When Rich Rodriguez left his native West Virginia to become the head football coach at Michigan about 19 months ago, the Appalachians experienced a seismic jolt that threatened to level coal country.
ANN ARBOR - When Rich Rodriguez left his native West Virginia to become the head football coach at Michigan about 19 months ago, the Appalachians experienced a seismic jolt that threatened to level coal country.
It was as if Rodriguez had switched sides in the middle of the battle of Harpers Ferry, and abruptly altered the tide of the Civil War. He was treated like the great grandson of Benedict Arnold.
Rodriguez, the one-time all-state performer in both football and basketball who went on to play defensive back at West Virginia University, had coached his alma mater to four Big East championships and six straight bowl games.
But when he announced he was leaving, Rodriguez learned that "Almost Heaven" hath the fury of a bunch of Mountaineers scorned. When Rodriguez departed, West
Virginia suffered the worst case of abandonment since Henry VIII dumped an infertile Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn.
There were charges and counter-charges, suits and counter-suits, and the roads from Morgantown to Ann Arbor were all clogged with ill will. Eventually, the legal issues were resolved, football was played at both places and life went on.
Rodriguez has been back to his home state a couple of times since taking the Michigan job, including a trip this summer, but he does not feel compelled to maintain a low profile while there. The coach and his wife are still trying to sell their home at Cheat Lake, just outside Morgantown, which is reportedly listed for $1.8 million.
"We're still working on it, so when we were back there my wife Rita had some things she wanted to take care of concerning the house," Rodriguez said. "Other than that, I was just hanging out with the kids. I went out a couple of times, to a restaurant, and to a golf course, and the people couldn't have been friendlier."
Rodriguez was born in Chicago, but grew up in West Virginia's Grant Town, the son of a coal miner. He admits to being stung by the tenor of the criticism aimed at him when he left to take over the Wolverines' program, but he added that the calendar has flipped enough times to salve a lot of that.
"Looking back, I'd say a lot of things got blown out of proportion and then it all took off and kind of snowballed from there. When it gets real personal, that stuff bothers you," he said. "I might have played into that a little by saying 'aw, they're just bitter,' but I've got no hard feelings about it now, at all. That's my home, and I looked forward to going back."
Rodriguez said the reception he and his family received on their summer trip to West Virginia indicated to him that the residual impact of the job switch is minimal.
"The people we talked to were really terrific," he said. "That's a great group of people back there. Now, there's still going to be a handful of people who are going to be ticked, and they're always going to be ticked, and that's always going to be the case. But overall the people back there have treated us really well."
Rodriguez said he hoped the folks in his native state judge him and his staff on the sum total of their work at WVU, where Rodriguez went 57-16, winning better than 78 percent of his games.
"We tried not to short-change them when we were there," he said. "We tried to do everything we could to build the program in the best way we could for seven years, and we did a good job for them, and they did great for me, too. It was a two-way thing, and it was a terrific place to coach."
The summer trip left Rodriguez feeling much better about his relationship with the folks back home.
"They have a lot of passion about football, and that's a great thing, and something that as a coach you always want fans to have," he said.
"I think most people also understand that in this profession, you change your job and change your address, but that doesn't change the type of person you are. I came back from that trip with the sense that most everybody is moving forward. Time has passed, and it's been a year and a half since I left, and all that stuff should be a chapter that's in the past."
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