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Published: Tuesday, 9/1/2009

Emotional response: UM's Rodriguez defends embattled program

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez was visibly upset meeting the media Monday, saying he cares about the welfare of his players. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez was visibly upset meeting the media Monday, saying he cares about the welfare of his players.
ANDRE J. JACKSON / AP Enlarge

ANN ARBOR - Rich Rodriguez stepped to the podium, a few stray pieces of paper in hand. This was a press conference he most definitely wanted to be prepared for.

"Normally I don't bring notes, I just kind of speak what's on the top of my mind," the embattled University of Michigan coach said.

Maybe he should have brought tissue paper as well.

Rodriguez became emotional yesterday while defending his program against allegations that it broke NCAA rules by conducting mandatory functions beyond the permitted hourly limit. Citing players from the 2008 and 2009 teams, the Detroit Free Press released a story Saturday evening accusing the program of hosting activities exceeding four hours per day and 20 hours per week - the NCAA limits. Additional allegations include members of Rodriguez's coaching staff presiding over offseason 7-on-7 drills. NCAA rules allow only a medical trainer to attend 7-on-7 drills.

"We know the rules, and we comply by the rules," Rodriguez said. "We have a very transparent program. We have a very open relationship with our compliance department."

An NCAA spokesman has declined to comment on whether the governing body will investigate the allegations to determine whether there is any wrongdoing.

UM athletic director Bill Martin, who did not speak at the press conference, issued a statement to the media Sunday saying a "full investigation" would be undertaken.

"Bill Martin came and talked to the team and gave his official stance," senior offensive lineman David Moosman said. "He said at some point, all of the team will be talking to [the compliance department]."

At times during the press conference, Rodriguez digressed from addressing the specific allegations and instead attacked possible inferences made in the Free Press story that he and his staff made football a priority over players' academics. Rodriguez shot back, noting the team's GPA from the recent spring semester was the highest in program history.

Rodriguez said "unnecessary drama" has hindered the program since his arrival from West Virginia.

"I guess the thing that bothers me the most about the things that were recently written or said, or maybe some things in the last 18 months, is the perception that we did not care as much about our players' welfare. That is disheartening," Rodriguez said, before taking a moment to gather his emotions. "To say that is misleading, inaccurate, and goes against everything I've ever believed in coaching."

Rodriguez will begin his second season at UM Saturday when the Wolverines host Western Michigan. A depth chart released yesterday to the media indicated several position battles are still ongoing, including starting jobs at quarterback, place kicker, and tight end, where Whitmer graduate Kevin Koger is atop the depth chart with junior Martell Webb.

Mandatory activities include practice, strength and conditioning, and film review. Study table and medical treatment do not count toward the NCAA allotted hourly limits. Rodriguez believes his accusers may have misunderstood the rules, believing every activity done at the program's facility count toward the hourly limit. All players whom spoke with the Free Press did so on the condition of anonymity, but former UM receiver Toney Clemons told an ESPN.com reporter on Sunday that the allegations are true.

"I didn't realize how big of a problem it was, and I still don't think it is, even seeing coach Rod and his staff's reaction to it," senior offensive lineman Mark Ortmann said. "I know what we do is honest, and we all work hard. I don't want to say it's a laughing matter, but almost."

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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