That's not to say that Rodriguez believed that his team didn't work hard, or wasn't trying. It simply reflected the fact that many players didn't understand that "trying" and "effort" have different degrees of intensity. Far too often, the staff saw only one level of effort – one that was ok, but not good enough to make the difference in tightly contested games.
Evidence of that theory came during the 2001 season, when West Virginia went 3-8. Close losses to Notre Dame, Syracuse, Temple and Pitt could easily have been reversed if just a couple of plays had gone the Mountaineers way. And while luck, or the bounce of the ball, plays a big part in determining the outcome of close contests, so can a little bit of extra effort.
Rodriguez' term for it is "straining". "We've got to strain on each and every play," the fiery coach said on more than one occasion during his early days at his alma mater. "We have to give maximum effort."
In order to identify and correct problems with effort, Rodriguez and his assistants diligently document "loafs" on every play and drill during practice and games. They then point out to each player instances where maximum effort – "straining" – weren't to be found. Just as their technique and performance on each play are assessed via practice video, so too is their effort. And while grading all that video on yet another criteria certainly added to the staff's workload, the benefits to be gained from the practice were simply too big to ignore.
Fast forward a couple of seasons, and mentions about lack of effort are much more infrequent. And it's not just a case of the coach moving on to another complaint just for the sake of motivation. Rodriguez is genuinely pleased with the way his team has taken to his instruction.
"The effort, I'm, happy with for the most part," the Grant Town, W. Va. native observed as WVU moved into its single-day practice sessions. "I have seen a lot fewer loafs than we've had in the past. The team is growing up in our system, and they understand some of the things that we are demanding of them."
"Growing up in the system" covers a lot of ground, both from a mental and a physical standpoint. As the team has learned those lessons from the coaches, they have also progressed in West Virginia's cutting-edge strength and conditioning program. Being in better shape gives an individual the ability to put forth maximum effort for a longer period of time, which leads to better results on the field.
One area that Rodriguez is particularly please in is special teams. While many players toil in anonymity on the bomb squads, that hasn't prevented them from putting out the kind of exertion that Rodriguez, a former walk-on and strainer in his own right, has noticed.
"We are getting great effort from our special teams. We still have some execution issues, but it's been really pleasing to see our effort in camp," Rodriguez recapped. "We're not perfect, but boy, are we trying. That's the good part. And it's going to get even better [as the full team reports] because we get to add a few more players to our team. That lets us have more practice players, and that should help."