WVU's athletic department and those connected with it are rumored to be interested in at least four candidates: Florida State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jimbo Fisher, FSU assistant head and offensive line coach Rick Trickett, Central Michigan head coach Butch Jones and former Auburn head coach and current college football analyst Terry Bowden. All four have connections to West Virginia University or the state of West Virginia.
There are also state and university connections with Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden (former Morgantown High student married to the former Linda Joan White; the two met at MHS) and WVU assistant Calvin Magee. But Bowden just signed a long-term contract extension and might desire to stay with the Tigers and Magee was seen getting on a plane at the Morgantown airport with Rodriguez to head to Michigan for a 9 a.m. press conference on Monday. Magee, along with Tony Gibson and strength coach Mike Barwis are all rumored to be accompanying Rodriguez to Michigan, though that has not been confirmed.
Here's look at each of WVU's alleged top four, their connections and the qualifications to become the Mountaineers' 32nd head coach.
FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher: A 1989 graduate of Salem College (W.Va.), Fisher is a native of Clarksburg, W.Va. and remains good friends with current WVU women's basketball coach Mike Carey, also a former Salem coach and player. Fisher is in his first season at Florida State after spending seven seasons as the offensive coordinator for LSU under West Virginia native Nick Saban, now the head coach at Alabama, and current Tigers' coach and Michigan alum Les Miles.
Fisher also worked at Samford, where former WVU (1970-75) and current Florida State (1976-Present) head coach Bobby Bowden began his head coaching career in 1959. He was a graduate assistant there before becoming the offensive coordinator from 1991-92. He then coached under Terry Bowden at Auburn, helping lead the Tigers to an undefeated season in 1993. He remained there until 1998, when Bowden left AU, and coached one season at Cincinnati before joining Saban, and now Miles, at LSU. Considered a prolific offensive mind, Fisher has the major college experience ideal for a first-year head coach at the BCS level. He has coached three players selected in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft, including No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell, and coached five quarterbacks in seven years at LSU that were NFL draft picks (Josh Booty, Rohan Davey, Craig Nall, Matt Mauck and JaMarcus Russell).
The Tigers posted a 70-20 record and went to seven bowl games with Fisher as offensive coordinator. The 70 wins are the most over any seven-year stretch in LSU history as were the seven consecutive bowl games. While Fisher was at LSU, the Tigers won two SEC titles and played in three BCS Bowl games including winning the national title in the 2004 Nokia Sugar Bowl. He was named a finalist for the Frank Broyles Award in 2001 as the nation's top assistant coach and led LSU to school records for points, passing TD's and yards in a season in 2003. His LSU offenses hold 13 school records. And even at Cincinnati, a school with considerably less talent, Fisher pieced together the 16th ranked offense in the NCAA. Fisher also played quarterback for Terry Bowden at Salem College for two seasons (1984-85) and at Samford in 1987 and set the school record at Samford with 34 passing touchdowns and was named the Division III National Player of the Year in 1987.
The major drawback for Fisher is that he signed an agreement to become Florida State's head coach upon the retirement of Bobby Bowden. That contract has at least a $2 million buyout clause that would have to be undertaken by West Virginia. That could be a holdup, though WVU must be paid a $4 million buyout because Rodriguez left the program before September of 2008, when his contract buyout would have reduced significantly. Sources at Michigan state that the Wolverines' athletic department will pay $3 million, with Rodriguez individually responsible for $1 million. The current WVU contract also states a timetable for paying the monies, unlike that signed by former West Virginia and current UM basketball coach John Beilein. Beilein had an open-ended date for payment, and thus could have strung payments out for years. Rodriguez has no such out in his contract, and West Virginia officials have made very clear they do intend for force Rodriguez to honor the contract. Sources indicate that as of late Sunday night Fisher had not been contacted by West Virginia, but is still considered a leading candidate who is very much interested in the job.
FSU assistant head and offensive line coach Rick Trickett: The lone candidate thus far contacted who has expressed immediate interest. Trickett, a native of Masontown, W.Va., played at Glenville and has coached at West Virginia for two different stints. One of the most respected line coaches in the nation, Trickett routinely turns out tough, bruising linemen and units that play well together. He is a master at mixing and matching up front, and his work ethic and commitment are unquestionable.
Trickett was West Virginia's defensive (1976-77) and offensive (1978-79) line coach for two seasons under Frank Cignetti, then made five stops in 11 years before joining Terry Bowden at Auburn from 1993-98 as the offensive line coach. He was Glenville State's head coach in 1999, then joined Saban at LSU. Rodriguez then hired Trickett away from the Tigers in 2001, and he remained at West Virginia until 2006, when he left for Florida State.
A 2006 Broyles Award nominee while at West Virginia, Trickett coached three top five rushing offenses and five top 15 rushing offenses in the last five seasons. After just one season on the job with the Mountaineers, the West Virginia running game went from 35th in the nation in 2001 to second in the country in 2002. The Mountaineers were second in the nation in rushing, third in scoring offense and fifth in total offense. Only two other schools in the last 10 years have finished in the top five of each of those categories. More than 20 of Trickett's former players have gone on to play in the NFL, and he has coached six All-American offensive linemen in his career. Trickett is a Marine Corps veteran with a hard-nosed approach to the game. He has never been a head coach at the major Division I level, and in his 50s, would be among the older coaches ever hired by West Virginia.
Former WVU assistant and current Central Michigan head coach Butch Jones: Jones, in his first season as head coach at CMU, led the Chippewas to a MAC championship and a bid to the Motor City Bowl to play Purdue. A native of Michigan and a former Central Michigan offensive coordinator, Jones coached at WVU in 2005 and '06. His major accomplishments were working with Brandon Miles and Darius Reynaud, turning Reynaud into an all-Big East player.
Jones spent a total of 11 seasons as an assistant at the Division I-A level. He served as the offensive coordinator at three different schools, spanning eight seasons, and worked directly with 24 all-conference selections in 15 years as a full-time position coach. Jones filled a variety of roles during his first stint at CMU (1998-2004), including serving as offensive coordinator from 2001-03. The Chippewas averaged just 271.5 yards per game and 12.5 points per game in 2000; in 2001, Jones' first season directing the offense, those averages jumped to 379.5 yards per game and 22.8 points per game, respectively. He coached three different running backs who earned All-Mid-American Conference first team or second team honors.
A 1990 graduate of Ferris State University where he was a two-year letterman on the football team, Jones broke into the coaching ranks while still an undergraduate by serving as intern for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1987-89. Upon graduation, he spent the 1990-92 seasons as a graduate assistant at Rutgers University before taking over as the offensive coordinator at Wilkes University in 1993. He directed an offense at Wilkes that led the Middle Atlantic Conference in both scoring offense and total offense in 1993, a season in which it won a conference title and qualified for the NCAA Division III Playoffs.
Jones returned to his alma mater in 1995 as a running backs coach, only to be promoted to offensive coordinator for the 1996 season. The Bulldogs, while leading the Midwestern Intercollegiate Football Conference in total offense and scoring offense, won a second consecutive MIFC championship in 1996 and advanced to the NCAA Division II Quarterfinals. He lacks experience at the BCS level and has spent just one season as head coach. He is younger, however, and could be expected to remain at West Virginia longer than some others when one considers age. Jones doesn't have any major recruiting abilities, and likely does not possess the name power of Bowden or Fisher and would thus not be able to field as highly regarded of a staff. That doesn't mean lack of success, certainly, as Rodriguez's initial staffs, and also the one currently at West Virginia, is filled with WVIAC names. Jones, while a safe and lower-priced pick, could also use WVU as a stepping stone as he has the least ties to the state and university, though those are tumultuous ties at times, as has been shown. He also might not excite and alumni and donor base burned by its recent rejection by Rodriguez.
Former Auburn, Salem and Samford head coach Terry Bowden: Bowden's name would be an instant boost to West Virginia's recruiting, and the 51-year old would likely be able, with his connections, to put together the finest staff in terms of already-logged accomplishments. Bowden was the nation's youngest head coach when he took the job at Salem at age 26.
Bowden, as written at TerryBowden.com, inherited a football program which had gone 0-9-1 the year before he arrived, then won the WVIAC Championship, its second in 80 years, in Bowden's second season. It was the first of two straight championships for Bowden and Salem. He won 19 of his last 25 games, led the nation in offense both years and played in the NAIA national playoffs both years. He was an assistant coach at Akron for former Notre Dame head coach Gerry Faust in 1986 before taking the helm at Samford in 1987. Inheriting a Samford program which had won just six games in three years prior to his arrival, Samford was 9-1 his first year, tying the record for the best season in school history.
The Bulldogs led the nation in total offense (523 ypg) and scoring offense (51.7 ppg), both national Division III records. The team's 40 touchdown passes were also a national season record, but that was only the beginning for Samford and for Terry Bowden. Bowden engineered and directed Samford's move from Division III non-scholarship football to Division I-AA scholarship football. By 1991, Samford, located near Auburn, Ala., was competing for the national championship. The 1991 Samford team had the best record in school history, 12-2, and made the Division I-AA national semifinals.
On Dec. 17, 1992, Bowden was named head coach at Auburn. He was 36, and managed to go unbeaten and untied in his first Division IA season, a first for any coach. He "swept virtually every national coach of the year award in his rookie season including Walter Camp, Scripps Howard, Football News, Toyota and the Paul "Bear" Bryant Award presented by the Football Writers Association." He was again a finalist following his second season at Auburn. By the end of his second year, the Tigers had reeled off 20 straight wins, an Auburn record. Also during his helm at Auburn, Bowden became the first college coach in 50 years to win his 100th career game by his 40th birthday.
As a student-athlete at West Virginia University, he lettered two years as a running back (1977-78), held a 3.65 GPA in accounting, the highest GPA on the football team, and graduated Magna Cum Laude. He did post graduate work at Oxford University in England, and earned a Juris Doctorate degree from the Florida State University School of Law in 1982 while a graduate assistant coach at FSU. He went 111-53-2 in his coaching career.
Bowen might be the choice fit for donors, but he has not coached a collegiate game in nine years. Some are also concerned about the way he left Auburn, resigning in the middle of the 1998 season before Auburn would play Louisiana Tech. He has been sitting in on FSU practices and film sessions three days a week as an unpaid observer to reacclimatize himself with the game. Bowden earlier expressed an interest in getting back into coaching, and his name was rumored for several jobs. It would be a major accomplishment for Bowden to jump back into the game with an emerging top 15 program and one that was one game away from playing for the national championship this season. Bowden, like Fisher, would likely demand higher salaries than Trickett or, certainly, Jones. But Bowden does not have a $2 million price tag attached, and so WVU could use the contract monies for other ventures. He would also be able to put together a solid staff, and perhaps retain many current recruits, even with a short time in which to work. He is also not connected to any one style of play, as was Rodriguez, and would likely be willing to play to strengths as opposed to a system.
There are also other, more minor candidates, but it is likely these four would have to run the job down first. West Virginia has not immediately listed a timetable for making a decision, and has released just a short statement from first-year WVU President Mike Garrison and athletic director Ed Pastilong, who noted that "we will begin our search for a new coach immediately, and we will look to bring another outstanding football coach to Morgantown who will continue our tradition of success."
Said Garrison: "We will move forward with the football program. One thing that Mountaineers all know is that no one person carries a team forward. From the President's office, the instructions that we will give to our athletic department as they go about the task of selecting a new coach will be clear: We expect to find a coach who will represent WVU values. We expect to find a coach who will bring the right student-athletes here, treat them well, and assure that they leave prepared both academically and athletically for what lies ahead in life. And we expect to hire a coach who knows how to win, and win in a way that reflects who we are as an institution.
"Above all, we will bring into our program only people who understand and value the incredible opportunity that it is to be the head coach of the WVU Mountaineers – a team that represents not just our University, but the entire state of West Virginia. We're looking forward to the Fiesta Bowl, and this coaching change will do nothing to lessen the support we plan to give our players on the field in Phoenix."