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BREAKING NEWS

Got to root for Beilein

When West Virginia University football coach Rich Rodriguez left to become the head football coach at the University of Michigan, there was a sense of betrayal in the Mountain State.

After all, Rodriguez was a West Virginia native, a WVU graduate and a former Mountaineer football player.

Plus, when the University of Alabama had approached him the previous year, WVU supporters raised private funds to increase the salaries of the football staff in an effort to keep Rodriguez in Morgantown.

But, following West Virginia’s stunning 13-9 loss to Pittsburgh in the 2007 regular season finale that prevented the Mountaineers from playing for the BCS national championship, Rodriguez left, quickly turning his name to mud in his native state, where many felt betrayed. Without rehashing all the details, let’s just say it was a messy divorce.

Contrast that with the departure of WVU basketball coach John Beilein eight months earlier. Beilein also left for Michigan, after leading the Mountaineers to the National Invitational Tournament championship.

While WVU fans were disappointed to lose a coach who had taken their program to the Elite Eight and the Sweet 16, they didn’t criticize Beilein for making the move. Plus, he did it in as classy a manner as possible, first telling his WVU players, then meeting with the Mountain State press.

By the way, WVU’s loss in the Elite Eight in the 2005 NCAA Tournament came in overtime against Louisville, coached by Rick Pitino.

Tonight, Beilein and Pitino will meet again, this time with the stakes as high as they can be -a national championship.

Pitino, who took over the Louisville program in 2001, already has a national championship on his resume as he led Kentucky to the national title in 1996. He is the only coach to lead three different schools-Providence, Kentucky and Louisville-to the Final Four. He also joins some elite company -Dean Smith, Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski -as the only coaches ever to take teams to the Final Four in four separate decades.

Beilein, who played college basketball at Wheeling College (where he was a team captain), is the only active coach who has led a school to 20-win seasons at four different levels of college basketball -junior college, NAIA, Division II and Division I.

He is a builder of programs, with a history of taking over less than stellar teams and turning them into winners.

Those of us who got to know Beilein admired the way he handled himself. He was always classy, if not always upbeat. A pro’s pro. Always saying the right thing for the right reason at the right time. A professor as much as a coach. Someone you could admire.

It’s not often I root for the University of Michigan. But I would love to see John Beilein win a national title. So, for one night, I’m a Wolverine fan.

Contact Dave Poe at dpoe@newsandsentinel.com