Rodriguez Prepares For First Season In Ann Arbor

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- Rich Rodriguez's office door is wide open.
Just like his offense.
Rodriguez is widely considered one of the godfathers of the spread that has become the rage in college football. He created his version of three- and four-receiver sets at tiny Glenville State in 1990.
Rodriguez's successful scheme, which led to Michigan hiring him away from West Virginia, was born a year after he taught driver's education. At the time he was searching for an innovation after losing his first coaching job at Salem when the program folded two weeks before his wedding.
"We were able to experiment at Glenville because things were so bad that if we got a first down, we got a standing ovation," Rodriguez said in an interview with The Associated Press. "From there, we tweaked and developed it over the years at Tulane, Clemson and West Virginia.
"The version we run here at Michigan likely will be different than what we've done before."
Shaun King, a former NFL quarterback, says that's what makes Rodriguez brilliant.
King played for Rodriguez a decade ago when he was the offensive coordinator at Tulane and has watched his style evolve with Woody Dantzler at Clemson and Pat White in West Virginia.
"I've played for some of the greatest offensive minds in the game such as Mike Martz, Dennis Green, Tom Moore and Jon Gruden and Coach Rod adapts his system to his personnel as well as anyone," said King, who now works as an ESPN analyst. "I could throw the football, so we passed a lot. Woody was a playmaker, but Coach Rod came up with ways to get the ball to wide receiver Rod Gardner.
"Pat White couldn't hit the broadside of a barn when he got to West Virginia, but Coach Rod figured out a way to use him and Steve Slaton by running the option out of a shotgun."
Rodriguez's spread offense help turn the Mountaineers into a title contender, making him an attractive option for college football's winningest program after coach Lloyd Carr announced last season would be his last.
A messy divorce, though, ensued at West Virginia. The school Rodriguez had played for and rooted for as a kid had extended his contract a year earlier, and the coach didn't want to pay a $4 million buyout.
The saga was settled a month ago when Michigan agreed to pick up $2.5 million, leaving Rodriguez to take care of the rest. It didn't stop the questions about the man and coach: allegation-filled months distorted and dominated his image.
Rodriguez insisted it will not change the way he leads a team, even as he finds himself for the first time in a major media market at the helm of a program that draws national interest.
"I've always told my wife and coaches that if I ever have a big-time job, I'm still going to take a small-time approach with my office door open to anybody who wants to talk to me," Rodriguez said in that office, which overlooks a practice facility being built and fields where he recently had his first preseason practice. "The best advice I ever got was, 'just be yourself,' and I'm going to do that even if I'm coaching the Super Bowl champions in the NFL."
Frank comments like that, bringing the NFL into a conversation, and his spread offense all signal a drastic change at an old-school program that has been guarded publicly and played it safe on the field since Bo Schembechler revived the program four decades ago.
Rodriguez's in-your-face style at practice is in stark contrast to the way Carr did things for 13 seasons.
"It's a lot different," said Michigan running back Carlos Brown, who played quarterback in high school and might end up taking some snaps this fall. "It's going to be tough, but fun."
King said the Wolverines better get used to it.
"At first, I didn't like Coach Rod because he has a very volatile personality on the field and he uses abrasive language," King said. "He does it because he wants to put so much pressure on you to be perfect in practice that you'll be prepared for games.
"It's amazing, though, how he's completely different off the field. He really cares about his players and he's a family guy, who loves his wife and children."
While some coaches talk about the importance of family, Rodriguez does more than that. He meets with his coaches late enough in the morning so that they can take kids to school or spend some quality time with them.
Rodriguez encourages his assistants to invite their wives and children to practice, where his wife of almost 20 years and two children are fixtures, and to go home from Thursday evening through the middle of the morning on Fridays.
"If people knew more stuff like that, maybe there wouldn't be so many misconceptions about who he is," said assistant head coach Tony Gibson, who played for Rodriguez at Glenville State and coached with him at West Virginia. "He's just a great guy."
Rodriguez truly wants people to believe that, despite what they've read or heard over the last several months involving him and the dispute with his former employer.
"It does bug me that a portrait has been painted that isn't close to who I am," Rodriguez said. "If I was a job-hunting coach, I wouldn't have turned down a chance to leave West Virginia to coach at Alabama. I simply made a move to Michigan that was a great opportunity for me and my family, coaching at one of the best places in the country."

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