed Pastilong didn't immediately return a telephone message Sunday.
"You've got to do what you've got to do sometimes," 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."
West Virginia went through a similar wringer a year ago, when Alabama courted Rodriguez.
After several days, Rodriguez turned down Alabama's reported six-year, $12 million offer after the Mountaineers gave him a one-year contract extension through the 2013 season.
The new contract doubled Rodriguez's buyout clause to $4 million.
When Michigan lured Beilein away, his West Virginia contract had a $2.5 million buyout clause. Under an agreement with West Virginia, he agreed to pay $1.5 million to the WVU Foundation.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press