MITCH ALBOM: Their Rich Rodriguez mess could one day be ours
January 20, 2008
BY MITCH ALBOM
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
Let’s be honest.
If Lloyd Carr, early in his career as Michigan head coach, had bolted for another school and a richer contract — as Rich Rodriguez did — if he initially lied about a meeting with that school, if he abruptly left the Wolverines before a bowl, if he informed Michigan of his departure through a graduate assistant, if he informed a prep quarterback prospect before he told his U-M boss, if he shredded files in Ann Arbor, if he took most of the U-M staff with him, and if he owed Michigan a $4-million buyout and had his lawyers working on ways not to pay it — you can bet we’d be angry.
We’d be flooding radio talk shows.
We’d be jumping on any negative tidbit.
Just as they’re doing in West Virginia.
If Maize-and-Blue loyalists want to lust after a national championship and want the hot coach of the moment to lead them, that’s fine. But don’t be hypocritical. Don’t dismiss West Virginia fans and media as sore-loser crazies.
Because we’d do the same thing. This newspaper. Our radio stations. Our TV. And our fans. That is how it works now in college football. When you steal a coach, it’s lucky you. When your coach is stolen, it’s trash the guy.
Personally, I’m not so concerned about what West Virginia thinks of Rodriguez at Michigan.
I’m concerned about Michigan.
Words on words
The fact is, Rodriguez brought a lot of this on himself. He did leave. He did leave quickly. He didn’t exactly handle it in a forthright manner. And by his admittance in a teleconference last week, he did shred some files, although he told the media the discarded papers “were completely useless to everybody.”
On calling recruits, he said: “I did not call a single … I don’t recall exactly the particular time or how I made the call, but I never called a single Michigan recruit before I resigned as a coach at West Virginia.”
And on the buyout issue, he said: “I know there’s a lawsuit out there that West Virginia sued me, and I have to respond to that.”
Well. I don’t know about you, but none of those statements strikes me as comforting. Rodriguez admits he destroyed some files, but says trust me, they didn’t matter. He half-denies calling a recruit, then says it never happened before he resigned — but there is disagreement over when he officially resigned. He acknowledges the suit over his buyout, but never gives a simple answer to who’s paying it and when.
How would we react if Carr had told some other state: “I know Michigan sued me, and I have to respond to that.”
I don’t think we’d be talking about what a great guy he was.
The numbers game
What bugs me is that Michigan never used to be involved in stuff like this. Since when did it start buying out coaches? First John Beilein with the basketball team. Now Rodriguez. To me, this is a form of legalized extortion. Some other school wants to hire your employee, you demand a payoff. It’s ugly and has no place in a college environment. I wish Bill Martin, U-M’s athletic director, had the nerve to say that.
And since when did Michigan football start hinging on high school recruits? I have heard more lately about Terrelle Pryor, the Pennsylvania prep quarterback, than I ever can recall hearing about a kid who doesn’t yet have a high school diploma. Is this how we are going to judge Rodriguez? By who he reels in?
If so, Michigan has jumped in the same mucky waters as many other win-crazed schools, who are only concerned with BCS, not the BS it requires. Some feel that’s what sports should be. They are entitled to their views.
But Michigan football used to be more special. It was never sullied with departure lies or shredding, because it promoted from within. It didn’t deal with buyouts for the same reason.
Yet in Rodriguez’s new Michigan contract, just revealed, there is — guess what? — a $4-million buyout clause. And if U-M ever finds itself on the opposite side of that one, we quickly will see how folks around here behave eerily similar to the angry fans in West Virginia.
The old expression goes “To the victors go the spoils.” But you wonder how much all this is spoiling the Victors.