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Published: 7/10/2008

New coach, UM agree to pay $4M; Rodriguez broke West Virginia pact

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
The deal with the University of West Virginia will let Rich Rodriguez concentrate on the Wolverines in their first season together when the team opens against Utah in August. The deal with the University of West Virginia will let Rich Rodriguez concentrate on the Wolverines in their first season together when the team opens against Utah in August.
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Now Rich Rodriguez can focus on football.

A lengthy, bitter legal fight between Mr. Rodriguez and his former employer, West Virginia University, ended yesterday when the university's board of governors accepted the terms of a $4 million settlement from the new University of Michigan football coach.

West Virginia sued Mr. Rodriguez Dec. 27 over a $4 million buyout clause in his contract, almost two weeks after he left to take over the Wolverines.

He will pay $1.5 million to West Virginia in three yearly installments of $500,000, beginning in January, 2010. UM will contribute $2.5 million toward the settlement by the end of this month.

Armed with two outside law firms and the pocketbook of a state-funded institution, West Virginia was determined to receive the full $4 million from Mr. Rodriguez in a legal matter that surely was going to drag on past the 2008 football season - Mr. Rodriguez's first guiding the Wolverines.

The coach's legal team reached out Monday night with a settlement offer, and after about 24 hours of negotiations that included a court-ordered mediator, a tentative agreement was reached Tuesday night.

Yesterday West Virginia's board of governors unanimously approved the agreement.

"It's a wonderful day for him," said Mr. Rodriguez's Maumee-based attorney, Marvin Robon. "It's a day for him to finally put all of this negativity behind him. With fall practice upcoming and the start of the season less than two months away, this needed to be done."

Through attorneys and advisers, Mr. Rodriguez declined to comment.

UM athletic director Bill Martin said in a statement that his department stepped in to help its football coach with the settlement and also would pay his legal fees. Mr. Rodriguez's annual salary at UM is believed to be $2.5 million.

Mr. Martin said his department, a "financially self-sustaining unit," will "cover all payments from its reserve funds, which are annual operational surpluses from such sources as sponsorships, licenses, and media rights payments."

"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," Mr. Martin said.

In an e-mail response to The Blade, Alex Macia, vice president for legal affairs at West Virginia, said the university was pleased with the settlement because it "is for the full value owed to WVU under the Disputed Liquidated Damages Clause," or buyout clause.

"We believe it was in the best interests of the [u]niversity to settle the dispute now so that it can concentrate on matters affecting the [u]niversity in general," Mr. Macia said in an e-mail.

Mr. Rodriguez long stated that he signed an amended contract with West Virginia in August under false pretenses that the university would honor certain commitments to improve the football program, and that the school would reduce or remove the contract's $4 million buyout clause.

Mr. Rodriguez, who was deposed by attorneys in April, also claimed West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin and three members of the university's board of governors pressured him into signing in August.

Yesterday Mr. Robon said that, had a judge decided in favor of Mr. Rodriguez, he still likely would've had to pay a $1.5 million buyout that was in the contract before it was amended.

"West Virginia had different motives than we did," Mr. Robon said. "Their motive was to make life miserable, to have this continue to be a distraction. In any kind of situation like this, you're happy it's over with, but you never get the opportunity to have all facts come out. That was something Rich had to give up."

On Tuesday, Mr. Rodriguez's legal team was to reveal in a West Virginia court any parties who would assist him in paying the $4 million if he lost the suit. And on the horizon were the depositions of Mr. Rodriguez's wife, Rita, his Toledo-based financial adviser Mike Wilcox, and possibly the testimonies of high-ranking UM officials like Mr. Martin or UM President Mary Sue Coleman.

All of that is over now. Football practice starts Aug. 4, and the Rodriguez era officially begins in Ann Arbor on Aug. 30 with the Wolverines' season opener against Utah.

"Michigan made the right decision by stepping up to the plate and doing this [contributing money]," Mr. Robon said. "Rich plays a very important role in the athletic department and they didn't want him to be distracted."

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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