Until December 1, the legacy of Rich Rodriguez would be one of an innovater who led West Virginia to the biggest victory in school history in the 2005 Sugar Bowl and to the verge of a national championship. He would be known as the man who picked up where Don Nehlen left off and carried the Mountaineers to the promised land. By the time December 2nd rolled around, all that had changed and the legacy of Rich Rodriguez was forever altered.
A 13-9 loss to Pittsburgh forever changed the face of Mountaineer football and has tarnished the reputations of two of the greatest coaches the school had ever seen. A mere 2-weeks following that astonishing defeat, Rodriguez was sitting with Michigan representatives, hashing out a plan to vacate Morgantown. Perhaps Rodriguez realized he would never live down the loss to Pitt and the loss of a national title shot. Perhaps he realized he choked when all the cards were on the table and the opportunity would never present itself again at WVU. We will never know for sure, that is certain.
Just as Mountaineer fans were accepting the loss to Pittsburgh and beginning to look forward to a BCS bowl and another season, Rodriguez dropped the bomb that he would not return as coach of West Virginia University but would instead travel to the alleged greener pastures of Michigan. With that act of treason, Rodriguez cemented his legacy as a 13-9 loser to Pittsburgh with everything at stake. The Sugar Bowl victory and the Big East Championships will become distance memories but the sting of the defeat that cost West Virginia a shot at a national championship and the betrayal that followed will linger much longer. It's the bad memories that tend to remain more vivid over time, and Rodriguez provided a one-two punch to leave Mountaineer fans with.
When called upon to give comfort to the grieving fans of West Virginia football, the elder of West Virginia football and gold standard to which Rodriguez was compared chose to dump salt into the open wounds that were opened by the departure. Instead of assuring Mountaineer fans that all would be well in Morgantown, Don Nehlen took the opportunity to heap praise upon the tradition and majesty of the Wolverines. Instead of just remaining silent, the former coach portrayed Michigan as a Major League club, while West Virginia remains in the Minor Leagues, hoping to be called up someday.
When all is done, the damage done to the legacies of two Mountaineer coaches will be irreversible. At some point, Rodriguez and Nehlen will look at Mountaineer fans and only see contempt. If they wonder why, it's because Mountaineer fans look at Nehlen and Rodriguez and only see Maize and Blue. And those are two colors we never need to see again.