Embarrassing ordeal reveals ugly truths about Rodriguez
By MICHAEL ROSENBERG • FREE PRESS COLUMNIST • July 9, 2008
Finally, somebody at Michigan was embarrassed enough to settle West Virginia’s lawsuit.
Not Rich Rodriguez. He is way too bullheaded. And not Bill Martin. He was never going to stand up to Rodriguez.
It took Mary Sue Coleman, the school president, to end this mess. Coleman was on the verge of being deposed, and she obviously didn’t want to be dragged into it. Not so coincidentally, Rodriguez finally settled.
Predictably, Rodriguez got absolutely nothing out of this except embarrassment. His buyout did not go down a dime. The U-M athletic department has to pay his legal fees. Rodriguez got a delay in his payment schedule, but that is a small victory.
This whole thing could have, and should have, been settled long ago. But RichRod was determined to fight West Virginia all the way to the bitter end. Anybody who has even driven past a law school knew he had no case, but that didn’t matter to Rodriguez.
Martin should have told Rodriguez that this whole ordeal was embarrassing the university, and that the case was a lost cause. But Martin’s legacy is in Rodriguez’s hands, so he let his coach do whatever he wanted.
There are only two winners here. One is West Virginia, which will get the $4 million it is rightfully owed. The other is those of us who just wanted the truth.
We now know Rodriguez to be a serial job-shopper. His agent, Mike Brown, had pitched Rodriguez’s services to Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana State in recent years before pursuing Michigan.
We now know Rodriguez doesn’t believe in contracts. He signed an amended contract with West Virginia just four months before he left. He then claimed that the signed contract was not as important as a verbal agreement that preceded it — a laughable legal argument.
Rodriguez said in December that he was battling the buyout because “we have to do what we feel is right.” He meant right for him, not the school.
Michigan is just a name to him. The school is just a platform for winning championships. This is evident in everything Rodriguez does, from his abandonment of a century-old captains tradition to his bristling at the notion that Michigan holds itself to a higher standard.
“The Michigan way is just the right way,” he said in December, before adding that a lot of schools do it the right way.
Rodriguez is an excellent coach. I’m not sold that he is the right coach for Michigan.
He can charm the media, which is nice. But those who have attended his practices say Rodriguez’s staff uses some of the foulest, most degrading language imaginable. I know coaches curse, and I’m no prude, but this goes way beyond a few dirty words. He belittles his players. This is a big part of why offensive lineman Justin Boren left the team. He felt his dignity was at stake.
Of course, a lot of Michigan fans would rather think of Boren as a traitor who couldn’t handle tough coaching. They tell themselves Rodriguez is no different from Bo Schembechler, whose rigorous 1969 practices are part of the program’s legend. And there will always be some people who happily make that comparison, especially if their income comes from Michigan football.
Tell yourself what you want. I find it sad that the University of Michigan is paying a man millions of dollars a year to humiliate some of its students.
When Rodriguez was hired, he and Martin spun the story well: Martin landed a premier coach, and Rodriguez, who loved West Virginia, couldn’t turn down Michigan. The truth is not as simple, or as pretty.
On the night of Dec. 6 — several days after the Les Miles fiasco — Martin told several people he had hired a coach. He thought he had landed Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. But the next day, Schiano turned down the Michigan job, sending Martin scurrying for another plan.
Schiano’s financial adviser, Mike Wilcox, nudged Michigan in the direction of another of his clients: Rich Rodriguez.
Rodriguez wanted a chance to compete for national championships. Martin saw a chance to hire a big name. They were in love with each other’s names — so much so that they failed to do their due diligence.
Martin met with Wilcox before he ever talked to Rodriguez. When Martin finally met Rodriguez at Wilcox’s office in Toledo, he brought Coleman with him.
Martin and Coleman did not go to Toledo to interview Rodriguez. They went there to hire him.
At Rodriguez’s introductory news conference, he was still selling the line that he was in Toledo to meet with his financial adviser. You know, like they were discussing tech stocks and all of a sudden the president and athletic director at Michigan magically appeared in the room.
Rodriguez might win big at Michigan. But if he does, and he demands a big raise every year, or flirts with other employers, or ignores his contracts, or refuses to put the school’s interests ahead of his own, then Michigan fans should not be surprised. As we have seen in the last few months, this is who he is.
Contact MICHAEL ROSENBERG at 313-222-6052 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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