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Monday, December 17, 2007

Head Coach, West Virginia Michigan
Exp.7th year
Previous Jobs
OC @ Clemson2001-2005
OC @ Tulane
HC @ D-II Glenville State
Playing Career
West Virginia defensive back under Don Nehlen, 1981-1984.
Rich Rodriguez was, until recently, the coach of West Virginia. Now he is the coach of Michigan. Should this make the tingly bits tingle as they do?

Survey says yes. Our default Stassen comparison for the ten years prior to Rodriguez' arrival:

Win Pct
34 Arizona 0.59402
35 Southern Miss 0.59211
36 West Virginia 0.58974
37t Clemson 0.58547
37t Oklahoma 0.58547

For those who weren't paying attention in the 90s -- guilty -- it comes as something of a surprise: the Mountaineers are in fairly good company here. Rodriguez did not take over a program in shambles, as Don Nehlen was finishing up a 21-year term at WVU when Rodriguez arrived. Like Ferentz, RichRod was preceded by a coach somewhere between very good and excellent, though by the time Rodriguez arrived West Virginia was in a bit of a rut, coming off 7-5 and 4-7 seasons.
Rodriguez did not immediately fix said rut -- West Virginia bombed its way to an ugly 3-8 year in 2001 -- but after an initial adjustment period the program ignited in two phases. Phase 1: West Virginia turns into a consistent winner that hovers at the edges of the top 25 from 2002 to 2004, winning eight or nine games and losing four or five. Phase II: The White-Slaton rocket fuel era that features 10 and 11 win seasons, BCS berths and bowl victories, and one really ill-timed thumb dislocation. In seven seasons at West Virginia, Rodriguez is 60-26. That's a 69% winning clip at a school with some history of success but nothing like the sustained powerhouse status Rodriguez (and White and Slaton) brought to town. If you forgive Rodriguez his ugly transition year, he's winning at a 76% rate -- better than Lloyd Carr.

Caveats should be mentioned: the Big East got a lot easier in 2004 when Miami, BC, and Virginia Tech took off for the ACC. West Virginia did not depose the reigning king, but rather stepped forward into a power vacuum. And since the Big East is stuck at 8 teams, West Virginia can schedule a fifth nonconference game against a tomato can, an opportunity the Mountaineers have seized with gusto. As far as back-to-back-to-back ten win seasons go, WVU's are somewhere between LSU's and Boise's in terms of impressiveness.

But, right: in terms of back-to-back-to-back ten win seasons.

Xs and Os Proficiency: The things that spring to mind when Rich Rodriguez is considered are Pat White and Steve Slaton and that crazy run-oriented spread option that shreds defenses like Ginsu. The table at right shows the Rodriguez offense in its nascent glory; aside from the ugly first year, West Virginia has been at worst 40th in scoring offense and, aside from a poor 2003, has never been a below average offense in terms of yardage. The last two and a half years have been truly remarkable displays of offensive exploditude interspersed with the occasional worrisome clunker, though those have usually come when either Slaton or White is injured.

Though the NCAA doesn't provide stats this far back, Rodriguez had two successful stints as an offensive coordinator. The first was coordinating the explosive 1997 and 1998 Tulane offenses that saw Shawn King develop into a peripheral Heisman threat (he finished tenth in '98). The Green Wave went 12-0 in '98 thanks in large part to Rodriguez's offense, and unlike the West Virginia spread, the Tulane spread was pass oriented. King was only mobile-ish. While Rodriguez used what mobility he had -- King had 600-some rush yards at 4.1 YPC -- the heart of the offense was King's arm. He completed 67% of his attempts, threw for almost 3500 yards, and had 38 touchdowns to just six interceptions.

After the '98 season, then-Tulane head coach Tommy Bowden was hired by Clemson. Rodriguez followed and worked further magic. After a tough 1999, the 2000 Clemson team was 9-2 in the regular season, 10th in total offense, and 16th in scoring offense. Woody Dantzler was a Pat White-esque run-pass threat who finished with 947 yards on 172 rushing attempts and 1600-some passing yards.

Everywhere Rodriguez has gone he has installed the spread offense he first devised, then continued to tweak and tweak until it turned into a ball of knives and 60-yard touchdown runs. Everywhere he has been has found success, and with generally marginal talent. He can take his and beat yours; give him yours and he'll beat his.

Recruiting: Unfortunately for Rodriguez, West Virginia is located in West Virginia, a talent-barren state that has as many in the NFL as American Samoa. The Georgia Sports Blog took a look at the remarkable job Rodriguez did with zero available local talent when it looked like he would be the Alabama head coach, concluding:
The entire state of West Virginia has produced only 4 players that are on current NFL active rosters. By comparison, the State of Georgia has 90 players on active rosters, and the state of Alabama has 44. The island nation/province of American Samoa has produced as many NFL players on active rosters as West Virginia.

Rodriguez has to travel all over the country to attract talent without an "Instate" recruiting pitch. He almost never gets to talk to kids about the pride of staying at home and playing in front of your own fans. His current recruiting class only has 3 of 18 players from the State of WVa.

(Image: Pat White is from Daphne, Ala.)

Last year's recruiting class had ZERO in state kids. There weren't any worth offering. This year, the state has only 2 players rated above 3 stars. He's signing both of them. He normally has to go into Pennsylvania and battle with Penn State. He has to go into Ohio and battle with Ohio State. Or get their left overs.

All of this with crap facilities in a Tier 2 conference. That's more time on the road. That's less time knowing kids b/c you're spreading your relationships thinner. That's just tougher recruiting.
It's therefore tough to point at Rivals recruiting rankings and say Rodriguez can or can't recruit. But the data:

200831 (currently)1224

The anomalously poor 2006 class was a very small one. Since recruiting sites senselessly add up all your dudes without taking opportunity cost into account, WVU took a hit. Other than that it's a consistent story: virtually no instaters, many kids from Pennsylvania (especially Western PA) and Ohio, a presence in Florida that went from minimal to critical in 2005, and a thorough sprinkling of JUCOs, diamonds in the rough, and knuckleheads. In recent years Rodriguez started picking up national recruits like Jason Gwaltney and Noel Devine, but those guys often came with warning labels. Devine's grades were highly questionable (for a long time he looked destined for prep school); Gwaltney was just sort of an all-around nutcase who ended up a legendary recruiting bust. This year RR was finally making headway with non-questionable blue chippers like national #1 recruit Terrelle Pryor and PA LB/DE Shayne Hale; we'll see how he closes now that he's pitching winged helmets.

Though Rodriguez has struggled to bring in high profile recruits while at West Virginia, he was playing with awful hole cards. With no instate talent, little in the way of national profile, and facilities that were falling well behind in the ongoing arms race, RR had to be content picking off the overlooked. He obviously has an eye for talent -- West Virginia has regularly outperformed guru projections -- and the dedication required to unearth under-the-radar gems. Can he rack up blue-chippers? That's another matter, but the initial returns with Pryor seem good.

Another benefit of hiring Rodriguez: though his hunting around PA and OH has mostly turned up OSU and PSU leftovers, the years of scouring have undoubtedly forged an extensive network of connections in two of Michigan's primary recruiting areas. In particular, Rodriguez has pounded Pittsburgh, an area Michigan has also recruited heavily (and with success: Marlin Jackson, Steve Breaston, Ryan Mundy); Western PA recruiting should be a particular strong point.

Potential Catches: Maybe it's unfair to tar the coach when a couple of guys he got through school turn out to be world-class knuckleheads, but the idea of a Pacman Jones or a Chris Henry at Michigan is unsettling. It's not like Michigan's team is full of Mother Theresa's -- indeed, this year the team racked up arrests at a near-Zookian pace -- but there are some limits. Rodriguez also availed himself of JUCOs and academic risks that might not fly at Michigan. Though he dismissed academic concerns at the press conference by citing uniform NCAA standards, Michigan likes its high graduation rates and excellent APR numbers. If those start to come down he'll catch heat.

Is this likely to be a major concern? No. When Rodriguez invented(!) the spread offense at Glenville State it was out of necessity; when Rodriguez took fliers on a wide array of kids that, for whatever reason, were passed over by bigger schools it was also out of necessity. At Michigan he'll have access to a much wider pool of potential recruits and won't have to take a Chris Henry (or, say, Eric Knott and Damon Dowdell) when a Braylon Edwards or Jason Avant is available.

And then there's the Mallett issue. Mallett can get out of the pocket and improvise; he's not exactly John Navarre. But he is also not exactly Pat White. That's an understatement. If you were sent on a scavenger hunt for "the two college quarterbacks least like each other," Mallett-White would be a strong entry. Michigan can't just transplant the spread-n-shred.

There is something to be concerned about here. Since 2004, West Virginia quarterbacks have run for 861, 952, 1219, and 1185 yards. At Clemson Dantzler went for nearly a thousand. Even Shawn King was deployed frequently at Tulane. Rodriguez wants his teams to run and wants the quarterback to do a fair bit of the running; anyone who saw the Brady Leaf era at Oregon knows this is not generally compatible with Lurch-style pocket passers. When the Rodriguez offense has operated at maximum effectiveness, it has always used the quarterback as a runner.

On the other hand, when Rodriguez had King he threw with abandon. King averaged 30 attempts per game as a senior and racked up 3500 yards; both sets of numbers would have been higher if Tulane wasn't well ahead in many of their games that year. In the press conference today he promised to adapt his offense to the personnel he inherited and talked about the flexibility the spread provides. He's not stupid and he'll have the most talent he's ever had over the next few years; continued success is likely.

Would He Take The Job? It's peanut butter jelly time!

Overall Attractiveness: There were three, maybe four, obvious A-list candidates who seemed feasible going into the year: Miles, Tedford, Rodriguez, and possibly Schiano. After flailing about for a solid month, they locked down an A-list candidate. There are no complaints from this sector. There is an apology pending.

Rodriguez is a proven winner and offensive innovator who will drastically alter the culture of the program. I haven't seen enough of West Virginia to tell you if he's a Romer disciple, but the Sugar-sealing fake punt is a salutory indicator and the man does not have anything approximating the current Michigan staff's outdated philosophy. He is an offensive innovator who hold clinics on his offense every year -- the Great White Fail himself paid a visit to RR before last season's disastrous Georgia Tech game -- and a guy who has consistently gotten his teams to outperform their talent levels. He has extensive recruiting ties in fruitful recruiting areas for Michigan, is young enough to stick around for 15 to 20 years, and is a true outsider who will bring Michigan into the 21st century.

Rodriguez is everything a Michigan fan could want in a hire; to get him after the month-long disappointment train that was the coaching search is manna from heaven.