ATLANTA - Not to ruin every college football defensive coordinator's holidays, but West Virginia football coach Rich Rodriguez said he enjoyed his visit last summer with his counterpart at Florida, Urban Meyer.
"Urban and I have been friends for a long time and have talked offense for many years," Rodriguez said. "You know there are patents on what you do in football, and we keep in touch."
That's trouble. Rodriguez and Meyer have done for the option offense what Mozart and Beethoven did orchestra arrangements - they took something practical and effective and made it beautiful and engaging.
The notion of Rodriguez and Meyer getting together annually to compare notes, trade ideas or, God forbid, brainstorm together is reason enough for a defensive guru to sweat.
Invite Navy's Paul Johnson to the party and college football as we know it might cease to exist.
Yet Rodriguez stands apart from the other two. His version of the option, of offense in general, is always evolving. A decade-and-a-half ago, Rodriguez coached the option's polar opposite, the run and shoot, at Glenville State, a small NAIA program.
One of the coaches from an opposing team - Samford's Chan Gailey, who's now at Georgia Tech - remembers the potency of that Glenville State offense.
And Gailey admires Rodriguez's willingness to adapt.
"A lot of guys won't do that because they want to be known for a certain type of offense," said Gailey, who coached the 1993 season at Samford. "He doesn't let his ego get in the way of doing what is best for the team."
Gailey can't go off any Samford-Glenville State game film in Monday's Gator Bowl. Rodriguez has gone from throwing the ball 45 times a game to running it that often (45 runs, 18 passes on average this season).
Rodriguez's shift started in 1997 when he left Glenville to join Tommy Bowden's staff at Tulane. Bowden didn't run a true option but used what his peers call "option principles" - the quarterback reacts to what the defensive end or outside linebacker does at the snap.
The Green Wave went 12-0 in 1998 and Bowden left for Clemson, taking Rodriguez with him.
West Virginia hired Rodriguez to succeed the legend Don Nehlen after the Tigers went 9-3 in 2000, the second season under Bowden and Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who played and coached under Nehlen, brought to Morgantown the scheme he and Bowden collaborated on. His first season, the Mountaineers went 3-8. The next, 9-4. Then 8-5 in 2003 and 8-4 in 2004.
And in February 2005, Rodriguez signed two recruits born to run his version of the option: Quarterback Pat White and tailback Steve Slaton. WVU went 11-1 and finished No. 5 in the national polls the speedsters' freshman year before going 10-2 this year.
Therein lies what makes Rodriguez such a special coach, Gailey said.
"He's so innovative," Gailey said. "What he does is take his personnel and put them in position to be successful. That's the key to me. He might not have those two guys (White and Slaton) in two years, but I bet you whoever he has, he will put them in position to be
Rodriguez has convinced others as well.
Five years ago, a major program like Alabama would not even consider hiring an option coach. His buddy, Meyer, changed all that with his success at Utah and now at
And he runs an even more radical version of the option than Rodriguez.
Rodriguez turned down the Tide, though. He's staying at WVU.
That was welcome news to Southeastern Conference defensive coordinators, who already have to scheme for Meyer at Florida and another offensive innovator, Steve Spurrier, at South Carolina.
If only they could keep Rodriguez and Meyer apart in the summertime.