As I sat in the bleachers at Mountaineer Field on Saturday, I couldn't help but feel a little saddened by the absence of Rich Rodriguez. I realize, as a die-hard Mountaineer fan, that I am supposed to hate this guy, but I just can't force myself to do so. Sure, I cheered when the Michigan loss was announced throughout the stadium, and I cheered as a count down for the "new era" was displayed over the video board, but I found myself still in shock that Rodriguez left town.
Just think about what this guy did for the WVU program. This was a program that averaged 6-7 wins per year, and the fans were grateful to go to a bowl game. WVU had average talent, and they would actually compete for a conference title about every 5-6 years. If the Mountaineers were ranked in the Top 25, then couches were burned! Don't get me wrong, Don Nehlen was a terrific coach, but Rodriguez took this program to new heights.
The last five years under Rodriguez have been amazing. In four of the past five years, WVU has been ranked in the Top Ten. They have won or shared the Big East title 4 times. They won two BCS Bowl games, and played in 5 straight New Year's Day bowl games. These are things that just did not happen pre-Rodriguez. The recruiting has been taken to all-time highs, and WVU can match top teams with talent and depth. Rich put WVU on the map, and in the upper tier of college football.
As the Bill Stewart era begins, I can only hope that the success continues, and there is little reason to think that it won't. The recruiting for the 2009 class has already surpassed the classes of Rodriguez, and the offense is not going to change that much. There is still speed all over the field, and there is more depth than ever. Stewart also assembled a pretty good coaching staff. Almost everyone he hired had experience with good programs, and they have recruiting ties throughout the talent rich areas in the country.
Doc Holliday was a candidate for the Head Coaching job, before Stewart's big victory in the desert. He left Florida and Urban Meyer to join the staff as the Associate Head Coach, and he has the reputation as one of the country's finest recruiters. He could continue to bring in talent equal to, if not better than that of Rodriguez. But yet, I would rather have Rodriguez.
Bill Stewart's positive attitude is comforting, and the players seem to really like him, but I miss the intensity of Rodriguez on the WVU sideline. However, under Stewart, the players are a little more loose and seem to have a higher comfort level. Mistakes are not met with wrath, but instead they receive a pat on the back and a "get 'em next time". You can't help but to like Bill Stewart, he is a true Mountaineer. I just hope that is enough to keep the success going.
As a true Mountaineer fan, I am optimistic about the future. Pat White is here for one more season, and he is surrounded by talent. I just hope he can pile up a bunch of victories in his final year to help Stewart and the rest of the staff keep the success going at WVU. WVU fans are passionate, and they will not go back to mediocrity. After this recent run of success, six to seven wins will not be acceptable again.
The new era is under way in Morgantown. And as I get excited for the future, I am also reminded of the past. A past that I don't want to go back to. A top ten ranking was once a dream for this program, but now it is a reality. As Mountaineer fans, we should be thankful for the success built by Rich Rodriguez.