Rich Rodriguez’s 48-hour flirtation with South Carolina never blossomed into love. Reports about a move south — and to the Southeastern Conference — were proven to be mere speculation.
Rodriguez will remain Arizona’s football coach, turning down an offer from the Gamecocks late Saturday to replace the legendary Steve Spurrier. Rodriguez tweeted late Saturday that he was “happy and honored to be an Arizona Wildcat.”
Moments later, athletic director Greg Byrne confirmed that the coach was staying.
Rodriguez, 52, “said he appreciated the opportunity to take a look, but it was real clear to him that he’s an Arizona Wildcat,” Byrne told the Star late Saturday. “We knew the whole time we wanted him to be our coach. He’s done a great job.”
Rodriguez is 32-20 in four seasons at the UA, and has led the Wildcats to four consecutive bowl games. This year’s team is 6-6, and will learn its postseason fate Sunday.
The Wildcats will then hold their annual team banquet at a local resort. It will be a happy occasion.
Saturday’s news was surprising, in part because South Carolina could have offered Rodriguez more exposure — and almost certainly more money — than the UA. The school paid Spurrier $4.1 million in 2015, and could’ve boosted Rodriguez’s salary even more given the drawn-out nature of the search. Athletic director Ray Tanner is likely to hire Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who was seen — along with Rodriguez — as one of the favorites for the job.
Rodriguez’s contract terms are not expected to change.
Saturday’s news comes as a relief to UA fans, many of whom feared that Rodriguez would depart for Virginia Tech — Hokies’ athletic director Whit Babcock is a longtime friend — or Miami (Fla). South Carolina was not interested in the UA coach until Thursday, when reports surfaced that Rodriguez would interview with Tanner for the vacancy opened when Spurrier retired nearly two months ago.
Rodriguez, South Florida’s Willie Taggart and former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano all met with school officials on Friday, according to reports.
South Carolina’s university president said later in the day that he was hoping to name a coach as soon as possible.
Rodriguez isn’t the first UA coach to turn down overtures from a larger, wealthier program. Basketball coach Lute Olson famously rebuffed Kentucky — twice — while he was turning the Wildcats into a national powerhouse.
Sean Miller interviewed with Maryland in 2011, but returned to Tucson and rededicated himself as a Wildcat.
Rodriguez offered few hints about his future until late Saturday night, when he called Byrne to cancel a planned meeting in Tucson. The two were set to discuss his future and the South Carolina offer.
Rodriguez’s reasoning made his boss smile.
“He said that there was no reason to meet,” Byrne said.