NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) -The Big East lost two of its signature coaches in the last two years in Bobby Petrino and Rich Rodriguez. On the other side, Greg Schiano spurned offers from marquee schools to stay at Rutgers. Jim Leavitt did the same at South Florida. Connecticut's Randy Edsall also decided to stay put.
By paying the price to keep more of its hot-commodity coaches, the Big East is starting to shed its reputation as a conference filled with steppingstone programs.
Petrino left Louisville after leading the Cardinals to the Big East championship in 2006 and a BCS victory over Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl, making the jump to the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons - where he lasted less than a year.
Rodriguez, who passed on a chance to coach Alabama in 2006, became the league's second offensive mastermind to move on when he took the Michigan job in December after guiding West Virginia to a league title and a BCS game for the second time in three years.
Those were big hits not just for the Louisville and West Virginia, but for the Big East. Petrino and Rodriguez had established themselves as two of the best coaches in the country. When they left, it seemed as if they had not only outgrown their old schools, but also the Big East.
Commissioner Mike Tranghese said Tuesday during Big East media day that losing Petrino and Rodriguez was nothing for the league to be ashamed of.
``Bobby wanted to go. It was a lot of money and he elected to go,'' Tranghese said. ``I just hope it's the right job for Rich. If it's a good fit for he and (his wife) Rita, I'm happy for them.
``My preference would be never to have turnover, but you're going to have turnover. What I'm pleased about, is it took a Michigan to get (Rodriguez) to leave.''
``Greg has walked away from some places and Jim Leavitt has walked away and others have walked away because our jobs are so much better now than they were three or four years ago. And that's what I'm happy about.''
Leavitt turned down Alabama after the 2002 season and Rodriguez wasn't the only Big East coach wooed by Michigan. The Wolverines' hierarchy had discussions with Schiano last year when they were looking to replace the retiring Lloyd Carr.
inator for them for from 1999-2000. He stayed in New Jersey, where he grew up, and got a raise.
Rutgers slipped to 8-5 last season, but still Michigan wanted to talk with Schiano. Again he passed, this time getting the university and the state to recommit to a hefty stadium expansion.
``If you look around our league facilities-wise, as far as commitment to the coaches, I think universities have stepped up,'' Schiano said. ``That's what makes an institution a viable destination, not a steppingstone.''
The only Big East coach making less than $1 million this season is Rodriguez's replacement at West Virginia, Bill Stewart, who earns $800,000.
``All of these programs now are all in,'' said Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly, who got a raise after going 10-3 last year, his first season with the Bearcats. Oh, and his name was also mentioned among the possible candidates for the Michigan job.
Kelly, another spread offense guru, left Central Michigan to take over at Cincinnati when Mark D'Antoni skipped out on the Bearcats after one solid season for Michigan State of the Big Ten.
Tranghese is hoping to see fewer of those types of moves, where a coach goes from the Big East to a middle-tier school in another power league.
That's why Edsall's turning down Georgia Tech to stay with UConn was such a big score for the Big East.
``I don't know if I can go any place else that has better facilities than what we have,'' said Edsall, who led UConn to a share of the league title and a surprising 9-4 season in 2007. ``I just felt there is still a lot of work to be done. I like the area where we are located in Connecticut. My family likes it there.
``The University of Connecticut gave me the opportunity to be a head coach, which no other school did, so there's some loyalty there.''
Of course, loyalty and location only go so far. The job is too tough for a coach to commit to a school that can't win.
``A house is a house,'' Schiano said. ``Eighteen hours a day, you better believe you can be the best.
Notes: West Virginia was picked as the preseason favorite to win the league in a media poll. USF was picked second, followed by Pittsburgh. Rutgers, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville and Syracuse. ... The Big East has hired NFL referee Terry McAuley as its new coordinator of officiating.

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