ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez away from his alma mater after failing to bring back one of its own.
A man with ties to both the Wolverines and West Virginia might’ve helped.
College football’s winningest program ended its coaching search Sunday, nearly a month after it started, by announcing Rodriguez would succeed retiring Lloyd Carr.
Rodriguez is scheduled to be introduced as the Wolverines’ coach at a news conference this morning.
“I am thrilled to have Rich Rodriguez as Michigan’s new coach,” athletic director Bill Martin wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “Rich brings an exciting brand of football to Michigan Stadium. We welcome the entire Rodriguez family to Ann Arbor.”
Former West Virginia coach Don Nehlen, who coached Rodriguez when he played for the Mountaineers and was on Bo Schembechler’s staff at Michigan, endorsed the move.
“I felt it was a great opportunity for Rich,” Nehlen told the AP in a telephone interview from Morgantown, W.Va. “There are not many Michigans around.”
Michigan’s reputation, though, seemed to take a hit during constant coverage of its first coaching search since hiring Schembechler nearly four decades ago. The school had permission to talk to LSU coach Les Miles, who played for Schembechler and also was an assistant under him, but couldn’t bring him back to Ann Arbor. It also talked with Greg Schiano, who decided to stay at Rutgers.
The 44-year-old Rodriguez seems to be much more than a consolation prize.
He 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.
The 11th-ranked Mountaineers (10-2) will play in their second Bowl Championship Series game in three seasons, but Nehlen doesn’t expect Rodriguez to coach them in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma.
“He’ll be in Ann Arbor to stay,” Nehlen told The AP. “It would be too hard for him to coach West Virginia in the bowl game.
“He’s got a lot of work right away at Michigan, where he has to assemble a staff and catch up on recruiting.”
Rodriguez told the Mountaineers before their practice Sunday afternoon that he was leaving to coach the Wolverines.
West Virginia cornerback Vaughn Rivers said Rodriguez was emotional to the point of tears, but did not elaborate on his decision.
“It’s a rough day,” Rivers said. “Now we just have to pull together as a team and get ready for a bowl game.
“Coach Rod was a man about it.”
Carr announced Nov. 19 he was retiring after 13 seasons as Michigan’s head coach following the season, which ends on New Year’s Day in the Capital One Bowl against Florida.
Rodriguez’s West Virginia contract, which ran through the 2013 season, had a $4 million buyout clause if he left before next September. After several days last year, Rodriguez turned down Alabama’s reported six-year, $12 million offer after the Mountaineers gave him a one-year contract extension.
When Michigan lured basketball coach John Beilein away from West Virginia last April, Beilein’s 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.
Michigan spokesman Bruce Madej said he did not know how the school and Rodriguez would handle his buyout.
Freshman Ryan Mallett gained experience this year with the Wolverines, filling in for banged-up Chad Henne, and his father said people shouldn’t assume his son is transferring because he might not fit into Rodriguez’s offense that features a mobile quarterback.
“I talked to Ryan today and he’s going to keep an open mind and is looking forward to hearing what coach Rodriguez’s plans are,” Jim Mallett told the AP. “So, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Mallett’s decision might be easier if Terrelle Pryor decides to commit to Rodriguez and the Wolverines.
The star QB from Jeannette, Pa., said he informed Rodriguez that Michigan became one of the five schools he was considering when the coach told him he was going to lead the Wolverines.
“We talked at 10 a.m. this morning and I told him Michigan just got on my list,” Pryor told the AP on Sunday night.
After watching Pryor play on tape, Nehlen said he reminds him of Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young.
“If that kid comes, he’s probably more important that Rich,” Nehlen joked.