By Cliff Nichols
Times West Virginian
Rich Rodriguez’s coaching career has now taken him more than 2,100 miles from his Grant Town home to the University of Arizona, where his first-year record of 5-3 includes last Saturday’s 39-36 upset of No. 10 Southern California.
Rodriguez, a member of the Times West Virginian Marion County Sports Hall of Fame, believes he always carries part of his home state of West Virginia with him.
The veteran coach, architect of an 80-51 record at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, loves to talk about his “passion for football.”
He found it growing up in Grant Town and playing at Fairview, North Marion and West Virginia University.
It’s a trait he sees in other major college head coaches from North Central West Virginia, such as a pair of former high school quarterbacks in Alabama’s Nick Saban from Monongah and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher from Clarksburg Liberty.
“It’s pretty unique,” Rodriguez said in a 2010 interview before his third and final season as the head coach at the University of Michigan. “It’s a little, small state and a small kind of area there in Marion County and Harrison County. It’s amazing.”
It’s all in the foundation, Rodriguez believes.
“With Nick and Jimbo and some others, it seems like we all kind of have a similar background,” Rodriguez said. “We grew up in coal mining-type of communities. Sports were a big deal. Football was a big deal. You kind of grew up playing football and following football and having a passion for it. I think that’s probably what started a lot of us on our way.”
Major college teams may spend about 50 hours a year on the field in front of fans playing games, but preparation requires a lot of long hours during seven-days-a-week work schedules.