I still remember the feeling when I first heard Rich Rodriguez was leaving WVU football for Michigan.
I was the sports editor and columnist at the Charleston Gazette and was at once stunned, exhilarated and filled with anxiety.
That was my deal, man. Well, mine and that of beat writer Dave Hickman. We had to get on it. We had to lead the Mountain State’s media coverage.
Which we did. Hickman was right there when Rodriguez told his team. I was on the phone and found out the coach destroyed paperwork files relating to those players on the team. The Gazette was on the ESPN ticker at the bottom of the screen.
But as a WVU alum I also felt and sensed that feeling of betrayal. How could RichRod, a fellow native of Marion County, do this to his home state? He was 20 miles from his home. He was glorified – until a brutal loss to Pitt – after leading the Mountaineers to heights not seen since the days of Don Nehlen and Major Harris.
Yet he was indeed leaving. He infamously did so, then-AD Ed Pastilong told me, by having a grad assistant deliver a resignation letter.
Yes, I still wonder how all would have worked out had Rodriguez stayed put. But we see how it in fact did. Rodriguez bounced around from Michigan to Arizona to Ole Miss to Louisiana-Monroe to, today, Jacksonville State.
WVU, meanwhile, had some glory after his departure, like the thumping of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. There was Bill Stewart’s fiery Fiesta Bowl speech and the victory over Oklahoma.
But, for the most part, it hasn’t been the same since those days of Pat White, Steve Slaton and company.
I bring this up, of course, because of the events of Monday. Lincoln Riley moving from Oklahoma to USC. Brian Kelly from Notre Dame to LSU. The firestorm that surrounded the news of each.
Just goes to show the feeling of betrayal isn’t exclusive to schools like WVU. These days, no school is safe from poaching. Even the most well-heeled, quote-unquote royalty of college athletics can be overthrown.
And – this is awful, but… — I have to admit it doesn’t feel bad to sit back and watch.
Mountaineer fans felt betrayal when John Beilein – a good man, by the way, who did things the right way – also moved to Michigan. There was also the time a couple years ago when Dana Holgorsen ditched WVU for Houston of the AAC.
Now other fans across the country understand.
Of course, I understand it’s silly to feel betrayal. We all understand it’s silly when we sit back and look at the big picture, correct? People get better offers. They move on – even if it’s out of state. Money talks. There’s better weather elsewhere. There are all kinds of reasons for making a move.
Yet West Virginia is also a tightly knit state that eats and breathes sports. I’ve seen studies on how deeply we take our sports. People lose sleep or can’t concentrate after important losses.
Throw on the other stuff – insults of the Mountain State; low national rankings – and it’s easy to understand why we desperately seek rays of sunshine. It’s also easy to understand why we so want to hold on to those rays of sunshine.
And once in a while, here and there, whether it’s rational or not rational, it’s nice to see we have company in trying to do so.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.