TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) – Spurned again, Alabama is resuming its latest search for a football coach.

This time it was West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez saying no thanks Friday to the program still yearning for a leader to steer it back to the powerhouse days of Bear Bryant.

And worried Alabama fans like student Jennifer Winton were left to wonder: “Who are we going to get now?”

It’s the $12 million question. Rodriguez opted to remain at his alma mater instead of taking the reported six-year, $12 million offer from Alabama that would have nearly doubled his previous deal.

Crimson Tide athletic director Mal Moore tried to reassure the ‘Bama faithful.

“I want to remind everyone of what I said at the outset of this process: My only objective is to get the best person available to lead the Alabama football program,” Moore said in a written statement. “I remain determined to bring to our program a proven head coach with impressive credentials.”

Rodriguez had such credentials, leading the Mountaineers to a Sugar Bowl victory two seasons ago and going 10-2 this season.

But he also had lifelong ties to West Virginia, growing up about 30 minutes from campus. Rodriguez said he plans “on being here a long time.”

“There weren’t many reasons not to go. It’s all about the reasons for staying,” Rodriguez said. “I’m biased, this is my school. I think it’s a great place to raise a family. We’ve always had a great athletic tradition.”

Rodriguez will receive a two-year contract extension through the 2014 season from West Virginia. Other details of the deal were not immediately released.

He said he and his wife, Rita, discussed the weighty decision Friday afternoon, kicking off a hectic series of events.

“Finally we said we’re going to stay at West Virginia,” he said. “I told my agent, I went to the team meeting. I went straight from there to practice.”

He called reports in Alabama that he had agreed in principle to a deal “totally incorrect.”

Now, Alabama must renew its search for a replacement to Mike Shula, fired on Nov. 26 after going 6-6 in his fourth season.

Again, the once-mighty program was left Crimson in the face in another coaching search. The Tide is seeking its fifth coach since Gene Stallings stepped down in 1996. Stallings is the only coach to manage sustained success since the Bear’s retirement after the 1982 season.

That’s not to say the program doesn’t have plenty of allure for coaches, including Rodriguez, who called the Tide’s interest “very, very flattering” in a conference call with Alabama reporters.

“When you get a call from Alabama, and if you’re a college football fan, you say, ‘Holy cow, it’s Alabama. I think I’ve got to take this call,”‘ he said.

If taking the call is a no-brainer, the same can’t necessarily be said for taking the job.

Alabama has aimed high in this search, making overtures to South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban of the Miami Dolphins. Neither high-profile coach wanted to leave his current post.

Then, Moore’s attention turned squarely to Rodriguez, who had both the offensive pedigree and the track record for winning the Tide program is seeking.

It wasn’t clear who the Tide will turn to now, though the university’s original wish list also included Navy’s Paul Johnson, Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe and possibly California’s Jeff Tedford.

There have been no confirmed interviews with any of them.

Whoever takes the job will hope for better luck than the four coaches who tried to match Stallings’ success. Mike DuBose and Mike Shula were former Tide players who failed to keep the winning going. Mike Price was fired for off-the-field behavior before coaching in a game, and Dennis Franchione jumped to Texas A&M after just two years in Tuscaloosa.

The latest coaching searches have also had some difficult twists. Then-New Orleans Saints assistant Mike Riley was offered the job before Price’s hiring four years ago but wanted more time to also pursue the UCLA job. Alabama didn’t give him that time, and Riley wound up going to Oregon State.

In 2000, Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer and Miami’s Butch Davis turned Alabama down, before Franchione’s hiring.

What makes Alabama such a tough job?

“It’s not tough,” responds Clem Gryska, a former Bryant assistant who runs the campus museum named after the former coach. “All you’ve got to do is win.”

“It’s a high-point, just like the Yankees. I think Notre Dame and Alabama are in that category. There’s a mystique.”

And awfully high expectations go with those six national titles and an NCAA-record 53 bowl appearances – soon to be 54 after the Dec. 28 Independence Bowl against Oklahoma State. Defensive coordinator Joe Kines is serving as interim head coach.

Mark Winton, Jennifer’s father, took the news of Rodriguez’s rejection in stride.

“They’ll find somebody sooner or later,” he said while strolling the campus with his family. “It doesn’t make us look too good. But if you’re going to get a new coach, you want to get somebody who wants to be here. I’d hate for it to be just about the money.

“It has to be somebody who’s heart is going to be in it.”

AP Sports Writer John Raby in Charleston, W. Va., contributed to this report.

AP-ES-12-08-06 1857EST

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