Imagine this: The hometown coach leaves the team right before the big bowl game, making the school scramble to find a replacement. There’s a huge uproar on campus, with fans screaming bloody murder. That’s a huge story. One the campus paper would be sure to pick up.
Well that’s just what happened with the hiring of Michigan football head coach Rich Rodriguez, and faithful readers of the Daily would have very little idea of the uproar that occurred in Morgantown over the choice of our new football coach.
Sports reporting is often partisan, particularly on game days. We write more about our team than our opponents, the lead story is how the Wolverines fared and only in passing do we talk about our opponents, with the possible exception of Ohio State.
So when Michigan hired a new coach for the first time in 13 years, it’s big news, every angle of it. The first story “Michigan hires WVU’s Rodriguez as next head coach” was posted online (12/16/2007). It was brief and mentioned Rodriguez’s hiring but not much else.
The full news story that ran later (Rodriguez introduced as head football coach, 12/17/2007) gave details about Rodriguez’s plans to introduce a spread offense, but didn’t go into detail about why the new coach felt the need to leave Morgantown, W. Va. before his former team played in the Fiesta Bowl. The article did mention that Rodriguez said he wouldn’t be coaching the Fiesta Bowl because West Virginia asked him not to, but I think that news could have been displayed more prominently. Further, it would have been helpful to see if West Virginia would have had a different view of the situation.
There was also little reaction in our paper from West Virginia officials or fans over the departure of Rodriguez. But the Daily was buffeted with letters from upset West Virginia fans who created Facebook groups and MySpace groups filled with vitriol over Rodriguez’s departure, calling him names that can’t be repeated in most newspapers.
Managing Sports Editor Scott Bell said the sports staff thought about getting reactions from West Virginia but made a strategic decision not to do so. “Our resources were very limited,” Bell said, noting that the news about the new coach broke over winter break and during finals season. He said, though, that if the staff had a chance to do it again, they’d try to cover more. “There was other stuff we’d like to have done,” Bell said.
Another issue arising out of Rodriguez’s departure is the upcoming lawsuit against Rodriguez by West Virginia University. West Virginia had a $4-million buyout clause in Rodriguez’s contract if he were to leave before his contract ended. And soon after Rodriguez came to Ann Arbor, West Virginia filed suit. If it wins the lawsuit and a court orders Rodriguez to pay $4 million, who exactly is going to pay that money? Will it be Rodriguez? Will it be the University? Will it be boosters of the football program? These are the sort of questions I think the Daily needs to answer to fully cover the football program’s big coaching change. There’s a lot of money involved and we should find out where it’s going. It might be coming out of our pockets.
Nate Sandals, the incoming managing sports editor, said that the Daily plans to write more about the litigation. “We haven’t done the legwork on the lawsuit,” Sandals said, but promises that as more news comes to light the Daily will stay on top of it.
As Sandals admits, the Daily is competing with the national media when it comes to reporting about Michigan football. But that doesn’t mean it has to cede the story to the big boys of ESPN, the Detroit Free Press or other media organizations. While the Daily has limited resources compared to larger news organizations, the Daily does have unique advantages as well. Its reporters are on campus every day and are nearer to sources like players and their friends. The Daily shouldn’t be cowed by the money spent by its larger competitors and should do its best to find as many scoops as possible so that when ESPN or anyone else wants to know what’s going on in Michigan football, they’ll turn to the Daily first and not any other source.
Paul H. Johnson is the Daily’s public editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.