'It's A Rough Day'

One year ago, Mountaineer players headed to a meeting at the Puskar Center regarding the fate of head coach Rich Rodriguez. Sunday was met with a similar situation, but a different result.

This time, Rodriguez informed the players that he was leaving to become head coach at the University of Michigan. Multiple players stated that Rodriguez declined to give a reason, and quickly left the Puskar Center before the start of a brief afternoon practice.

"It's a rough day," senior cornerback/kick returner Vaughn Rivers told reporters gathered in the Puskar Center lobby. "We've just got to pull these young guys together. We have a bowl game to play."

Rivers and fellow seniors Owen Schmitt and Marc Magro spoke briefly with assembled beat reporters following this afternoon's practice, which was led by associate head coach/special teams coordinator Bill Stewart and offensive coordinator/assistant head coach Calvin Magee. Multiple sources have confirmed that Magee and recruiting coordinator Tony Gibson later boarded a plane with Rodriguez, presumably bound for Ann Arbor.

On Friday, the same day which Rodriguez initially met with Michigan officials in Toledo, Oh., the Mountaineers began preparations for the January 2 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Big XII champion Oklahoma.

As players exited the facility following practice, moods ranged from sad, to angry, to carefree. One Mountaineer player playfully made an "X" over Rodriguez's spot in the team picture adorning one of the hallway walls at the Puskar Center before exiting to the parking lot.

While the upcoming search for Rodriguez's replacement will be the eye of the media storm in the coming days and perhaps weeks, the focus of the players is on the upcoming bowl game. As for the school of thought that Mountaineer players will simply lay down in the face of adversity, Schmitt feels exactly the opposite.

"If anything, it will light a fire under our (butts)," said the fullback. "We've got to fight for the Mountaineers. We've got to fight for our family."

A family which now stands without a patriarch. Rodriguez lettered as a defensive back for Don Nehlen's Mountaineers in the early 1980's, spent time as a volunteer assistant later in the decade, an served stints as head coach at West Virginia Conference schools Salem and Glenville State. He later joined Morgantown native Tommy Bowden at Tulane and Clemson as offensive coordinator before accepting an offer in December of 2000 to return to his alma mater following Nehlen's retirement.

Now, Rodriguez will follow in the footsteps of another retiring Bo Schembechler assistant, outgoing Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. A press conference in Ann Arbor is scheduled for 9:00 Monday morning, where Rodriguez will make his first public comments as head coach of the Wolverines.

Early names expected to be circulating as possible successors to Rodriguez include ABC analyst and WVU alum Terry Bowden. Bowden, who was unavailable for comment, is looking to get back into coaching roughly a decade after he last patrolled the sidelines at Auburn. Florida State offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher may also be a possibility, though he was introduced on Monday as FSU's head coach in waiting when college football icon and former WVU leader Bobby Bowden ultimately retires from the Seminole sideline. Stewart, a former head coach at Virginia Military Institute, is expected to lead the Mountaineers in the Fiesta Bowl and will likely be a candidate for the permanent position as well.

While names will certainly be added and subtracted from West Virginia's search over the next several days, Michigan's public and at times controversial search is now over.

"It was very surprising to me," said senior linebacker Marc Magro, a Morgantown native who admitted to never even thinking about the possiblity of Rodriguez leaving until last season's flirtation with Alabama. "My gut feeling last year was he was staying. My gut feeling this year is he was leaving, honestly. I don't know why, that was just my gut feeling.

"It is what it is," added Schmitt.

That being the end of Rodriguez's magnificent seven-year reign in Morgantown.

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