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West Virginia players, officials react to Rodriguez's departure

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia was sitting pretty less
than three weeks ago, with only Pittsburgh standing between the
then-second-ranked Mountaineers and a berth in the national
championship game.

West Virginia lost the regular-season finale and a chance for
the trip to New Orleans. On Sunday, the Mountaineers lost their
coach.

Michigan announced it had hired Rodriguez, just as the
Wolverines had lured basketball coach John Beilein away last April.

"It's a rough day," West Virginia cornerback Vaughn Rivers
said after practice Sunday. "Now we just have to pull together as
a team and get ready for a bowl game.

"Coach Rod was a man about it."

Rodriguez informed his players before practice Sunday afternoon.
Rivers said Rodriguez was emotional to the point of tears, but did
not elaborate on his decision.

"It was very surprising to me," linebacker Marc Magro said.
"My gut feeling last year was he was staying. My gut feeling this
year was he was leaving, honestly."

Rodriguez, who played under former WVU coach Don Nehlen, leaves
with a 60-26 record, bringing the Mountaineers four Big East titles
and two straight bowl wins since taking over when Nehlen retired
after the 2001 season.

Associate head coach Bill Stewart and offensive coordinator
Calvin Magee ran the brief practice in Rodriguez's place.

There was no immediate word on who would coach West Virginia in
the Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma in Glendale, Ariz.

WVU president Mike Garrison said in a statement the university
is looking forward to the game, but did not elaborate on who will
coach.

"This coaching change will do nothing to lessen the support we
plan to give our players on the field in Phoenix," he said.

Garrison said the university hopes to hire a replacement who
understands and values "the incredible opportunity that it is to
be the head coach of the WVU Mountaineers -- a team that represents
not just our university, but the entire state of West Virginia."

Gov. Joe Manchin blamed the involvement of what he termed
"high-priced agents" in college sports.

"I have known Rich for most of his life, from a boy whose only
wish was to play football at WVU to a young man whose only wish was
to coach at WVU," Manchin said in a statement. "His dreams came
true and he brought back with him to West Virginia a love and a
loyalty for our state that I thought would never change."

Agents, however, have turned Rodriguez's dreams "into just
another back-room business deal," Manchin said. "Something is
wrong with the profession of college coaching today when a leader's
word is no longer his bond."

Athletic director Ed Pastilong didn't immediately return a
telephone message Sunday.

"You've got to do what you've got to do sometimes," fullback
Owen Schmitt said. "He did all he could for us. As far as I know
he did a lot of great things for this university."

West Virginia went through a similar wringer a year ago, when
Alabama courted Rodriguez.

After several days, Rodriguez turned down Alabama's reported
six-year, $12 million offer after the Mountaineers gave him a
one-year contract extension through the 2013 season.

The new contract doubled Rodriguez's buyout clause to $4
million.

When Michigan lured Beilein away, his West Virginia contract had
a $2.5 million buyout clause. Under an agreement with West
Virginia, he agreed to pay $1.5 million to the WVU Foundation.