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Rodriguez discusses rumors he's leaving

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez catapulted up the list of the nation's hottest coaching prospects after his team's 38-35 Sugar Bowl upset over Southeastern Conference champ Georgia on Jan. 2 in the Sugar Bowl.

However, Rodriguez said Monday night that he's not pursuing the open North Carolina job at this time, after possibly creating some confusion during his weekly conference call to an audience of national writers and broadcasters earlier in the day.

"Don't misinterpret any of my remarks today about the North Carolina job," Rodriguez said in a statement issued through the university. "I've said many times, and again today, that you treat every job you take as if it's the last job you ever have.

"As I said on the Big East call, right now, I'm thinking only about playing Louisville. It's flattering to be mentioned as a coach people might want leading their program. But I've always stayed focused on the task at hand, and that's the next game, playing Louisville."

North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour announced Oct. 23 that he was starting a search for a football coach who could make the Tarheels competitive on a national scale after firing John Bunting following six unsuccessful seasons and a 1-6 start.

Bunting will coach the last five games, starting Saturday against Wake Forest in Chapel Hill, N.C. He had three years remaining on his contract at $286,000 per year, plus additional income from a lengthy list of camps and promotional deals.

No. 3 West Virginia plays at No. 5 Louisville on Thursday on ESPN in a high-stakes game loaded with BCS and Big East Conference implications. Both teams are 7-0 and 2-0 in the conference.

However, the first question Rodriguez fielded during his conference call concerned his interest in the North Carolina coaching job.

"Any time any coach on our staff, myself or anybody else gets mentioned, it's very flattering," Rodriguez said. "It's not something I've ever viewed as a distraction."

He said West Virginia was a great place to coach, then added, "I don't think you ever say never to something, particularly right now.

"But I'm focused on, obviously, what we're doing right now with our season. And, after the season, I'm sure I'll sit down with our people here and discuss it with my family, if anything is interesting at that point.

"But right now, I'm just so busy about Louisville that I'm not interested about anything else."

Rodriguez is being mentioned as a leading candidate for the Tar Heels job based on, not just media reports, but pleas from the Tar Heels fan base. Other coaches linked to the job include NFL analyst and former Cleveland Browns and Miami Hurricanes coach Butch Davis, Tulsa's Steve Kragthorpe, Navy's Paul Johnson and Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe.

Following last season, Rodriguez signed a three-year contract extension, escalating at $1 million through 2012, after guiding the Mountaineers to an 11-1 season. The deal includes an additional $100,000 per year in deferred salary, which Rodriguez can bank in 2011 if he remains with the Mountaineers.

Rodriguez has a $2 million buyout clause in his contract, but it expires next August. That would eliminate him from major programs looking for a new leader heading into 2007.

Rodriguez is 46-22 in six seasons after retuning to his alma mater and has led his team to four consecutive bowl games and three Big East titles. Last season, the Mountaineers tied the 1988 team for best final ranking and finished No. 5 in the AP poll.

Rodriguez is familiar with ACC teams, such as North Carolina, after serving as Clemson's offensive coordinator in 1999 and 2000.

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