Mountaineer Nation: The Hate Affair with Rich Rodriguez

Major Kelchner@choopsdailyCorrespondent IDecember 1, 2009

I'm not on the fence on this one, but I am the fence because I think people on both sides are going to be ticked off at something I write in the next few inches.

We all know emotion runs high, especially when it comes to college football.

Most West Virginia fans will want to deny that they care about Rich Rodriguez at this point. Being a former WVU student myself, they'll criticize me for bringing it up.

Michigan fans (and other school's fans, too) will break into the "stupid hillbilly," "dumb redneck," Deliverance stereotyping, or maybe "crazy ex-girlfriend," and then follow it up with, "Get over it, Michigan is the pinnacle of college football excellence, and we know it!"

At least it was before Rich Rodriguez arrived.

The bottom line is that this situation really has very little to do with Michigan. It has everything to do with Rodriguez.

I've always respected Michigan and never had a beef with them. The winningest coach in WVU history, Dandy Don Nehlen, was an assistant under Bo Schembechler before coming to Morgantown in 1979. Nehlen helped make WVU relevant again after Frank Cignetti piled up four straight losing seasons to end the 1970s. While Nehlen had his share of mediocre seasons, he had a good chunk of relevant ones, too.

The question keeps coming up, "Why the obsession with Rich Rodriguez after
two years?"

I see it on message boards from time to time and occasionally see columnists bring it up.

There are several reasons why Mountaineer fans still follow Rich Rod now that he has left Morgantown.

First, most want to see him fail and coaching back at an NAIA school or selling insurance. Right or wrong, there is a lot of that sentiment.

Rodriguez said that WVU was his dream job. He said he would be at West Virginia as long as the fans and administration would have him (I'm paraphrasing here, not direct quoting, but he said it, trust me).

Then, he turned and fled north.

Literally. It happened that fast. One day, he's mismanaging a loss to Pitt and dashing the hopes of a shot at a national championship; the next day he is meeting in Toledo with someone from Michigan about being their next coach.

Which brings us to the next point. He left in the hour of greatest disappointment.

Rodriguez left when the Mountaineer Nation was at its lowest. We'd lost to our most hated rival in a year when they just weren't that good. We'd squandered a chance to make it to the promised land. He'd just been out-coached by someone with a larger-than-life moustache.

What does our young WVU alum, raised-in-a-coal-mining-family, hotshot head
coach do? He leaves.

No real excuse, no apology, no real explanation.

Which brings us to the betrayal.

Rodriguez left home for someplace else. Most readers won't get this. Some places maybe it's normal. The head coach at WVU is a lofty, iconic position in a state with no pro sports teams and a hardcore love for sports. WVU head coaches are respected and, if they win, almost immortalized, not to mention that they make more money in one year than the average West Virginian (median 2001—$29,052) will make in a lifetime.

Rodriguez had one of the most respected jobs in the state, and he was actually a Mountaineer. For him to disrespect his home, his state, his fans, and his alma mater was gut-wrenching and unbelievable.

Many West Virginians leave. It's well said that West Virginia's greatest export isn't coal, it's West Virginians. Many of us (me included) have left. Not necessarily by choice, but for one reason or another.

We've exported a bunch of football coaches even. It's a good list, too. Lou Holtz (Follansbee), Nick Saban (Fairmont), Jimbo Fisher (Clarksburg), Ben Schwartzwalder (Point Pleasant), Tommy and Terry Bowden (Morgantown High grads).

The difference?

We've never disrespected our state in doing so. Most would move back if they had the chance to work and live.

The question is always brought up, "What about John Beilein?" He left, why don't you hate his guts?

Beilien left us (also by going to Michigan), but that was a shortened pain. He wasn't a Mountaineer. He wasn't always shouting and stomping about his coal mining heritage. He never bragged about growing up just a short distance from Mountaineer Field because he didn't. In fact, he never said it as his dream job or anything of the sort.

Outside of a few car dealership ads, he had no real ties to the state or the people of West Virginia. He was an outsider we loved and had accepted as one heck
of a basketball coach, and he had embraced the job and the people as much
as he could.

When he bolted, everything was OK. Of course, Bob Huggins is good medicine to cure the basketball coach blues.

The last thing (I'm sure some have gone unsaid), some of them genuinely want him to do well.

In fact, I would wager to say, many secretly do.

There is something ingrained in West Virginians that binds them together. Maybe it is the "us against the world" attitude that exists. Maybe it is the Appalachian heritage we all share. Whatever it is, it is binding. We are West Virginians.

The fact is we've not been as successful in the last two seasons. After we beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, we've been a little better than mediocre, but that isn't the standard we see. If we were undefeated since he left would it be as big of a deal? Probably not.

Would Rich Rod have been successful this season without Pat White? That's a question for which we will never have the answer. Fair comparison or not, some have suggested a partial answer is apparent right now in Ann Arbor.

No matter what side of the fence you are on, there will always be an interest in Rich Rodriguez from WVU fans. Whether it is a wish for ill fate, a heartbroken glance, or a secret cheer for the man who betrayed the Mountaineer Nation, there will always be some sort of interest from those who call Mountaineer Field their home.


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