Since leaving his native West Virginia a month ago to become the football coach at the University of Michigan, Rich Rodriguez has gone from a favorite son of the Mountaineer State to a reviled expatriate.
Rodriguez, who led West Virginia to four Big East Conference championships in his seven seasons as coach, has had his property vandalized, his relatives harassed and threatened, and his reputation sullied by a bevy of still unsubstantiated charges.
Last night, the 44-year-old Rodriguez ended his self-imposed silence on the matter, saying the "lies" need to end in an exclusive interview with The Blade.
"The things they are saying are not true," Rodriguez said. "It's a lie. How can you put out lies and think it's OK? They don't care what the truth is, they just want to smear Rich Rodriguez."
Rodriguez has been sued by his alma mater, where he was a three-year letterman as a defensive back (1982-84), and most recently has been the target of an anonymous source within the WVU athletic department who reportedly told a West Virginia newspaper that Rodriguez had shredded university documents and removed all the personnel files of his former players from the football offices.
"It's very frustrating," Rodriguez said. "I knew there'd be some emotions involved when I left, but I wanted to take the high road. I've chosen to move on, but it's almost like it's something new every day, and it's totally ridiculous."
Rodriguez said the charges that he came back to his office in Morgantown in the days after taking the Michigan job and destroyed documents and removed files were made to cast him in the worst possible light.
"The implication to me is slanderous," Rodriguez said. "What they are implying, to me, attacks my integrity, and that's why I'm so upset. This has gone too far.
"It's bad enough that they throw things out there, and my family gets harassed, my relatives get threatened, and they try and attack my credibility right in the middle of recruiting. And then to throw something out like this, with anonymous sources ...
"And how it becomes a story, and why it's become big news, to me, is just baffling."
Rodriguez said that when he returned to West Virginia to clean out his office, he did so with staff around, and visited with a number of his former players at the same time.
"The day that's in question, when they said I was doing all this stuff in the office, I probably had 25 or 30 players that came over and wished me well," Rodriguez said. "We talked and we hugged - obviously they wanted us to stay - but they understood and they were great about it."
He said the files and documents he removed were his records and personal papers, and any attempt to make it seem like it was anything but a normal exercise for an employee moving from one job to another was not accurate.
"They are making up half truths and lies, because this was done on a regular work day, with people all around, and those were all files that were in my office," Rodriguez said. "It was information that was in a closet with no lock on it, and some of it had been in there for years."
Rodriguez said he spoke with several individuals inside the West Virginia athletic department, after these latest charges were leveled, and they said the news accounts of his actions were incorrect. He said his former secretary said all she knew about the alleged incident "was what she read in the paper."
"Every coach got a file when a kid missed a class. The academic people got it, and the athletic director got it. All this stuff about not having contact information or academic information on the kids, it's a lie, it's all a lie," Rodriguez said.
"They're painting a picture like I'm the only one that had those files, and I threw them all away. That's not the truth. They're painting a picture like I erased all the kids' files, and that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. And anyone with any common sense that's in a Division I athletic department or football program knows the same thing."
Rodriguez said he encouraged his coaches to remain at West Virginia long enough to fully focus on the Mountaineers' bowl game, and he thinks the attention now should be on the new coach at WVU and his players - not on the former coach.
"Who does all of this help? It's not helping the West Virginia football program a bit," Rodriguez said. "The bottom line is, everybody wants to be treated fairly, and there has to be an issue of fairness and honesty. And with this stuff, they know they are lying."
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.