JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - While Mississippi State running back Kylin won the 2019 C-Spire Conerly Trophy on Tuesday night, the ceremony itself may as well have been a coaching reunion for Rich Rodriguez.
In attendance as the coaching representative for Ole Miss freshman and Conerly Trophy finalist John Rhys Plumlee, Rodriguez also got to spend time with Alcorn State quarterbacks coach Pat White, who played under Rodriguez at West Virginia from 2005 to 2007, and Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson, who was on Rodriguez’ coaching staff at Michigan from 2008 to 2010.
When Hopson and White took their turns at the microphone, the first sentiment they both issued was their love and respect for Rodriguez. In turn, Rodriguez reciprocated but then also made light of his current situation when speaking highly of Plumlee.
“John Rhys is so talented, not only as a quarterback, but as a baseball player, pianist and a ping-pong player,” Rodriguez said to the crowd. "He always challenged me to a game of ping-pong and I told him I never had the time.
“Well John Rhys, I may finally have the time now.”
It’s a weird time at Ole Miss. Matt Luke may be gone, but for now, Rodriguez and the rest of the coaching staff are still technically employed and have spent this week working to keep the 2020 recruiting class in tact even though they could all be gone once a new head coach is hired.
“We’ve had better days,” Rodriguez told WLBT after the ceremony. “Obviously, everything with our current players and in recruiting is in flux. Everything is up in the air and we’ll see what happens.
“We’ve all been in the business for a while so we know when there is a change like this, you’re just kind of helpless. As coaches, we may be having to find jobs within the next couple of weeks.”
Brought on by Luke as Ole Miss’ offensive coordinator last January, this season was a definite change of pace for Rodriguez in what was his first year as an assistant coach since he ran the offense at Clemson in 2000. While the Rebels were not necessarily a juggernaut on offense this season with a 26.6 points per game average, Rodriguez did find something with a true freshman duo of Plumlee and running back Jerrion Ealy. With those two leading the charge, the Rebels averaged 251.3 rushing yards per game which ranked second in the Southeastern Conference.
But as much fun as Rodriguez had fun being back in a program following a year away from coaching in 2018, the long-time head coach is ready to be roaming the sidelines with the lead headset once again. It is, after all, what he has been used to since becoming West Virginia’s head coach 19 years ago.
In fact, Rodriguez’ star was so bright in coaching circles at one point, that he was even considered for the Alabama job in 2006 before it ultimately went to then-Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban. After a turbulent three-year stint at Michigan, Rodriguez was last a head coach at Arizona from 2012 to 2017.
He’s now ready to get back to that point, and if possible, would like for it to be at Ole Miss.
“I want to be a head coach again,” said Rodriguez, who has yet to get an interview for the Rebels’ opening. “I’ve loved my time here the last 11 months and I was really excited about the future all around the program, but particularly offensively with all the young true freshman we were playing.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’ve certainly enjoyed it.”
Earlier in the week, Ole Miss Athletic Director Keith Carter said that he hopes to have a new head coach in place before the the December 18 early signing period. Some names that have popped up in the rumor mill have been Memphis coach Mike Norvell, Louisiana-Lafayette coach Billy Napier, FAU coach Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre, who served as Colorado’s head coach before coming to Oxford.