West Virginia University And Rich Rodriguez

Tom SawyerCorrespondent IMay 30, 2008

I've followed the story of Rich Rodriguez's departure from West Virginia University (WVU) and his contention with the WVU administration over the past few months and have found a few of Rodriguez's claims to be rather interesting...they seem to change over time.

Since the story is already well-documented and available on the Internet, I am not going to revisit the basis of the entire story.  Suffice to say that Rodriguez threatened to leave WVU for a similar job at Alabama in 2006, received an enormous raise in a new contract, but then left the head coaching job at WVU for the same role at the University of Michigan.  Today, he disputes the contract that he signed in August 2007, due to the buyout that is now owed WVU.

Rodriguez's two main points of contention appear to be that he signed the contract under duress and that there existed verbal promises that were never followed through on by the university. He also says the $4 million buyout was excessive and was supposedly to be reduced in half, or eliminated, based again on verbal promises allegedly made by the new university President, Mike Garrison. 

Regarding the contract terms, Rodriguez's counsel discussed the terms of the contract with university officials for approximately nine months.  The terms were agreed to in late 2006, but the contract was not signed until August 2007.

However, while a breach of contract has been voiced by Rodriguez's camp, they have yet to provide specifics of a breach.  Further, the contract stipulated that no other written or verbal terms were considered to be valid as part of the contract and that any disputes should be provided to the university, in writing, for resolution.

Not only was there no written notification to the university of dispute, Rodriguez claims that he did not even know of the requirement nor did any of his counsel notify him of such a requirement.  In fact, the university has stated that all of the projects that Rodriguez requested that were contained in the contract were either in-progress or had already been completed by the time he decided to leave for the University of Michigan, with the possible exception of the locker room renovation that had to wait until the end of the 2007 season. 

The Rodriguez team has disclosed some of their points of contention. They included the elimination of the $5 charge for high school coaches to attend games, student-athletes being allowed to sell their textbooks, a subscription web presence, some type of sideline pass for his wife Rita, plastering NASCAR-style advertisements around the football field, and a few other issues that Rodriguez's agent informed the university needed to be done to "remain competitive for Rich's services."

At the time that Rodriguez's team contacted Michigan about the opening, they were still being investigated due to legal and NCAA ramifications.

To the second point, the contention that the buyout would be reduced or eliminated, the promise of the buyout reduction was apparently based on conversations with a yet-to-be-appointed president and the contractual buyout amount was to be reduced by half, or $2 million, if he stayed until August 2008.  So why was Rodriguez so insistent on the buyout being reduced or eliminated sooner than a calendar year?

I can see WVU's reason for including the clause.  The WVU perspective might be to include the buyout to dissuade him from leaving the university in the immediate future...and from the experience to date with Rodriguez's team, maybe there was concern that threats to leave would be used as leverage on an annual basis in the future. 

To some extent, they were apparently correct in that an opportunity at Texas A&M and a potential opportunity at Florida State were brought to their attention by Rodriguez's team, as noted in several articles on the situation.  Regardless, the threat to leave for the Alabama job resulted a significant reaction and effort to keep Rodriguez from leaving to go to a much wealthier program. 

In addition to university funds, the administration apparently reached out to significant boosters in an attempt to keep him at the school.  The $4 million buyout was not unusual for coaches such as Rodriguez who were being interviewed at places such as Alabama, but was probably considered to be enough to deter him from jumping at another offer for at least one year. 

Apparently from Rodriguez's perspective, the $4 million buyout was a huge concern.  Why?  Well, consider that his "gain" would be $4 million if he were fired.

But he was not going to be fired.  He just made the university jump through hoops to keep him on a threat to leave WVU, and there was no way the administration would fire him in the immediate future unless there were egregious NCAA violations or other such nonsense.

So there was relatively nothing to gain and furthermore, since the new demands were not in the current contract, he knew that the university did not technically need to conform to the additional stipulations to line his pockets.  On the other hand, his "loss" could be $4 million if he decided to leave.

Here was a guy who just saw a huge gain on the threat to leave for Alabama, he had two Heisman contenders (Pat White and Steve Slaton) returning in 2007, a favorable out-of-conference schedule, and the love of the University and football fans throughout the state for his declaration to return to WVU. 

Not only was he beloved at the time, but the fact is that it was highly unlikely that his stock would not rise even higher through the 2007 season.  With Steve Slaton likely leaving early for the draft, along with a few other borderline NFL defections and graduations, it was almost as if the Alabama offer was a year early for his capitalistic gain. To him, the buyout was "all risk and no gain."

The claim of ignorance to provide the written notification to the university after nine months of reviewing the terms seems to be too specific to be coincidental, but the disclosure and other statements of understanding, or contention, by the Rodriguez team do provoke some interesting questions.

If you were an employer and someone threatened to leave, would it raise a flag that an employee would accept a counteroffer, but then balk at a buyout (or comparatively, a no-compete clause) that would be reduced to their acceptable terms after a single year?

If there actually was a contract breach, why did his advisement team not inform him that he had to notify the university in writing? 

Would it seem odd that after months of negotiating and stalling over "details," Rodriguez would ultimately sign the contract without his consultant team present and then claim ignorance regarding the "details" in the contract, such as the requirement to notify the university of any disputes in writing or the implication of the buyout amount?

Why have Rodriguez and his team not been able to produce one tangible piece of evidence of a contract violation by the WVU administration?

Does it seem odd that an $800k raise, multi-million dollar facility projects, more money for the assistant pool and other benefits would be trumped by things like $5 high school coach tickets and whether the athletes could sell their books at the end of a semester? 

Also in the deposition, Rodriguez was advised to not discuss whether payment of the buyout had been discussed with UM officials.  Why would that be something they would not disclose?

To date, it seems that his argument is based on non-contractual terms, ignorance of the contract he signed, and that he simply does not want to pay because...well, there really is no tangible reason.

The terms of the contract are clear and he had legal and financial experts at his disposal, so it seems like it would have been fairly straightforward to notify the university of their client's rights —unless, of course, they knew even before the departure that there was no legal ground to base their case.

The deposition of Rodriguez's agent became available today, and I'm sure the picture will become more clear with the new information.


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