When Don Nehlen, the former West Virginia Mountaineers head coach, joked that Terrelle Pryor going to Michigan was probably more important than the Wolverines securing Rich Rodriguez as their next head coach, few figured at the time that it really was one of those “funny because it’s true” kind of jokes. Now they know.
The news that Pryor, the all everything two-sport star from Jeannette, Pennsylvania, has chosen Ohio State as the next stop on his athletic journey had to be a bit of a tough pill to swallow for both Rodriguez and for Wolverines athletic director William C. Martin, even if they won’t say so publicly.
To say that Martin hired Rodriguez on the premise that Rodriguez would deliver Pryor to Ann Arbor may be a bit of an overstatement. That said, anyone who doesn’t believe it wasn’t a factor is being naïve. Rodriguez’s pursuit of Pryor as the perfect specimen to execute the spread offense was relentless, and that was before Rodriguez ran out on the Mountaineers when he suddenly decided he didn’t like the color scheme in the locker room or whatever other trivialities he concocted to get out of one contract to sign another.
To gauge the importance that Rodriguez placed on getting Pryor, the only thing you really need to know is that it was Pryor whom Rodriguez first called with the news that he was heading to Michigan. Not his current players that he was abandoning. Not the Mountaineers president or the athletic director who had rewarded Rodriguez far more than he ever deserved. But an 18 year-old high school student in Pennsylvania. That may also be an indictment on how sordid and misguided athletic recruitment has become, but as surely as anything else it tells you something about Rodriguez and his priorities.
Maybe that’s exactly what Pryor saw as well. And if that didn’t have much of an impact on the young man, then maybe what Pryor saw was the three-ring circus that Rodriguez created by his rather messy departure from West Virginia. Maybe, too, Pryor figured that it might be kind of hard to get the ear of his new head coach when he’s busy giving a deposition or attending a court hearing over his refusal to pay the Mountaineers the money he owes them. Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel doesn’t come similarly encumbered and the contrast between the two couldn’t be more striking.