Former West Virginia football coach Rich Rodriguez, who flirted with the Alabama job a year ago, said yesterday it took a job of Michigan's stature for him to leave his home state and alma mater.

"It was a very difficult decision to leave a place where I grew up," Rodriguez said during his introductory news conference. "It was going to take a very special opportunity and a very special place, and I think that's what this is."

Meanwhile, former Auburn coach Terry Bowden, who has been out of coaching since 1998, expressed interest in becoming Rodriguez's successor with the Mountaineers.

The 44-year-old Rodriguez represents the first head coach to be hired from outside the "Michigan family," as athletic director Bill Martin put it, since Bo Schembechler in 1969.

Rodriguez is succeeding Lloyd Carr, who is retiring after the Wolverines play Florida in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day.

Rodriguez built West Virginia into a Big East power, winning the conference championship this year for the fourth time in five seasons and going 60-26 overall.

He said he's aware of the heightened expectations in Ann Arbor.

"I don't want our team to expect to win," he said. "I want our team to deserve to win."

West Virginia's search.

Terry Bowden likes the idea of making a return to coaching in his hometown in what he said would be "a dream job."

Bowden grew up in Morgantown when his father, Bobby, was Mountaineers coach.

Bobby Bowden coached the Mountaineers from 1970 to 1975, going 42-26 before leaving for Florida State. Terry Bowden played running back for West Virginia in 1977-78.

Terry Bowden won his first 20 games at Auburn and 47 overall in six-plus seasons before resigning Oct. 23, 1998, after learning he was going to be fired at the end of the season.

Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster also has interest in West Virginia, according to his agent, Bob Lattinville.