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December 7, 2006

Is Rich Rodrigiuez the right coach for Alabama?

The search is apparently over for Alabama ... or is it? West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez could be the Tide's next coach, but the Mountaineers are making a push to keep him. Is Rodriguez the right man to return the Tide to glory? Rivals.com national writers Steve Megargee and Bob McClellan face off on that subject.

Was Rich Rodriguez a good hire for Alabama?
Right Guy
By Steve Megargee,
Rivals.com National Writer

Alabama made the right call.

After all those quixotic hopes of landing Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier amounted to nothing, the Crimson Tide finally settled on the best coach they had a reasonable chance of landing.

Rodriguez may not have the national championship credentials of Saban or Spurrier, but the former West Virginia coach has proved he can turn a mediocre team into a BCS contender in short order.

Look for Alabama to have a similar turnaround soon enough.

Rodriguez will be Alabama's fifth coach in the last eight years. Here are a half-dozen reasons why he should end this recent instability in Tuscaloosa.

1. He's the best guy available: Saban and Spurrier both denied interest in the job, so Rodriguez was the best realistic candidate under consideration for the position. The Mountaineers also have put together back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in school history.

2. He has coached in the South: He may not have any Southeastern Conference experience, but this Big East coach certainly knows a thing or two about football in the South. He served as the offensive coordinator for the undefeated 1998 Tulane team and followed Tommy Bowden to Clemson, where he also spent two years as offensive coordinator before coming to West Virginia. Rodriguez certainly will find an entirely different level of media glare at Alabama, but he's no stranger to the South's passion for football.

3. He won't be awed by the SEC: Maybe we're making too much of one game, but West Virginia's Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia showed that Rodriguez could win in the SEC with his fastbreak style of offense. Mississippi State limited Arkansas' potent rushing attack to 128 yards on 38 carries this year, but the Bulldogs couldn't figure out a way to stop West Virginia. In a 42-14 victory over Mississippi State this year, the Mountaineers rushed for 314 yards 186 more than the Bulldogs allowed against any other opponent. And for critics who charge that the Rodriguez scheme is too gimmicky to work in the SEC, gimmicks sure worked wonders for Florida and Arkansas this year.

4. He knows how to find hidden gems: West Virginia may not finish in the top 10 in the recruiting rankings every year, but Rodriguez sure has a knack for finding diamonds in the rough. Steve Slaton arrived on campus as a three-star prospect and became an immediate star. All-America center Dan Mozes was a two-star prospect, while standout linebacker Kevin McLee signed with the Mountaineers as a two-star running back. Rodriguez will have access to more elite recruits at Alabama, but the sleepers who fill out his classes also could make major impacts.

5. He can beat his rivals: West Virginia has defeated Pittsburgh four of the last five years. Those four victories have been by an average margin of 19.5 points. Alabama has lost to Auburn five consecutive years, but West Virginia's recent domination of the Backyard Brawl has to give Tide fans reason to believe Rodriguez can give them an Iron Bowl triumph sometime in the near future.

6. He can adjust to his personnel: A quick glance at statistics might make you think Rodriguez isn't an ideal fit at Alabama. West Virginia has the second-ranked rushing offense in the nation, while Crimson Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson has set the school's single-season passing record this year. But a look at his coaching history shows that Rodriguez can adapt his system to fit his personnel. Tulane certainly didn't have a run-oriented system during that undefeated season. Shaun King threw for 3,495 yards and 38 touchdowns and set an NCAA Division I-A record for passing efficiency that year.

Rate the hire: 4 stars

Wrong Guy
By Bob McClellan,
Rivals.com National Columnist

Rich Rodriguez is an excellent football coach.

He is 49-24 in his sixth season at West Virginia, including a mark of 21-3 the past two seasons.

Rodriguez is an offensive genius, and he recruits well. He'd be a good fit almost anywhere.

But Alabama isn't anywhere. And it's not for any coach, certainly not one who has spent the vast majority of his coaching career inside the borders of the state of West Virginia.

That isn't meant to belittle Rodriguez or his career in any way. It's just to say that it isn't going to play in Tuscaloosa.

The Crimson Tide is a different animal. As much as Rodriguez believes he might understand it, he doesn't. As much as he believes if he wins he'll make everybody happy, he won't.

Alabama fans haven't been happy with a coach since the Bear retired. Sure, they'll tell you now that they loved Gene Stallings, but that's revisionist history. Some Tide fans gave him a pretty hard time, particularly at the end of his tenure when NCAA sanctions occurred during his watch. But his 62-25 mark looks better and better in the wake of the past eight years a span in which the Tide has gone through coaches like Britney Spears has husbands.

Maybe luring Steve Spurrier or Nick Saban was a pipedream. But you can't blame Alabama for going big. Tide fans will see Rodriguez as a letdown from those two, meaning only that he'll have less time to prove himself.

Here are some reasons why Rodriguez won't play in Tuscaloosa.

1. He's not a "proven winner." Two double-digit win seasons do not a career make. Alabama Athletic Director Mal Moore promised the Tide faithful a "proven winner." Rodriguez doesn't meet that standard.

2. His teams don't play great defense. If there's one thing you had better do when you coach the Crimson it's field a superior defense. For whatever reason, Rodriguez's West Virginia teams haven't. In his six seasons WVU has finished higher than 33rd in the nation in total defense only once (15th in 2005). Alabama has finished in the top three in the nation three times in that same span and was 18th this year.

3. He won't get the top recruits. A look at the West Virginia roster shows 30 players from states in the SEC, a decent number that includes 19 from the football hotbed of Florida. But checking the Rivals.com database reveals Rodriguez has never signed a player from the Southeast ranked higher than a three-star prospect. Yes, some have proven to be hidden gems. But you also have to be able to mine the big, shiny diamonds sitting right in front of you when you're at Alabama. That's something he has never done. The competition for those diamonds can be pretty rough in the SEC.

4. He will be awed by the SEC. The SEC isn't a league where the outcome of the Louisville game determines whether you win seven conference games or six. So Rodriguez's team beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl a season ago. Big deal. He has not seen the kind of competition week in and week out that he'll face in the SEC.

Rate the hire: 3 stars

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