I was initially disappointed when Rich Rodriguez left WVU for Michigan last year, then angry when details of how he left began to emerge.
But new coach Bill Stewart and a Fiesta Bowl rout of Oklahoma were a pretty good balm for what was ailing me—and now I’m only an interested observer in the ongoing soap opera involving Rodriguez and the Mountaineers.
The short story is that Rodriguez owes WVU a $4 million buyout penalty...and he’s trying to weasel out of it. WVU is quite correctly suing him for it.
In the course of the legal discovery, it has been learned that a representative for Rodriguez contacted Michigan—not the other way around, as the coach implied—as early as Dec. 11, three days before Rodriguez met with Michigan officials to interview for the job and 10 days after the crushing upset loss to Pitt that kept WVU out of the BCS Championship Game.
This is only the most recent development that reflects poorly on Rodriguez and his tenure at WVU.
Last week, former WVU athletics fundraiser Larry Aschebrook, who was thrown under the bus by Rodriguez and henchman/offensive coordinator Calvin Magee on what appears to have been a bogus charge of racism, swore in an affidavit that Rodriguez essentially told him that he (Rodriguez) knew the racism charge to be fiction and was merely using Aschebrook to smear WVU. The coach also told Aschebrook that if he (Aschebrook) got fired by WVU, Rodriguez would get him a job at Michigan.
Nice and sleazy does it.
And that's not all. In an ESPN video feature on WVU, quarterback Pat White said that life under Stewart is different from what it had been under Rodriguez, a notorious potty-mouth:
“There’s not as many curse words.”
Granted, some coaches cuss. You don’t play football if you don’t want to hear profanity. But White went on to make this more damning observation:
“You don’t feel so bad when you make a mistake. You’re able to to be coached instead of be embarrassed or whatever you want to call it.”
This is a key point. It means Rodriguez managed through fear, abuse, and intimidation. All good managers know you can only get so much out of an organization by keeping it tight and fearful.
Case in point: In the biggest game of Rodriguez's career, his team played scared. When I think of Rodriguez’s coaching style, I think of the classic National Lampoon magazine cover that shows a dog with a gun held to its head. The headline reads, “Buy this magazine or we’ll kill this dog.”
WVU blew it against Pitt because of Capt. Bligh’s—I mean, Rodriguez’s—merciless rule. And what happened when a very talented team was loved and encouraged and allowed to play more loosely, without feeling like every unconverted third down would lead to the death of a loved one?
The Fiesta Bowl rout of Oklahoma.
I’m no legal analyst, but I get the feeling Rodriguez is going to be cutting a pretty big check—and I'm guessing Michigan is already starting to feel buyer’s remorse.