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Michigan coach Rodriguez battling bitterness

| Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008

The signs that proudly proclaimed West Virginia's Grant Town as the home of Rich Rodriguez remain in storage, where they've been since early December, when the former WVU football coach agreed to coach at Michigan.

Fearing vandalism, Grant Town Mayor Robert Riggs took the signs down shortly after the Rodriguez job change. A year earlier, one of the signs was swiped when Rodriguez flirted with Alabama, but it was returned when Rodriguez decided to stay with West Virginia.

"I would like to put up a Michigan sign," Riggs said Tuesday. "Everyone who's nationally recognized should have sign in their hometown. But I'm afraid the community doesn't feel that way."

A degree of bitterness remains in West Virginia over the departure of the homegrown Rodriguez.

It's seasoned these days with a dash of pleasure that things aren't going well for Rodriguez at Michigan, where the Wolverines are 2-4 heading into Saturday's game at unbeaten and third-ranked Penn State.

"It definitely makes it easier," said Joe Farrell, a 19-year-old WVU sophomore, of Rodriguez's struggles at Michigan. "If he was doing good, it would make it a lot harder."

Life is anything but easy for Rodriguez.

Michigan is staring at the possibility of its first losing season since 1967 and ending its streak of 33 consecutive bowl appearances. They have taken to venting about Rodriguez and his team during home games.

It's a continuation of the public backlash that began in West Virginia when Rodriguez opted to take the Michigan job.

He's been accused of shredding documents at West Virginia, which he's denied.

Rodriguez and Michigan have agreed to settle a suit brought by WVU regarding his contractual buyout. Michigan is paying $2.5 million of the $4 million settlement. Rodriguez, whose Michigan deal is for six years at $2.5 million a season, will pay three $500,000 installments to WVU over a three-year period.

That agreement came in July, in an effort by Michigan to end the distractions ahead of this season. But the Wolverines have struggled to adapt to the Rodriguez spread offense and to replace a horde of lost talent.

The low point came Saturday, when struggling Toledo visited Michigan and won, 13-10, becoming the first Mid-American Conference school to beat the Wolverines.

"I think probably most coaches would tell you in the first year, they expect a few bumps in road. Some places, they may be larger than others," Rodriguez said yesterday. "Honestly, I didn't think we'd have this many bumps."

Rodriguez also didn't anticipate the verbal lumps he and his family have absorbed.

"Obviously, we've gone through some things the last seven or eight months that have not been very pleasant," he said. "I've said before, it caught us off-guard a little bit. But you've got to be able to fight through it and believe in what you're doing and believe in the future of the program, and we do.

"I'm in a great place, with a great staff, and the young men in our program are working extremely hard. I'm proud of them. I can't look at it from a selfish reason saying, 'Oh, geez, we've been through a lot of grief the last eight months.' I'm very fortunate to be where I'm at, and we'll just keep working."

Not all the feedback has been critical -- at Michigan or from West Virginia fans.

"The (Michigan) administration here has been very supportive. A lot of the former players here that played under the other coaches have been very, very supporting," Rodriguez said. "A lot of my friends and people that were supportive back in West Virginia have called.

"It's like I told the team and coaches, when you face adversity, sometimes, things get cleared up a little bit, and you know who's truly there with you. I've been very fortunate that in this little time of adversity, not just the last few games, but also the last nine months, I've found tremendous support here at the university and also amongst my friends from the past."

Grant Town police Chief Matthew Biggie wasn't offended by Rodriguez's move to Michigan.

"The man was offered more money, and I think it's wonderful," he said. "WVU football was a little worse for wear, but it's nothing we won't get through. I think people need to back off and leave him be."

Penn State coach Joe Paterno, the all-time leader in wins among major college coaches, is familiar with intense criticism, having dealt with backlash when he had four losing seasons earlier this decade.

Paterno recalled telling his family, " 'Hey, look, just don't pay any attention to anything you read in the paper or anything like that, because I'm not going to.' I think the only way you can handle it is you've just got to not let it affect your judgment, affect your decisions, your outlook on things, and realize that there's a whole group of people out there that are pecking away at you.

"You've got the Web site mob. They don't sign their names. They don't do anything but criticize. You just can't succumb to that. You've got to stay the course. If you know what you're doing and you get some good kids and you can make believers out of them, as Rich will do because he's an awfully good football coach, they'll swing it around. And then, some of the guys that were the naysayers will be the first guys to jump on the bandwagon."

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