Red River Shootout's decline, RichRod-WVU feud and more
I let the Pac-10 fans have their fun last week taking assorted jabs at their mostly-SEC counterparts. I could print some of the 300-something retorts, but you can already guess what most of them said (past two national titles, head-to-head record, blah, blah, blah), not to mention this little banter would consume the Mailbag interminably.
So if you don't mind, let's drop the subject for now and get back to a more standard Q&A session.
Stewart, it used to be that whichever team won the Red River Shootout was probably going to win the Big 12. With other teams in the Big 12 rising fast (which, even as an OU fan, I am extremely happy about), does OU-Texas have the same implications this year?
There was indeed a time earlier this decade when the nation's only college football rivalry played just steps from a 52-foot cowboy was one of the most anticipated games of the entire season. However, it's lost its sizzle the past couple of years. Both in 2006 and '07, the two teams each entered the game having already sustained a loss, something that had not previously happened since 1999. In '06, the Sooners even went on to win the Big 12 despite losing to the 'Horns. And then there's the itty bitty problem that the rivalry of late has been highly one-sided. In the nine seasons since Bob Stoops came to Norman (Mack Brown arrived in Austin a year earlier), Oklahoma has gone 6-3 against Texas -- including a five-year winning streak from 2000 to '04 -- and captured five Big 12 titles during that span to Texas' one.
As I look toward this year's matchup, the onus is almost entirely on the Longhorns to restore the rivalry to its place of national importance. At this point, the Sooners are a proven commodity (except, of course, in January). I feel reasonably confident in predicting that OU will win its usual 10-11 games this fall and will once again be the team to beat in the conference. Conversely, while Texas has posted admittedly admirable 10-3 records each of the past two seasons, it has obviously shown chinks in the armor, losing twice each to underdogs Kansas State and Texas A&M. On paper, there's little evidence to suggest this year's team will be any better -- QB Colt McCoy is coming off an unimpressive sophomore season, there's a huge question mark at tailback and the defense returns just four starters -- though there's hope that former Auburn coordinator Will Muschamp will reinvigorate Texas' recently mediocre defense.
Even if the 'Horns themselves don't wind up winning the conference, they'll play a key role in affecting the outcome. If, like me, you believe that Texas Tech will finally emerge as a viable third contender in the South this season, then its Nov. 1 date with Texas in Lubbock will undoubtedly be a swing game. (Especially since I give the Red Raiders little chance of winning in Norman in late November in what will be a revenge game for Oklahoma.) Meanwhile, the 'Horns are also the only one of the three aforementioned South teams that faces North favorite Missouri.
So I guess what I'm saying is that while the Red River duel remains unquestionably important to both participants, there's a good chance any of several other contests will ultimately wind up holding more importance to the Big 12 race.
Stewart: Given the $4 million settlement, I question West Virginia's prior outrage over Rich Rodriguez's bolt to Michigan. Was it sincere, or was it simply posturing over the size of the check?
Contrary to what several gazillion Mountaineers fans have expressed in my inbox over the past several months, the West Virginia-Rodriguez dispute was never about money. It was about pride.
Rodriguez was hardly the first coach in history to break a contract to leave for another school. In fact, the Mountaineers' revered basketball coach, Bob Huggins, did just that when he left Kansas State just one year into a five-year deal. Nor was Rodriguez the first West Virginia coach whose contract included a buyout clause. Huggins' predecessor, John Beilein, owed a $2.5 million obligation when he left for Michigan, but West Virginia saw fit to reduce to that amount to $1.5 million following mostly quiet, behind-the-scenes negotiations between the two sides.
In light of all those examples, why did the school take such a vigilant and seemingly hypocritical stance about collecting its full $4 million? Two words: pure animosity. In the long, sordid history of coaching changes, I've never, ever seen a school and a fan base take a coach's departure more personally than West Virginia did Rodriguez's. The idea that a native son would show such disloyalty to his home state and alma mater was seen as deplorable. And the fact that he did it at a time when the fan base was still reeling from the heartbreaking, season-ending loss to Pittsburgh certainly did not help his cause any.
Rodriguez was universally revered by West Virginia fans throughout the three-year Pat White/Steve Slaton run -- but you would never know it by the revisionist history that's gone into effect in the months since his departure. He is now remembered primarily as a scheming, power-hungry mad man, not to mention an "awful play-caller." (That's why the Mountaineers lost to Pitt.) I find it hard to believe that just because the now-reviled coach finally agreed to pay up (with Michigan's considerable financial help) his status as Enemy of the State will change anytime soon. His fate was sealed the day he stepped on that plane to Ann Arbor.
As for Rodriguez, I can't help but wonder how a man making millions of dollars could surround himself with such incompetent representation. From his agent (Mike Brown) who tried to strong-arm West Virginia by floating non-existent job offers from other schools to his lawyer (Marv Robon) who likened the coach's buyout to a form of slavery to whichever legal wizard led him to believe a court would let him off the hook for $4 million based solely on an alleged verbal promise made by the school's since-ousted president, Team Rodriguez was not exactly the greatest set of minds ever assembled.
Throughout the saga, Rodriguez kept insisting "the truth would come out." In the end, all that came out was $2.5 million from Michigan's bank account -- not to mention a significant slice of the coach's reputation.