Say It Ain't So, Rich: Rodriguez Does Lasting Damage to West Virginia

Frank AhrensSenior Writer IDecember 16, 2007

IconThe Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette's website is reporting that a "tearful" Rich Rodriguez told his players Sunday that he is "leaving for a lot of reasons that I hope one day you will understand."

One day? Coach, when they were five years old, your players understood why you're leaving.

A five-year-old thinks like this: "I have a thing. There's a shinier thing. I want that thing."

And that's exactly how you thought and why you left.

There's no long-term wisdom that Pat White, Steve Slaton, and Co. need to accumulate to understand your decision to leave West Virginia for Michigan. Michigan is brighter and shinier, and it grabbed your attention.

Now, here's the harm you've inflicted on West Virginia—your home state, your alma mater, and the program you swore allegiance to:

- The recruits Rodriguez wooed to WVU may either follow him to Michigan or go somewhere else. The coach didn't just recruit to a team, he recruited to not one but two exotic systems: the spread-option zone-read offense and the 3-3-5 odd-stack defense.

Which means he's blown a recruiting year for West Virginia.

WVU now has no head coach and who knows how many assistant coaches. There's no one to go out on the road and recruit high school players—and even if there were, who would you tell the kids they're playing for? And in what system?

As World War I erased a generation of 17-22-year-old British men, 2007-08 will mark a significant talent gap in WVU's recruiting history.

- Not only did West Virginia get abandoned by Rodriguez, former head coach Don Nehlen threw the program under the bus too.

In a news report today, Nehlen is quoted as endorsing Rodriguez's flight to Ann Arbor, saying, "There are only so many Michigan'\s."

Well Coaches Nehlen and Rodriguez, West Virginia was on the way to becoming a Michigan. This was the team's third season in a row with at least 10 wins, and the Mountaineers earned their second BCS bowl invite in three years.

Had Rodriguez stayed at WVU and accumulated another dozen or so 10-win seasons and BCS appearances, WVU would have been spoken of in the same breath as Michigan, Ohio State, Southern Cal, and the SEC powerhouses.

Outsiders wonder why West Virginians sometimes think poorly of themselves. It's bad enough to be told you're not good enough by outsiders—but when your hear it from one of your own, it's difficult not to take it to heart.

For many West Virginians, Rodriguez's exit feels like, "So long, suckers!"

Now it's back to Square One. WVU will never reach a consistently elite level as long as it's considered a stepping-stone—even by its homegrown talent.

By leaving, Rodriguez has set back the program significantly.

Then again, it shouldn't be surprising. Five-year-olds usually only think of themselves and their needs.