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Don't rush to judgment on new WVU football coach

A famous line from history -- long live the king -- comes to mind today as a new era in West Virginia football begins.

Don Nehlen, one of a handful of the most recognizable people in the state, has passed the leadership of the Mountaineer program on to one of his former players and assistants, Rich Rodriguez.

Nehlen will leave Rodriguez with a good head start.

The Mountaineers, while not lately approaching the flirtations with perfection of the earlier years in Nehlen's tenure, have been solid, both on the field and off. This year, they'll finish with no worse than a .500 record (that's if they're invited to a bowl and lose) -- and could end up 7-5 with a bowl victory.

WVU's football graduation rates also have been solid under Nehlen. And while there has been some misconduct among a handful of his players over the years, it has been minimal and generally of a minor nature when placed into the context of the size of the football team: More than 100 players from widely different kinds of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

Not to be ignored is the fact there were no NCAA investigations of WVU's football program under Nehlen. The winningest coach in WVU history did it without cheating.

Rodriguez, of course, will be expected to live up to Nehlen's standards of graduating players and running a clean program.

He also will be expected to win consistently, which Nehlen has done at Morgantown ever since he arrived and which Bobby Bowden did for WVU in the early 1970s.

A major challenge for Rodriguez, as we see it, will be rekindling interest among Mountaineer fans. In Nehlen's final home game, against East Carolina, there were an embarrassing number of empty seats.

For whatever reason, WVU fans' rabid love for their team seems to have dwindled.

Rodriguez's ties and obvious love for the state -- he could have taken other head coaching jobs, likely for more money, at other universities -- are a good start. We believe West Virginians will warm up to him in a way they wouldn't have to, with say, a highly talented assistant from elsewhere who had no links to here.

And Rodriguez has shown a work ethic to match Nehlen's in successful stops at Glenville State, Tulane and Clemson.

Rodriguez will have a tough job ahead, in some ways a lot tougher than when he took over a Glenville State program that was lucky to score -- much less win. The expectations then obviously weren't close to as high as they'll be in Morgantown, where Nehlen in 1988 and 1993 had the Mountaineers on the brink of a national title.

That said, we believe Rodriguez can succeed, with one caveat: West Virginia fans must be patient.

Don't pass judgment on Rodriguez next season, or even the one after that. Give him time to get his own recruits and to get his players familiar with his style of coaching and his playbook.

After all, it takes a while to get accustomed to any job -- even as a king ... or a West Virginia University football coach.

Today's editorial is a reflection of the opinion of the Exponent editorial board, which is comprised of James G. Logue, Kevin S. Courtney, Patrick M. Martin, Matt Harvey, Nora Edinger and J. Cecil Jarvis.

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