ORLANDO, Fla. – When Rich Rodriguez got a chance to sit down and watch a little football after a whirlwind couple of weeks, the newly hired Michigan football coach thought he’d finally get a chance to relax.
But Rodriguez’s moment of rest was short-lived.
Less than two weeks after being introduced as Michigan’s fourth head coach in 40 years on Dec. 17, Rodriguez found out he was being sued by the university he had just left when he saw the news scroll across the bottom of ESPN during a bowl game.
“I don’t think that’s normal, that’s not normal protocol, I didn’t think,” Rodriguez told reporters in the press box before Michigan’s Capital One Bowl appearance Tuesday. “Imagine my shock watching the game at the hotel with my family, and it comes across that ticker, getting sued for $4 million. That wasn’t a good night.”
Rodriguez didn’t talk about the specific details of the situation, and his agent Mike Brown declined comment after the lawsuit was initially filed on Dec. 27. West Virginia University officials are suing their former coach to collect a $4 million buyout of his contract.
“It’s been difficult and it’s been a little disappointing, to be honest with you,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of folks have been terrific. The players have been terrific. A lot of the big boosters and supporters have been terrific. But it’s been a little disappointing with some of the things with the administration and some of the fans.”
Rodriguez hasn’t had too many “good nights” since becoming Michigan’s head coach.
Faced with the task of putting together a coaching staff for next season, Rodriguez has to decide if he should remain loyal to his former assistants at West Virginia, keep enough Michigan assistants to make the transition easier or look nationally for some of the brightest up-and-coming minds to join him.
“Obviously, I’m very loyal to the staff I had at West Virginia,” Rodriguez said. “There’ll be several of them coming with me. Several others possibly from other schools.”
After interviewing all of Michigan’s assistant coaches two days after his hiring, Rodriguez fired all nine of them, allowing them to pursue other jobs. He then re-hired running backs coach and noted recruiter Fred Jackson and said that one or two more former Michigan assistants might get their jobs back.
But for the majority of assistants who worked under retiring coach Lloyd Carr, Tuesday’s bowl win against Florida was their last time on the Wolverine sideline.
“I’m blessed to have been around here,” outgoing quarterbacks coach Scot Loefler said. “I am the luckiest guy to have worked for coach Carr and to coach at Michigan.”
Rodriguez has laid low since being hired in order to keep himself from a situation that would have deflected attention from Carr. The former West Virginia coach, who watched Tuesday’s first half from the Michigan sideline and the remainder of the game from a luxury box, is anxious to get to work.
He’s been handcuffed when it comes to looking for new players since programs can only recruit on a limited basis for the next month. With approximately 10 open scholarships left in the class, Rodriguez will have to hit the recruiting trails hard once NCAA rules allow him.
Rodriguez might also have to retrace some of Carr’s steps to make sure he doesn’t lose any of the recruits who committed to Michigan before his hiring.
“Obviously, there is some anxiety from the recruits who have committed,” Rodriguez said. ” ‘Do you know us? Do you know how we fit?’ We’ve talked to all of them several times.”
Currently, just one recruit – three-star quarterback John Weinke – has decommitted since Carr announced his retirement.