"I got to know him 10 or12 years ago," Rodriguez said as he recounted his connections with the Bowdens, "first through [his sons] Terry and Tommy. I spent a lot of time as a coach of quarterbacks and receivers at the Bowden Academy (a summer camp run by the family) and I got to know the family quite well. Then, of course, coaching with Tommy helped me get to know them better as well."
Rodriguez spent four years under Tommy Bowden as an assistant coach. The first two were at Tulane from 1997-98, with the latter two at Clemson in 1999-2000. Rodriguez went to the Liberty, Peach and Gator Bowls during the last three years of that span.
"The four years I spent with Tommy were invaluable in learning some of his philosophies," Rodriguez said. "And I learned a lot about his dad, because Tommy obviously learned a lot from him. The great thing about the summer camps was in being around Tommy, Terry, Bobby and Jeff, and we'd just talk a lot of football."
Despite the near-mythic status, Rodriguez isn't quaking at the thought of facing Division 1A's all-time winningest coach. While maintaining the highest amount of respect for Florida State and its coach, WVU's fourth-year boss plans to meet the Seminoles head-on.
"[Bowden] will have a great plan, and he might be the most successful bowl coach in history. They have some of the top talent in the country, so it will be quite a challenge," Rodriguez said. "But it's not intimidating. Everyone in our program should be excited about playing them."
This won't be the first time Rodriguez will be on the same field as Bobby Bowden. Rodriguez was a member of the 1982 WVU Gator Bowl team that lost 31-12 in a downpour in Jacksonville.
"I remember getting wet and muddy," Rodriguez said with a laugh. I was on the kickoff team watching one guy run for a TD. They were running by us and through us and whatever they wanted to do."
While Tommy and Bobby don't run exactly the same schemes, Rodriguez said that there is an underlying base to what they do that is very close. That factor will likely have the Mountaineers looking to install some wrinkles, as the elder Bowden is quite likely to converse with his son about his opponent's tendencies.
"They don't do the same thing all the times, but they are similar in philosophies."
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The football team will lift weights this week, but could practice as early as this Sunday due to a later than usual schedule for final exams at WVU. The Mountaineers will work around the week of finals, and will likely travel to Jacksonville on Christmas Day, just as they did a year ago.
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Rodriguez plans to use at least part of the preparation time before the bowl game to get all areas of the Mountaineer program on the right track.
"Having a little time [to prepare] makes it easier, but we have a lot of things to work on, and not all of them are football related. We need to have a recommitment to the program. Not that it has been bad, but just to remind them of everything they need to do. To being a student-athlete, to doing all the things required to have success. We have some talent, but not enough to just walk out and beat anyone. We are going to have a heavy emphasis on their commitment to doing things the WVU football way. It will affect them. There will be some guys that may not make it to the bowl game."
Of course, the first player that springs to mind is Chris Henry, who was suspended for the season finale against Pitt. Henry's situation is up to him, according to Rodriguez.
"For Chris, it depends on what he does in the next couple weeks," Rodriguez explained. "That includes all the time through the bowl game; even in Jacksonville. "He's in a situation academically, weight room-wise and practice-wise where he has to be perfect. There could be some other guys that aren't eligible, but we won't know that until after finals are over. Some of the academic issues aren't necessarily grades, either. There are a small handful of guys that need to take their academics more seriously. We have been on them. Just being [in class] isn't enough. They need to make an effort, ask questions, be interested, and do the work. You can't just show up and expect to pass."
Rodriguez planned a team meeting for Monday afternoon, where the bowl schedule would be laid out and the recommitment process will begin.
"I'm not going to sit and badger the guys at the team meeting today, but there won't be a lot of opportunity for discussion. I don't want anyone to jump of the bridge. We still finished 8-3, even though we missed a couple of opportunities at the end of the game. It wasn't as bad as 3-8."
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Rodriguez said that he hadn't parsed the season to figure out what "went wrong" in the final two games, but did not that perhaps heightened expectations were a part of it.
"No matter what we did we couldn't make people happy, including ourselves," he noted. "We had to win by a certain amount or look a certain way. It would be different if we had six first round draft picks and depth at every position. We have to play with a level of execution and intensity. But we didn't do that at the level we needed to all the time."
"It wasn't a total bust, because there were a couple of games where we were happy with the way we played. At times, however, the effort was o.k. but discipline and execution wasn't. It starts with me and filters down to the coaches and players. We have to correct that."
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Rodriguez was also asked about possibly changing his bowl preparations.
"I was happy with our preparations last year, but we had guys that played a certain way and practiced a certain way blow a gasket in the bowl game last year. And I'm talking about veterans, seniors. I've looked at numerous bowl schedules, including Coach Bowden's. I've looked at the length of practices, everything. There will be a few adjustments in what we do this year. But mostly it's just getting to the game itself, where the guy has to play better."