Wednesday, November 14, 2007

From humble beginnings, WVU, UC coaches now gunning for BCS bid

Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Like most major college football coaches, West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez and Cincinnati's Brian Kelly toiled for years on little known campuses.

They built obscure programs brick by brick - Kelly at Grand Valley State and Rodriguez at Glenville State - and eventually earned national recognition.

Two coaches with their own versions of the no-huddle, spread offense can gain an edge for their team in the tight Big East race when No. 5 West Virginia (8-1, 3-1) plays at No. 21 Cincinnati (8-2, 3-2) on Saturday night.

For Kelly, the son of an alderman in Chelsea, Mass., his early calling was in politics.

He once held campaign signs for his father outside polling places, earned a political science degree at Amherst College and worked on former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart's 1984 Massachusetts campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination before football took over.

Kelly joined the staff at Division II Grand Valley State in 1987 and eventually became head coach in 1991, a job he would hold for 13 seasons.

``It taught us how to do our own laundry,'' Kelly said. ``We had to do things on our own. We generally had three or four staff members. Not that we're control freaks or that we micromanage. We definitely have our hands in a lot of things and I think that goes back to our backgrounds and being in Division II football. You had to do all those things.

``I think it's served me well and I think it's served Rich very well.''

The Lakers won back-to-back Division II national titles in 2002-03. Kelly spent three seasons as head coach at Central Michigan before moving on to Cincinnati last December.

Rodriguez was a defensive back at West Virginia in the early 1980s and became the nation's youngest college head coach at age 24 when he was hired at NAIA Salem College in 1988. But Salem dropped football the following summer when it formed a partnership with Japan's Teikyo University.

He was the only candidate with any coaching experience when he was hired in 1990 at Glenville State, where the team had only about 30 players. They got dressed in the locker room and were carpooled several miles to a makeshift practice facility.

``They say necessity is the mother of invention,'' Rodriguez said last month after his 100th career coaching win. ``Not only was it a smaller place, but they were so hungry to just get a first down. They would be happy with anything you did.''

It was there that Rodriguez developed the run-oriented offense that he still sticks with today.

``The first couple of years it was trial and error. After the second year, we said we know what we want and since then it's been evolving,'' he said.

Rodriguez guided the Pioneers to their first West Virginia Conference championship in more than three decades. Glenville State won four league titles from 1993-96 and earned an NAIA runner-up finish in 1993. He was rewarded with the additional duties as athletic director in 1995, the year the school moved to Division II.

Glenville State President Bill Simmons' prediction about Rodriguez was on the mark when in 1996 he said, ``I'm sure sometime within the next five years a major institution will show a great deal of interest in him.''

After assistant coaching stints at Tulane and Clemson under Tommy Bowden, Rodriguez took over at West Virginia in 2001.

Opponents are still trying to figure out Rodriguez's offenses, which annually rank among the top five in the nation in rushing.

``What you are seeing now as opposed to when we were running the spread 10-15 years ago, you are seeing more of a variety of how they are defending it. So offensively you've got to have an answer,'' Rodriguez said. ``The versions and parts of the spread will always be here.

``But those defensive guys are smart, too. So it's ever evolving like it always has been.''

Approaching the end of his first season in the Big East, Kelly's expectations have been met.

``I came in knowing full well that top to bottom you had the most balanced BCS league in the country, and to win a championship you have to go through West Virginia,'' he said.
Courtesy:, Photo Credit: Collegiate Images