Rich Rodriguez previously admitted it was a mistake for him to leave West Virginia more than three years ago. Now, West Virginia could be admitting it was a mistake not to deal with the Bill Stewart/Dana Holgorsen mess by bringing Rodriguez back.
Though the move surely would create significant local controversy in the short term, all parties need to take a longer view of the current situation. The Mountaineers need a stable, long-term fix at the coaching position. And with Rodriguez’s tail currently tucked between his legs after being fired by Michigan, this could be the perfect moment to secure true long-term loyalty, along with consistently high-level performance.
Whether it’s Rodriguez or not, change is surely coming to Morgantown. The one-year forced marriage between Stewart, the outgoing coach, and Holgorsen, the offensive coordinator/incoming coach, was doomed from the outset. Athletic Director Oliver Luck surely hoped that Stewart’s pride would prompt him to walk away once Holgorsen arrived, with Stewart giving up all or part of his severance pay in lieu of suffering the public awkwardness of being a lame duck with his replacement, a stranger to the program, on the staff.
Luck’s instincts were right, sort of. Stewart reacted, but not by quitting. Instead, he fought back, reportedly launching an effort to smear Holgorsen, either in an effort by Stewart to save his job or in a fit of vengeance aimed at blowing the whole thing up on his way out the door. With WVU now possibly having enough ammunition to send Stewart out that door without paying him another penny, the three-year head coach who never should have been given the job in the first place could soon be fired “for cause” based on the disclosure that Stewart asked a Pittsburgh reporter to dig up dirt on Holgorsen.
But that doesn’t mean Holgorsen is the answer. Questions remain regarding the much-publicized incident involving Holgorsen and more than a few Heinekens at a Charleston-area casino last month, not to mention the report of five other similar incidents. Even if Stewart had a hand in publicizing those five incidents, there’s a chance the report of those five incidents contains some truth.
With Rodriguez currently available and engaging in an obvious image reclamation effort in his native state, why not bring him back? Folks in West Virginia were outraged (count me among them) when Rodriguez left, primarily because we all wanted him to stay. If a prodigal son who took to program to the cusp of a national title is willing to truly come — and stay — home, slaying the fatted calf could translate to finally hoisting the crystal football.
Current rumblings out of Morgantown suggest that, if Holgorsen and Stewart are sent packing, Tommy Bowden could be the replacement. Bowden, the former Clemson head coach, Rodriguez mentor, and son of legendary Florida State coach and West Virginia coach Bobby Bowden, has been involved in recent fund-raising efforts at his alma mater, and many assumed he, not Holgorsen, would be Stewart’s replacement. Still, we (or at least I) think that Rodriguez is best suited over the long term to take the program back to the brink of the one thing that every West Virginian covets — a national championship in football or basketball, and preferably both.
Given the current state of the football program, Bob Huggins’ basketball program may continue to be the best bet for finally getting it done. But there’s still an opportunity to emerge from the current mess in a positive way. Though it will require plenty of forgiving and forgetting from the fan base (especially since many of them genuinely believe Rodriguez threw the 2007 Pitt game so that he could take the Michigan job), it could be the best thing for both parties.
Four years ago, Rodriguez had a chance to become a Bobby Bowden or a Joe Paterno-type figure in Morgantown, holding down the same job well into his 70s and becoming a living legend. The window is open now for that three-year stretch of ugliness to eventually become a faded memory for both the coach and the school. And it’s coming at a time when the program stands on the brink of full-blown disarray.
With Luck suddenly having good reason to worry about his own job given the manner in which the ill-conceived Stewart-Holgorsen arrangement has played out, Luck’s best chance for keeping the job over the long haul could come from bringing back the coach who found out the hard way that the grass is always the greenest in his own backyard.