ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Rich Rodriguez walked through a
flashlight-lit locker room, down a darkened tunnel and stepped onto
the Michigan Stadium field for the first time.
"It's beautiful," he said with snow covering his dress shoes.
A new era began at Michigan on Monday. The winningest program in
college football ended its first coaching search since hiring Bo
Schembechler nearly four decades ago by luring Rodriguez and his
spread offense from West Virginia.
The process probably lasted longer than the school wanted and it
might not have landed its first choice. Yet, Rodriguez didn't have
a problem with getting the job after LSU's Les Miles and Rutgers'
Greg Schiano turned down reported opportunities to replace the
retiring Lloyd Carr.
"[I] might have been my wife's third choice, too,"
joked Rodriguez, who is ending a seven-season run at West Virginia, a year after
turning down an offer to be Alabama's coach.
A source close to Rodriguez confirmed for ESPN's Joe Schad late Monday that the coach had been seeking raises for his assistants and assurances about improvements in practice facilities when he made the decision to leave for Michigan.
The same source said due to "promises unkept" and some other contractual issues, Rodriguez expects the $4 million buyout due West Virginia will be challenged by his attorneys.
Another source close to Rodriguez said Tuesday that "a little more give from West Virginia could have saved the situation."
Rodriguez said it took an opportunity of Michigan's caliber for
him to leave his home state and alma mater.
"It was a very difficult decision to leave a place where I grew
up," said Rodriguez, who was born in Grant Town, W.Va., five miles
from the birthplace of famed Michigan coach Fielding Yost and about
20 miles from the West Virginia campus. "It was going to take a
very special opportunity and a very special place, and I think
that's what this is."
Rodriguez doesn't expect to coach West Virginia when it plays
Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
"My focus is going to be on the University of Michigan," he
said. "I don't think it best serves West Virginia if I'm thinking
about the Big House."
Rodriguez, who was to fly back to West Virginia on Monday, hopes
school officials agree that letting him leave right away to
assemble his new staff, recruit and evaluate the Wolverines with
eligibility remaining is best for both parties.
Rodriguez is the first head coach to come outside the "Michigan
family" as athletic director Bill Martin put it, since
Schembechler was hired away from Miami of Ohio in 1969.
"Do you have to be a Michigan man to be a Michigan coach?"
Rodriguez asked. "Gosh, I hope not."
Even though the Wolverines didn't bring back one of their own in
Miles, who played at Michigan and coached under Schembechler, they
landed a coach who is much more than a consolation prize.
The 44-year-old Rodriguez built West Virginia into a Big East
power, winning the conference championship this year for the fourth
time in five seasons and going 60-26 overall. He helped the
Mountaineers earn six straight bowl bids and made them one of the
most potent offensive teams in the country.
Rodriguez is considered one of the Godfathers of the spread
offense that's become the rage of college football. The spread will
be a dramatic change for Michigan, a school that's been locked into
a more traditional offense and relied on drop-back passers for
"I think it's a great hire," said Carr, whose 13th and final
season as head coach at Michigan will end Jan. 1 at the Capital One
Bowl against Florida. "He's a young guy with great passion and
"I think everybody that loves this place is excited."
Rodriguez's hiring marks the second time in eight months that
Michigan lured a coach away from West Virginia, following
basketball coach John Beilein's Morgantown-to-Ann Arbor path.
"There are intangibles in some coaches that make them win
wherever they are, and he has them," said Beilein, who lived three
houses away from Rodriguez in West Virginia. "Rich was born to be
a football coach."
Michigan athletic director Martin and Rodriguez's agent, Mike
Brown, said they still have to work on contract details before a
deal is signed.
After Carr announced his retirement Nov. 19, Martin said he was
prepared to roughly double what Carr made annually by giving the
new coach as much as $3 million a year.
Alabama's interest in Rodriguez last year wore on the
Mountaineers for several days before he agreed to a one-year
contract extension through 2013. The deal included a $4 million
buyout clause if he leaves before next September.
Like Beilein, Rodriguez will make enough money at Michigan to
cut West Virginia a big check.
"The lawyers are working on it," Rodriguez said.
Michigan is paying Beilein $1.3 million a season, plus bonuses,
as part of a six-year contract.
When Michigan lured Beilein away from West Virginia last April,
his contract had a $2.5 million buyout clause. Under an agreement
with West Virginia, Beilein agreed to pay $1.5 million to the WVU
Martin and university president Mary Sue Coleman talked with
Rodriguez, his wife and agent Friday in Toledo, Ohio. West Virginia
athletic director Ed Pastilong met with Rodriguez on Saturday,
saying they talked about general issues within the program.
Pastilong had said he was unaware Rodriguez went to Toledo and
declined to disclose whether he had given Michigan permission to
talk to the coach.
"We're not going to talk about the process at all," Martin
West Virginia's defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator
Tony Gibson is certainly pleased with the end result. He's
committed to join Rodriguez in Ann Arbor and he already sounds like
Gibson hummed "The Victors," as he took a tour of Michigan
Stadium's locker room with Rodriguez and his wide-eyed contingent
Joe Schad is a college football reporter for ESPN. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.