WVU board approves Rodriguez settlement
University of Michigan to foot more than half the $4 million bill
By Dave Hickman
July 9, 2008
Updated 1:45 p.m.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia's dispute with Rich Rodriguez is officially over. Now all that remains is to cut the checks.
The former WVU football coach agreed late Tuesday night to pay the entire $4 million liquidated damages provision contained in the contract he signed with the school last August, a clause he broke when he resigned in December to become the coach at Michigan.
West Virginia's Board of Governors, acting quickly via conference call late this morning, approved the deal, ending a contentious and bitter seven months of public bickering.
WVU attorney Tom Flaherty confirmed shortly after the BOG approved the deal that Rodriguez will be responsible for $1.5 million and that the other $2.5 million will come from other sources, presumably the University of Michigan.
"We are scheduled to get a check for $2.5 million by the end of the month. Who pays it was not something we discussed,'' Flaherty said. "It wouldn't surprise me if it was the University of Michigan. But to tell you the truth, we don't care who pays.''
Rodriguez will begin paying his part of the tab in January 2010 in three yearly installments of $500,000. That is the date when the third of Rodriguez's original payments was to come due.
"Basically what we're doing is extending the payments by 24 months,'' Flaherty said.
No one on West Virginia's side of things had anything but praise for the settlement terms.
"I think it's a good agreement for both sides,'' WVU attorney Jeff Wakefield said. "I think it's a very good agreement for the state and the university.''
Michigan athletic director Bill Martin issued a statement early this afternoon saying that, indeed, it would be UM that foots the bill for the $2.5 million, using funds from its reserve account.
"We are tremendously pleased to have been able to hire Rich Rodriguez as head coach of the University of Michigan football team,'' Martin said in his statement. "With his enthusiasm, integrity, and creative strategies he has already begun to make his mark on the program, and we are looking forward with great excitement to the coming season. To help Rich focus on the challenges ahead, we have worked with him to resolve the dispute between him and West Virginia University over the terms of his buyout.
"Although he continues to disagree with the validity of the terms, Rich and the rest of us at Michigan felt that it would be best to get this distracting issue behind us. ... Athletics has agreed to pay Rich's attorney fees. A financially self-sustaining unit at U-M, athletics will cover all payments from its reserve funds, which are annual operational surpluses from such sources as sponsorships, licenses, and media rights payments. This situation is now resolved, and we are ready to move onward to a new era of Michigan football.''
The deal is a settlement, however, and not a full concession on Rodriguez's part. Flaherty, the lead counsel for WVU in the matter, admitted that West Virginia gave up some things it had demanded in its lawsuit and subsequent filings.
What West Virginia gave up is twofold: The school will not receive from Rodriguez its attorneys' fees and court costs associated with the dispute and perhaps no interest on the amount Rodriguez has already failed to pay. Under terms of the contract he was to pay the $4 million in installments and the first was due in January.
Flaherty's firm would receive the majority of those attorneys fees and he said that the BOG had just this week requested an update on the bill. While that amount could be substantial, Flaherty said that he believes WVU will find the tab "very reasonable.''
Bill Stewart, who replaced Rodriguez as the team's interim coach in December and was named to the post on a full-time basis after coaching the Mountaineers to a win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, said he was relieved that the case was coming to a close.
When he learned this morning that the two sides had reached a settlement in the matter and that WVU would get the full $4 million, he managed to sum up the feelings of pretty much everyone on both sides.
"I'm just glad it's over,'' Stewart said this morning. "Both sides need to be able to focus on what's really important, and that's the football programs at West Virginia and Michigan.''
Part of the impetus to settle the matter was a Tuesday deadline that Monongalia County Circuit Judge Robert Stone had set for Rodriguez to turn over any documents related to his employment at Michigan. WVU attorneys believe those documents included provisions Rodriguez had made for Michigan officials to either pay or have underwritten all or part of the sum.
A meeting between representatives of the two sides earlier this week that also involved a mediator helped spur the agreement, Flaherty said. Stone had ordered the sides to meet with a mediator by Aug. 1 and both sides agreed to use Frank Fragale, a West Virginia lawyer who has worked with both sides on other matters.
Another of the keys to the settlement was pressure brought to bear on Michigan athletic director Bill Martin and school president Mary Sue Coleman to give depositions in the case. There was a hearing scheduled on the matter in Michigan today and it is believed UM was reluctant to become any more involved in the dispute and put pressure on Rodriguez to settle the matter.