With an audience of 180 people already hanging on his every word, University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez urged those crammed into a Toledo Country Club room last night to join him in song.
The lawyers, doctors and businessmen - husbands, wives and grown children - granted Rodriguez's request, and together belted out a rendition of "The Victors."
Indeed, a bond was forming between Toledo-area Wolverines fans and UM's new coach.
"It took me 40 minutes to get here, and obviously Michigan has a big following in Toledo," Rodriguez said. "Now I'll be able to come down here not just for business, but for pleasure too."
Rodriguez and his wife, Rita, were the featured guests at a nonfundraising reception hosted last night by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, attorneys Judd Johnson and Tom Palmer, and Michael Wilcox, Rodriguez's financial adviser. Other guests included UM athletic director Bill Martin, and assistant coaches Calvin Magee and Tony Gibson.
Rodriguez, his assistants, and Wilcox played golf yesterday at the Inverness Club before the reception at the Toledo Country Club. Yesterday's events were to be an introduction of sorts for Rodriguez to Toledo, but he's been linked to the city and a few area residents for some time.
Long before Rodriguez met Martin and UM president Mary Sue Coleman to discuss the school's football coaching vacancy on Dec. 14, he was working closely with Wilcox, a Bowling Green State University trustee and chief executive
officer of Wilcox Financial.
Rodriguez said he was referred to Wilcox by former BGSU and current University of Florida football coach Urban
Meyer, and has been working with him for about four years.
Martin, while introducing
Rodrigruez last night, said of Wilcox: "Mike played a really critical role [in the interviewing and hiring of Rodriguez]. I really took to him and trusted him from the beginning."
Martin later said he didn't meet Wilcox until he met Rod-
Another local man tied to Rodriguez is attorney Marvin Robon, who is representing him in a lawsuit in which he is being sued for $4 million by his former employer, West Virginia University, over a disputed buyout clause in his contract.
"My financial adviser's here and my lawyer's here. I'm funding the whole tax base of Toledo," Rodriguez joked while addressing the crowd. "And Carty, if I get a speeding ticket, you owe me one."
Finkbeiner has a picture of himself, Rodriguez and family, Palmer and Palmer's wife taken at Wilcox's house on Dec. 16 - the night UM hired Rodriguez. He presented Rodriguez, Magee and Gibson with small gifts last night, including the book When Pride Still Mattered, chronicling the life of legendary coach Vince Lombardi.
Rodriguez spoke of that December eve at Wilcox's home - "it was snowy, dark, and a lot was going on" - and said of his very public fight with West Virginia: "I feel like Britney Spears without the drugs."
But, as in the past, Rodriguez also promised that "nothing will take my focus off the University of Michigan and our football program."
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