Since we here at Coaches Hot Seat do not make a living covering college football coaches, we have seen our share of legal defenses in the business world (some of they have been real doozys), but the case that Rodriguez’s attorney is making over the $4 million dollar buyout is by far the most absurd yet. Rodriguez’s case is built around the premise that Rodriguez got duped into signing a contract with West Virginia that had a $4 million dollar buyout, which leads us to the inescapable conclusion that Rich Rodriguez is a moron. Rodriguez’s attorney, Marv Robon, says that a meeting took place on August 24, 2007 between Rodriguez, Mike Garrisson (president at WVU), and “four other witnesses” and in that meeting Mike Garrisson said to Rodriguez, “You must sign this contract. Football season is about to start.” Now let’s assume for a moment that someone actually with a working brain that was the head football coach at West Virginia University, a alum of WVU, and one of the post popular figures in the state was sitting in that meeting, instead of Rich Rodriguez. The person with the working brain would have said, “I am still under contract from my past contract with the University, and if you do not reduce this buyout right now, I am not going to sign it, and I am going to call a press conference for this afternoon to tell my side of the story on this contract that you want me to sign.” Yes, that is what someone with a working brain would have done, but a moron would have signed the contract. All of this is of course premised upon the idea that Garrisson actually said what Rodriguez’s attorney claims he said, and that Rodriguez signed a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract under duress.
Of course, one cannot grasp Rodriguez’s current predicament without understanding the time-line that led to his latest contract with West Virginia. After the 2006 season Rich Rodriguez and his agent entered into negotiations with Alabama for their head coaching job, with Rodriguez’s agent spending two days in Tuscaloosa, Alabama negotiating the terms of contract with Alabama’s attorneys and their AD Mal Moore. The deal with Alabama called for Rodriguez to be paid $2 million a year over six years for a total of $12 million (West Virginia’s attorneys might want to get the offer sheet on the deal Rodriguez negotiated with Alabama to add to the one the now have on the Michigan deal). At that time Rodriguez was making $1 million a year from WVU, and while Rodriguez’s agent was in Tuscaloosa, West Virginia alumni, big boosters, and fans pressured the university to sign Rodriguez to a sweetened and longer contract. After Rodriguez turned down the Alabama job he said about West Virginia, 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.” Really? The guy that said the above now claims West Virginia forced him into signing a contract. Yes, we would believe that, if we were morons!
What happened next was a classic moronic move, which is the same one that Mike Price ironically made at Alabama. If a football coach, or anyone else for that matter decides to take a position, it is at that moment that the person being hired has the most leverage. Why Rodriguez allowed his new contract to drag-out for 8 months before he signed the new deal was incredibly stupid, and no matter what Rodriguez claims about what he was told, he pulled one of the great bonehead moves of all time if he signed a contract with a $4 million dollar buyout, when he didn’t want to sign that contract. Even the threat of a news conference by Rodriguez would have dramatically reduced that buyout, but again the people advising Rodriguez then, and now, have been giving him very bad advice, and we don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Talk about stunningly ignorant, Rodriguez’s attorney may have actually argued a couple of other things in court today, that make Rodriguez signing a contract with a $4 million dollar buyout look smart by comparison. Here we are one day away from the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination and Rodriguez’s attorney is comparing Rich Rod’s buyout to “a slave buying his freedom before the Civil War.” To say that argument is a reach is outrageous, and it is really arrogant to compare a football coach that is making millions of dollars a year with a slave that is owned by another human being, is working in chains, and is treated in a sub-human way. Maybe we should send Rodriguez and his attorney Marv Robon down to a cotton plantation in the South and have them work the cotton fields picking cotton by hand for a few months this summer with 100 degree heat and 90 percent humidity. At night they could retire to a shack without indoor plumbing and marginal food to eat at best, and then we will see if Marv Robon would come back and make that argument again. Outrageous, but on top of that Rodriguez’s attorney actually made an even stupider argument that the actual damages that West Virginia accrued by Rodriguez leaving to go to Michigan were, “between $150,000 and $250,000.” What the actual damages were to West Virginia are completely irrelevant, because the buyout exists only to deter another school or the current school to have to pay a agreed amount of money to liquidate the contract in question. Of course, this argument would be laughed out of any 1st year law school, because Rodriguez clearly voluntarily entered into and signed the contract in question, but from comparing Rodriguez to slaves to arguing that what was actually in the contract is irrelevant, the Rodriguez team is starting to make the Congress look competent.
Forrest Gump turned a phrase, “Stupid is as stupid does” and boy does that apply to everything involved with Rodriguez and his contract with West Virginia in the past 18 months. Rodriguez was stupid to not immediately hammer out a new contract after he turned down Alabama. Rodriguez was stupid to sign a contract he did not want to sign. Rodriguez was stupid to leave West Virginia like a spoiled-brat, crying out the door all the way to Ann Arbor when he didn’t get his way. A mature adult would have thanked West Virginia for the opportunity to coach their football team, but Rich and his agent left town like Sherman driving through Georgia to the sea. The people running the University of Michigan should be very interested in what is going on in this Rodriguez/West Virginia case, because this might not be Rodriguez’s last move in the coaching business. West Virginia has gotten a copy of the agreement between Rodriguez and Michigan, and lo’ and behold it includes a $4 million dollar buyout, and no one at Michigan should be under the impression that if Rodriguez takes another job that he will do anything but tell Michigan to go to to hell and that he will see them in court over the buyout. That is exactly what his attorneys are arguing in West Virginia, and they would logically make the same arguments in Michigan if Rich decides he wants to coach elsewhere.
The essential lesson here is that head football coaches, especially head coaches that are in strong positions, should not sign a contract they do no want to sign. If you sign a contract, that means you agree to the terms of the contract, and no amount of crying about how you were duped is going to change that your signature is on that contract. Rich Rodriguez must be under the impression that this case will not do any long-term damage to his future coaching career, but that is an assumption he should not be making. With Rodriguez’s attorney comparing his client to slaves, Rich Rod is now entering very dangerous territory, and is now in fact starting to endanger the future of the Michigan football program. If the people running Michigan believe that this case is doing anything but bring embarrassment and ridicule on their school, they are sadly mistaken. If Coaches Hot Seat was sitting in the president’s office at Michigan, we would call Rodriguez in and ask him one very simple question: “Did you sign this contract with West Virginia, yes or no? If the answer is yes, then find a way to pay the buyout. The word and integrity of our football coach is important to the University of Michigan and I am not going to have my football coach arguing that he was duped into signing a $4 million dollar buyout when that same coach has agreed to the same terms with this school. If you cannot get this settled so we can move on, we will find someone else to coach the Michigan football team.” Of course, the Michigan president doesn’t even have the guts to sit down for an interview with the Ann Arbor News to discuss some serious allegations that paper has made about academics within the athletic department at Michigan, so why would we think she would ask anything of Rich Rodriguez?
We seriously doubt that West Virginia would now settle this buyout matter after hearing the incredibly stupid arguments put forward by Rodriguez’s attorneys, but a settlement is always preferable to taking the chance of what might come out in court. Putting people under oath is always a wildcard, and since all questions must presumably be answered honestly (Bill Clinton notwithstanding), we hope that Rodriguez does not find himself in a tough spot a few months from now when an unwanted item gets onto the public record.
Forrest Gump had another quote: My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
Here at Coaches Hot Seat, we are going to have a lot of fun watching the chocolates come out of this box!