Hanging Tough

West Virginia fans were not the only ones who turned on the television or logged onto the Internet over the weekend to find out that Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez might be bolting from his home state and alma mater to pursue the head coaching job at Michigan.

As West Virginia senior defensive back Larry Williams enjoyed his final day to relax Saturday before bowl preparations began on Sunday, he came across a story on ESPN that immediately caught his eye.

" I happened to flip to SportsCenter, and I saw all of that stuff (about Rodriguez interviewing with the Wolverines)," said Williams. "I didn't even know it was going on. So it was a little bit shocking when I saw it."

Less than 24 hours later, that shock turned into a horrible reality. Rodriguez, who had six years earlier recruited Williams to become a Mountaineer, walked into a 1:30 p.m. meeting and announced to his team that he was trading in his coonskin cap for the Maize and Blue of Michigan. Williams had tried to ready himself for the moment after watching the information come across the ESPN airwaves the night before — and after going through a similar scare one year earlier when Coach Rod nearly left for Alabama — but nothing could ready the Richmond, Va., native for hearing the words come out of his coach's mouth.

"I didn't know I would take it so hard," admitted the veteran cornerback. "I thought I would just think that it is a part of life, but the more I think about it the more mad I get. I'm not just mad at Coach Rod, but it just seems like these last couple of weeks have just been a downfall.

"There were a lot of mixed emotions, but as a senior, I have to tell the younger guys that they are not the reason for someone else leaving," he continued. "I know how much Coach Rod did for the program and how much he wanted for us. Sometimes when you don't get what you want, you have to walk away from it. I will always have the utmost respect for Coach Rod. I know how much he did for me and my family. Coach Rod is a great guy."

Williams was unsure who would be coaching the team in the bowl game, but he admitted Sunday's practice was a little different without Coach Rod pacing the turf.

"It was like something was missing," Williams explained. "It's like when you have dinner, you have all the right foods but after you eat you feel like something was missing. But at the same time, some of the seniors and juniors took it as a chance to make ourselves better. So we kind of made it into a competition day where everybody flew around, yelled and got the madness out and had fun."

As for the Mountaineer assistants, who obviously have to be concerned with what their next step will be — will they follow Rodriguez to Michigan, hang around and hope to keep their job at WVU or go looking for a position away from both their former boss and their former school — Williams complimented the staff for keeping the players on task.

"They are always going to make sure that we are focused," said Williams. "They were hurt too, but it is a part of life. They don't want to get us involved with what happened. They just want us to get prepared to play Oklahoma."

And Williams promises his team will be ready. "We are moving forward," he said. "The thing that happened (Sunday) might have thrown us off course. But one thing about the Mountaineers is that we always find a way to get back on track. Come Jan. 2, we will be ready."

For Williams, there is no other choice. After the heartbreaking loss to Pitt, which he called the worst loss of his career, No. 3 needs a win in order to walk away from the WVU program without that horrible taste in his mouth.

"I never took a loss so hard," said Williams of the 13-7 defeat at home against the Panthers, a defeat that knocked the Mountaineers out of the BCS title game. "In high school we lost some playoff games, and that hurt. But to be so close to something and have it taken away from you, it felt like somebody had died.

"So it took me a while to really get over it. But then I realized that it is just a game, and we have one more game left. If we don't keep the wheels on this thing, we are going to get embarrassed. Oklahoma will embarrass you. They will put points on the board and think nothing of it. So we have to rededicate ourselves and get it done. We want to show the world and some of the unloyal fans that it wasn't all Coach Rod. We are going to show them what he taught us and how we play. We will always hold the rope, regardless of what happens."

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