Kingmakers: Part I

West Virginia coaching saga plays out across different sectors


Jan. 29, 2008

By Brian Curtis

Senior Writer, CSTV.com

 

BRIAN CURTIS
Curtis is CSTV.com's Senior Writer and CSTV's football and basketball insider.
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As the business of college football has grown, so too have the pressures of finding and hiring football coaches. CSTV.com examines this trend by looking at the new "kingmakers" in college football, in an exclusive seven part series, from agents to donors to administrators to search consultants to the media; they all play a role in determining who the next man ruling the sidelines on Saturday will be.

               

West Virginia needed a football coach.  And fast.  Rich Rodriguez had just left them for a six-year, $2.5 million annual deal at the University of Michigan, submitting his resignation to athletic director Ed Pastilong effective Dec. 19.  Though still stung by the resignation, West Virginia administrators felt confident that they could attract--and pay--a high profile coach to come to Morgantown.  They were wrong.

 

Pastilong is a fixture at West Virginia dating back to his college playing days in the early 1960s.  After a successful career as a high school coach in his native state, Pastilong joined the West Virginia athletic department in 1976 as football recruiting coordinator and worked his way up before taking over in 1989.  He had hired Rich Rodriguez from Clemson back in 2000 to resurrect the Mountaineer football program.  Pastilong received pats on the back as Rodriguez's teams played their way into the national rankings and earned more adulation when Rodriguez backed out of a generous offer in late 2006 to become the head coach at the University of Alabama.  Certainly, it was more than just Pastilong that kept "Rich Rod"; it was the deep pockets of donors who put up the money.  But when West Virginia lost Rodriguez to Michigan in December, it was Pastilong who felt the brunt of fans' ire. 

 



Kingmakers: A CSTV.com Exclusive
  • Tuesday: The West Virginia Saga
  • Wednesday: The Agents & The Donors
  • Thursday: The Search Consultants & The Media
  • Friday: The Executives & Conclusion




  • Mike Garrison is a lawyer by trade, studied at Oxford, served as former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise's Chief of Staff and teaches political science at West Virginia.  The 38-year old also happens to be the President of West Virginia University.  He needed a football coach. 

     

    Joe Manchin has been Governor since 2005 and is a popular figure around the state.  He was a former Mountaineer player, back in the mid 1960s, a teammate of Pastilong.  Football is king in West Virginia and so, as Governor, he wanted to make sure they hired the best coach when Rodriguez left.  Manchin and his wife were always involved in West Virginia athletics and even endowed a football scholarship.  Politically, he needed a football coach.

     

    Ken Kendrick has donated millions to his alma mater.  The founder of Datatel, a software company and a former banking executive, Kendrick is close friends with Rodriguez.  The managing partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Kendrick, along with a handful of other donors, stepped up to help keep the coach in Morgantown when Tuscaloosa came calling last year.  But upset at how West Virginia had treated his friend, Kendrick went public in December with his criticisms of the West Virginia athletic administration, particularly Pastilong.  He even threatened, along with fellow donors, to hold back millions in pledges.  But his football team still needed a coach.

     

    Chuck Neinas, involved in college athletics for decades, has become known as the "football search guy", often found in the middle of the highest profile searches.  West Virginia called him after the search process was underway.  He wanted to find a new football coach.

     

    Agent Mike Brown represented Rodriguez and helped orchestrate the move to Michigan.  In emails to senior West Virginia administrators obtained by the Associated Press, Brown had repeatedly threatened to take his client elsewhere if the athletic department didn't treat his client better and if Manchin didn't stop interfering in the program.  Brown probably couldn't have cared less about his client's replacement. 

     

    The media focus in regarding the West Virginia coaching search was mostly relegated to the continuing legal and public relations battle between the school and its former coach.  Accusations of document shredding, improper phone calls, racism, false promises, threats and just about every other insidious act have been leveled.  And Governor Manchin is not a big fan of agents, as indicated in his statement just days after Rodriguez left:           

     

    "But, unfortunately, over the last two years, I have seen Rich become a victim of a college coaching system driven by high-priced agents that has turned those dreams into just another back-room business deal.....

    I wish Rich and his family nothing but the best, but I challenge everyone in our state and across the country to start looking more closely at the system that we've allowed these agents to create, because in the end, it serves no one well but them."

     

    Almost three weeks later, Manchin was still fuming.  "When I was a recruit back in 1965 [Manchin played football at West Virginia], coaches walked into a young man's home and promised mom and dad that they would take care of their son, educate their son and look out for their son.  Mom and dad entrusted coaches."  The Governor adds, "When you sit in a living room talking to a mother, you are promising her that her son will go to school, that he will have help with his education, that he will be educated with a new skill level and we'll help him be a good citizen, and I, the coach, will be here in five years.  What mother or father wouldn't want his son to go play for that coach?"

     

    But things have changed, Manchin admits, and he doesn't like it.  "We have rules that players have to live by.  They have to get the grades to play, they can't transfer without sitting out, and they don't get compensated for playing.  Shouldn't there be something, if a contract is signed, that we should hold coaches accountable for?"  And, in a poignant remark aimed at Rodriguez, "Our coach just signed an extension through 2014.  He didn't even make it through the first year."

     

    "We have a good, rounded, understanding of the University," said Garrison, just a week after his school upset Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.  "We put a lot, a lot of weight on working with folks who want to be here.  Folks that want to be here--that keep their word.  If you listen to an offer once, OK, but again, again and again you ask, `Does this person really want to be here?'"

     

    Pastilong adds, "We were a bit surprised that our coach left, he had just signed a new contract six months earlier and had made a strong commitment to us."

     

    But the pending lawsuit, the buyout, the expected dramatic reforms are a long way from being resolved.  What has been settled is who the next coach of West Virginia will be: longtime assistant Bill Stewart, who was elevated to the job just hours after leading West Virginia to an upset win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.  But what happened between Dec. 19 and Jan. 3? 

     

    Based on sources, interviews with key subjects and previously published reports, it appears there was already consternation from donors that the school had let Rodriguez go, so factions had lined up in the coaching search process well before candidates even interviewed.  Pastilong acknowledges that he had no list ready and waiting to replace a coach he believed was there for the long haul but was aware of certain coaches simply by observing them through the media or on the WVU staff.  According to sources, the major decision-makers in the process were Garrison, Garrison's Chief of Staff Craig Walker, Pastilong, deputy director of athletics Mike Parsons and Stephen Goodwin, the President of the Board of Governors.  Pastilong also includes Jennifer McIntosh, the Vice President of Social Justice at West Virginia in this group and insists that the Office of Personnel played a vital role as well.  According to Pastilong, he contacted Floyd Keith of the Black Coaches Association for a list of minority candidates as the group began discussions. 

     

    Outside of that group, the Governor independently weighed in and worked the phones, helping to persuade coaches to come to Morgantown.  West Virginia's search initially focused solely on those with West Virginia ties.  The pool was small and included coaches who had previously coached at West Virginia, such as Florida associate head coach Doc Holliday, or native sons of the Mountaineer state, like Florida State head-coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher.  Also under consideration were Butch Jones, Rick Trickett and Terry Bowden among others.

     

    "The first person who asked to be considered was Bill Stewart," says Pastilong.  "I went to a staff meeting on the Sunday following Rich's resignation and Bill asked that he would very much like to be considered.  The next day I put his name on the list."  Just days later, Pastilong appointed Stewart interim head coach, which would turn out to be a very long job interview.

     

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