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How Former West Virginia Head Coach Rich Rodriguez Changed History

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You might know the story, but do you know the story?

Toyota Gator Bowl: West Virginia v Georgia Tech Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images

I was at West Virginia University during Rich Rodriguez’s tenure as head coach. I got to school right after the 3-8 freshman season for “RichRod”. I graduated in 2004 and then proceeded to watch my alma mater go from an 8- or 9-win team to a powerhouse behind the legs of Pat White and Steve Slaton. Throughout it all I kept thinking to myself, “West Virginia is lucky to have found a coach who is at home. Any other coach would be looking to move on quickly”. Turns out I was more wrong than I was right.

In 2005, West Virginia saw a resurgence, partly behind the play of phenomenal freshmen Pat White and Steve Slaton, partly behind the weakened Big East following the departure of “The U” and Virginia Tech. The void left by the departure of the two strongest programs in the Big East, along with the exodus of Boston College, meant someone was going to rise to the top.

West Virginia would rise to the top. A loss to Virginia Tech was the only blemish on the 2005 season. The 2006 season started and WVU found themselves starting in the top 5. Losses to Louisville and South Florida would keep WVU from winning the Big East but it helped establish Rodriguez as one of the hottest coaching prospects in the game. West Virginia was running a brand new “spread” concept with zone-reads and quarterback keepers.

Rich Rod and Alabama

With another 10-win season in the books, Rodriguez began fielding calls from schools looking for their next coach. The big fish that came calling was Alabama. Alabama let go of Mike Shula following his 4th consecutive loss to Auburn after the Tide took a step back from a 10-win season in 2005 to a 6-win season in ‘06.

For Alabama, six wins is unacceptable. For Mike Shula, one 10-win season couldn’t do enough to easy the multiple losses to Auburn. Alabama notified Shula he would not be retained as head coach and went about finding their next head coach. They would contact Nick Saban, Frank Beamer, Steve Spurrier and WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez. After Nick Saban initially turned down the Tide, Rodriguez became the favorite. He accepted the job. In our reality, Rodriguez would get cold feet and get a great offer from boosters to stay.

The actual truth is West Virginia mega boosters, including Arizona Diamondbacks managing partner Ken Kendrick, asked Rodriguez Dec. 7 what it'd take to get him to stay. By the next day, West Virginia and its boosters were offering him a big raise and facility improvements.

Rapoport believes he may have unwittingly played a part in Rodriguez's decision to the detriment of his report.

"I know that reporting it that night gave West Virginia boosters an opportunity to raise money and get Rich Rodriguez a new contract," he said. "If I stayed quiet and he just went to tell his team the next day, my guess is he'd probably still be Alabama's coach." - Ian Rappaport Recalls Rodriguez and Alabama

What would have happened had Rodriguez taken the Alabama job in 2006? Would history have changed?

West Virginia And Its New Head Coach

Assuming that Rodriguez has now left to become the head coach at Alabama and followed suit like he did in 2007, stealing most of his staff, the administration would have had a new coaching search on its hands. In 2007, Bill Stewart took over a team in disbelief before a big time bowl game, won the bowl game and took over as the next head coach. In 2006, the same coaching candidates would have surfaced but this time, instead of the big emotional win against a nationally known opponent, WVU was facing Chan Gailey and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Win or lose, Stewart wasn’t going to get the job in 2006. So the job would fall to Skip Holtz at East Carolina.

With Rodriguez at Alabama, Nick Saban would not be wooed out of the NFL. He remained with the Miami Dolphins. As the NFL Draft approached, Saban made his feelings known that he wanted a tough, hard-nosed defense. With the ninth overall selection, Miami took Patrick Willis who immediately changed the outlook of football in South Florida. Willis’ 174 tackles would lead Miami to the playoffs as a wild card team. Saban would receive a 5-year extension and never return to the college ranks again.

Miami Dolphins vs Cleveland Browns - November 20, 2005 Photo by Jamie Mullen/NFLPhotoLibrary

The Rest Of The Fallout

Another fall-out of the Saban and Rodriguez decisions is the recruiting class at Alabama. Rodriguez, opting for players who fit his spread, zone-read scheme, saw significant turnover in the Shula class. Noel Devine shunned the Mountaineers and bolted to Alabama, following Rodriguez. Devine, the next great running back at West Virginia, who helped defeat the mighty Sooners in the post-Backyard Brawl-that-never-happened Fiesta Bowl, would find life harder in the SEC.

Lost in all of this is the Mad Hatter, Les Miles. Les, who just never seemed to gain the full support of the LSU fanbase, would win the national title in 2007. LSU should be a destination school but Les Miles is known to do things his own way. When Michigan came calling in 2007, and with Rodriguez settling into SEC life, Les Miles bolted LSU for Michigan, his alma mater.

As you can see, Rich Rod is to blame for everything that happened in 2007. If Richard Rodriguez had taken the Alabama job in 2006, Nick Saban would have never descended back into college football. Les Miles would have left LSU 10 years ago and West Virginia never would have been subjected to 13-9.