In a legal fight that has had more twists and turns than an accomplished West Virginia Mountaineer running back, former WVU football coach Rich Rodriguez and his former employer have staked out their positions in a contractual dispute that seems unlikely to settle any time soon.
Rodriguez filed a counter-suit earlier this month against WVU in response to the university’s legal contention in December that it is owed $4 million, as part of a buyout, when the coach accepted an offer to coach the University of Michigan.
The impetus for the dispute extends several years back when it became obvious that Rodriguez was one of the better talents in college football. His success on the field and, more notably, the flirtations he had with other programs — like the University of Alabama — resulted in numerous extensions, making him among the highest paid coaches in the country.
However, animosity between the two sides was brewing. When Rodriguez finally did leave, West Virginia University’s Board of Governors sued, insisting that the buyout clause required Rodriguez to pay $4 million to WVU over a two-year period, with one-third of the total due 30 days after his employment’s termination, or Dec. 19.
West Virginia officials claimed in the media that it only decided to ask the court to enforce the contract after supporters of Rodriguez questioned its validity and the coach did not disavow those statements.
“There are very clear statements and factually incorrect statements by people who purportedly speak for the coach,” said Alex Macia, vice president of legal affairs and legal counsel for the university. “There comes a time when you have to have a court pronounce as a matter of law what happened.”
The university maintained in its lawsuit that it was not aware of and did not consent to Rodriguez’s discussions with Michigan officials about the Wolverines’ coaching job.
In the weeks that followed, Rodriguez had the case moved to federal court and he accused the university of using money from a booster fund created to help cover recruiting expenses to pay other athletic department expenses.
WVU officials did not deny that money for the 1100 Mountaineer Club was diverted for non-recruiting purposes.
Associate Athletic Director for Finance and Administration Russ Sharp said that “almost 99 percent” of the money was used to pay costs for the football team’s training table. Sharp added that a subsequent deposit always followed the withdrawals.
“There was a purpose for the account and from time to time — and Rich was aware of this — we paid other football-related expenses out of that account for cash flow purposes,” Sharp told the media. “He was always aware of those kinds of transactions. We always talked about that and we would always replace the funds.”
Rodriguez and his attorneys ultimately did file a $1.5 million letter of credit. But they argued the amount was spelled out was a “maximum liquidated damages provision” in the contract, which was “in effect” when Rodriguez resigned Dec. 18.
Rodriguez’ agent, Mike Brown, painted his client, in a statement, as being a “responsible person. This is a good faith effort to move the process and communication lines forward so all parties can concentrate on their future endeavors.”
WVU attorney Jeff Wakefield countered that “the amount owed by Mr. Rodriguez, under the terms of the contract in effect at the time of his resignation, is $4 million.”
Rodriguez offered more of the same in his countersuit, including allegations that the school was “enraging and inciting certain fans and causing them to make threats against (Rodriguez), his family and his property.
“Some of the threats were carried out wherein defendant’s mailbox was destroyed, nasty signs were put in his family’s front gate, and in addition he had been told his family basically will be unable to sell their house for its true value because no one would want to purchase this house that was owned by a ‘traitor.’ ”
Rodriguez, who is being represented by Marvin Robon of Barkan & Robon Ltd. in Maumee, Ohio., also maintained that the university was in “material and substantial breach” of several terms in the contract, citing specifically the use of the funds from the 1100 Mountaineer Club.
University lawyer Thomas V. Flaherty of Flaherty Sensabaugh & Bonasso PLLC in Charleston maintained that the court filing contained “nothing new or unexpected.
“We think there’s no basis in fact or in law to their claims or their defenses. We continue to look forward to presenting our case before the court as soon as possible … in whatever court it’s in.”