WVU Football: Rich Rodriguez's Tenure and How It Affects Today's Team

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WVU Football: Rich Rodriguez's Tenure and How It Affects Today's Team
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
WVU's Rich Rodriguez leads the Mountaineers to a three OT thriller over Rutgers - 2006

It’s been three days since West Virginia University head coach Dana Holgorsen stepped on to the SunLife Stadium turf with his underdog Mountaineers and led a wicked, relentless attack to the core of Clemson University football from all three sides of the game. 

As the smoke cleared after this Orange Bowl of the 2011 season, Coach of the Year Dabo Sweeney and his Tigers left the field feeling, as Led Zeppelin put it, dazed and confused.  Seventy points, in the form of ten touchdowns, had been dropped in the respective laps of the favored athletes from the Upcountry of the state of South Carolina.

Seventy points—and two questions remain:

a) First Georgia of the Southeastern Conference, then Oklahoma of the Big 12 Conference and now Clemson of the Atlantic Coast Conference—when will the media learn?

b) When will the West Virginia University administration chase away Dana Holgorsen?

With regard to a), the business model of West Virginia as a Bowl Championship Series bowl underdog seems to be working.  If it ain’t broke… 

The men from Almost Heaven are 3-0 in three of the four BCS bowls, winning the Sugar, Fiesta and now the Orange, while ringing up a total of 153 points (!) against the conference champions of the Power Conferences.

Let it ride.

It, however, is b) that concerns me. Greatly. 

There is precedent to b).  In 2007, athletic director Eddie Pastilong and university president Mike Garrison effectively, in a sissy, passive aggressive way, told the Mountaineers’ head football coach Rich Rodriguez to take a hike.

My older daughter, a nurse practitioner, is a summa cum laude graduate from West Virginia University and the quintessential rabid Mountaineer fan.  She is, even after four seasons of nine-win football, livid at the mere mention of the names Rich or Rodriguez or Rich Rod or Rod or any of those with the prefix “coach.”

In spite of her ten-penny nail-chewing fury with those R-words, she gave me for Christmas the book written by sports historian John U. Bacon Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football

Bacon chronicles his time embedded with Rodriguez and the Wolverines’ program, from acceptance of Michigan’s offer to his unceremonious firing.  Somewhere around page 78 of Bacon’s 438 page account, Bacon gives a history lesson, addressing Rodriguez’s previous resignation as the head coach at West Virginia.  The Mountaineer faithful immediately went nuclear on that news, Bacon wrote, and as we denizens of the state may recall.  I was among the incensed.  Rodriguez was in my opinion an exceptional college football coach and an offensive football genius, yet I was compelled to write a blog stating 1) goodbye, and 2) farewell, Pseud.

The University of Michigan brass decided to post a gag order on their new football coach, keeping him out of the fray.  That was entirely unfortunate for Rodriguez, as Eddie Pastilong and Mike Garrison had the unfettered opportunity to tell, without needing to support their arguments with proof of documents shredded and recruits called in advance, their “version” of Rich Rodriguez and the West Virginia team he had forsaken.

This gave the men, who perhaps did more than any other to undermine college football at West Virginia University, a chance to cover up their incompetence to a crowd who craved—like crack cocaine—any anecdote to verify their animosity toward Rodriguez.

“Fraudriguez” tee shirts soon followed in abundance.

Heading to the Fiesta Bowl of the 2007 season and the game with heavily-favored Oklahoma, Rich Rodriguez was in the position to score an upset, earning his third consecutive season of eleven wins.  But he could not focus on the opportunity.  Rodriguez was frustrated by the unwillingness of Pastilong and Garrison to move on with the upgrades of the football program.  

Taking WVU football to the next level should have been the worthy goal of the AD and the president.   It was shocking, however, to read Bacon’s account of the battle Rodriguez had to fight since he the swashbuckler faked the punt late in the 2005 Sugar Bowl, sealing the huge upset win over SEC champion Georgia.

Interestingly, and in cruel irony, the administration of the university, as well as West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, became wary of Rodriguez after the Sugar Bowl victory and subsequent number five ranking in the final polls for that year.

Rodriguez fought that battle through 2006—with a number ten final ranking—and most of the way through the 2007 season.  It was sometime during the 2007 campaign that it became obvious to the coach that Pastilong was not going to take the initiative to improve the football program.

Rich Rodriguez was on his own in Morgantown.

A few big-money boosters saw Rodriguez’s predicament and came to his aid.  They helped the coach develop a list of things he would need to position West Virginia for a consistent run for the national title year in and year out.  The list included:

a) Better pay for the assistant coaches.

b) A new academic center for the student athletes.

c) Locker room upgrades.

d) Free game passes for high school coaches.

e) Control of the issuance of sideline passes.

f)  A professional website.

The items on this list are reasonable, if not comical.  A professional web site?  There was not one already?  Really?   Free game passes for high school coaches who just might have influence with recruits?  Jumping over dollars to save pennies?

There was incredibly not one item that could not have been taken care of that afternoon.  And, contrary to the word from Pastilong and Garrison, Rodriguez did not include anything that would have provided direct financial benefit to the coach.  In other words, after Pastilong turned down the list and said, according to Bacon, “take it or leave it” several times, Rich Rodriguez left his alma mater not for more money for him, but because his request for higher pay for his assistants at West Virginia was flatly turned down.

John Bacon lets his readers know the direction he’s headed as he evokes, plainly on the dust jacket, playwright Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, one of many plays and films addressing the post World War II House Committee on Un-American Activities.  Here in the year 2012, it’s difficult to believe the United States House of Representatives had such a group of men on the lookout for those evil un-American Americans. 

Or, maybe not.

Consider this.  At the end of 2007, Eddie Pastilong and Mike Garrison abused the powers of their offices to take down Rich Rodriguez, a man whom they thought had himself garnered too much power.  Coach Rod threatened their control in the fiefdom that is Mountaineer football.

Never mind that Rodriguez gained the sway honestly through hard, smart work.  Forget that everyone in the state benefited from Rodriguez’s success.  He was too triumphant, too victorious, so the president and the athletic director manufactured lies to make us think otherwise and sustain their flimsy control over the multimillion dollar enterprise of West Virginia University football.

I wrote this piece so that we the fans may reconsider what really happened to Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, and to position ourselves so Dana Holgorsen is not subjected to the same unethical treatment.

You don’t have to believe me.  Do what I did.  Read John U. Bacon’s book Three and Out.  Front to back.  Find out that head coaches of college football teams have much more to go against than the other team.

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