MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez says W. Va. Gov. Joe Manchin and three members of West Virginia’s board of governors pressured him into signing a new contract before the start of the 2007 season, even though it had a $4 million buyout clause he didn’t want.
In a deposition taken last month and released Tuesday, Rodriguez says board members Steve Farmer, Drew Payne and Perry Petroplus also assured him that his outstanding demands for the football program would be met when Mike Garrison became WVU president.
The deposition was taken for West Virginia’s lawsuit to recover the $4 million from Rodriguez, who quit in December to coach Michigan. Rodriguez first agreed to the buyout in a December 2006 term sheet, then accepted it again by signing an amended contract on Aug. 24, 2007.
Rodriguez said he believed the board members partly because they were in influential positions: He says Farmer told him months before the official appointment that Garrison – then a 38-year-old lawyer with thin academic credentials – would get the presidency.
“So when it occurred, it added credence to my belief that, ‘Hey, these guys know what’s going on,’ ” Rodriguez testified at the April 21 proceeding in Michigan.
Those conversations occurred in August 2007, as Rodriguez’s relationship with athletic director Ed Pastilong disintegrated to the point the two men barely spoke, Rodriguez testified. Likewise, then-president David Hardesty and his general counsel, Tom Dorer, didn’t return phone calls from the coach’s agent for “three or four months,” Rodriguez said.
He said the board members also told him a signed contract would help Garrison’s administration get off to a good start.
Rodriguez, who quit after seven seasons at the school, contends he was misled into signing by a variety of promises that were not kept.
West Virginia says Rodriguez had a sports agent, lawyer and financial adviser throughout the process and knew what he was signing. Rodriguez, however, contends he expected Garrison to keep a promise to reduce or eliminate the buyout – a pledge Garrison denies making.
The case will be heard in Monongalia County Circuit Court in Morgantown. A trial date has not been set.
Garrison and his chief of staff, Craig Walker, are among those yet to give depositions.
Rodriguez said the board members told him last summer that the governor wanted the contract signed before football season, so he met with Garrison and Walker on Aug. 24.
“And that’s the time when (Garrison) said he didn’t believe in buyouts, and that he would reduce it anyway, once he took office,” Rodriguez testified.
At the meeting, Walker said the governor wanted the contract signed, Rodriguez said.
Manchin, he said, called the next day warning of negative publicity if the coach started the season without a signed contract.
Rodriguez said Manchin told him, “So I think you should get it signed.”
Rodriguez first agreed to a damages clause in 2002, at the suggestion of agent Rick Davis. WVU would pay $2 million if it fired him, and he would pay West Virginia the same if he left before his contract expired.
Under questioning, Rodriguez first said the $2 million buyout was reasonable. He then said it wasn’t fair that he should have to pay WVU the same amount it would pay him.
In 2006, Rodriguez hired agent Mike Brown, and that December, when Alabama made him an offer, Rodriguez reopened his contract. But a meeting with Pastilong “was discouraging because there wasn’t an effort, I felt, to keep me,” he said.
Two prominent boosters – Bridgeport construction company owner David Alvarez and Ken Kendrick, managing general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks – stepped in and asked him to list his demands.
They included a multimillion-dollar locker room renovation and his own Web site, which Pastilong said in his deposition that he opposed.
Rodriguez signed a term sheet Dec. 8, 2006, that essentially doubled his compensation package and the damages clause from $2 million to $4 million.
Rodriguez said he considered the $4 million “excessive” and “unfair,” but acquiesced when he learned Kendrick had insisted on the amount. Kendrick had pledged $2.5 million to the WVU Foundation Inc., contingent on Rodriguez remaining coach.
Rodriguez also acknowledged he has agreed to a $4 million damages clause at Michigan.
After he got Michigan’s offer Dec. 14, Rodriguez met with Pastilong and Walker. Though he had hoped for an agreement, he said that changed during a private 10 p.m. meeting at Garrison’s house on Dec. 15.
Rodriguez said he implored Garrison to keep his promises.
“And up until that time it always had been positive, that we will work on it. We’ll try. Give us time. We’ll get it done,” he said. “And that night I asked specifically, Tell me yes or no. And it was no to everything.”