In John U. Bacon’s 2011 book, “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football,” there’s an ironic quote on page 34.
“When you’re trying to build a program, you go through four stages. You lose big, you lose close, you win close, and finally you start winning big.”
That’s what Bobby Bowden told Rodriguez when he worked his summer camps at Florida State. It wound up perfectly describing how things went for Rodriguez at Glenville State, the place that gave him his first head coaching job, and where he created the read-option as one of the innovators of the spread offense.
Then came Tulane and Clemson, where he ran the offense and coached the quarterbacks. Up next was West Virginia, Michigan, and Arizona. Rodriguez spent the 2019 season as the offensive coordinator at Ole Miss, and now has that same role at Louisiana-Monroe – a program that was 0-10 this past year and hasn’t had a winning season since 2012.
“Lose big, lose close, win close, win big” isn’t just the formula for how to build a college football program, it’s also kind of perfectly describes Rodriguez’s career, as he started from the bottom, made it to the top, and is back at the bottom trying to win close, or big, again.
The peak of Rodriguez’s career came at West Virginia as he accumulated a 60-26 record in his seven seasons. And although a 13-9 loss to Pitt in 2007 cost them a shot at playing in the national championship game, it was West Virginia’s performance on the national stage that made him the hottest coaching prospect in the land when the Mountaineers beat Oklahoma 48-28 in the Fiesta Bowl.
Don’t forget that Rodriguez had Pat White, Steve Slaton, and Noel Devine in one of the most exciting offenses the sport had ever seen.
The valley of Rodriguez’s career happened after he left West Virginia, as he went 15-22 in three seasons at Michigan and 43-35 in six seasons at Arizona. In his final three seasons with the Mountaineers, Rodriguez won at least 10 games every year. But he would only hit the double-digit win mark once in his nine seasons with the Wolverines and Wildcats.
At Louisiana-Monroe, Rich Rod will be reunited with the Bowden family as Terry Bowden – Bobby’s son – is the head coach. They’re hoping to lose big, lose close, win close, and then start winning big.