We’re closing in on a week since Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez settled the lawsuit West Virginia filed against him.

Brian Merlos
Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez has received a lot of scrutiny for fighting West Virginia over the $4-million buyout clause in his contract. (RODRIGO GAYA/Daily)

Do you feel better now?

After so many people complained about Rodriguez dragging Michigan through the mud and unnecessarily distracting the Wolverines, are we really better off now that the lawsuit is over?

I don’t think so.

Because nothing was wrong while the lawsuit was going on. No real embarrassment. No distractions. If Rodriguez is successful at Michigan, which is far more likely to be the case than not, everyone will forget about this buyout nonsense.

In addition to claiming that the $4 million liquidated damages clause couldn’t legally be enforced because it didn’t accurately reflect West Virginia’s losses, Rodriguez said West Virginia University President Mike Garrison promised to reduce or eliminate the buyout, which Garrison denies.

We’ll never know if Rodriguez’s arguments would have won him the case had it gone to trial, but they certainly had some merit. The law says a liquidated damages clause can’t be recovered if it’s substantially high, and that overrides a signed contract. It’s not like a cocaine dealer can sign a contract with a junkie and that would suddenly make their transaction legal. And, for the most part, those who know both Rodriguez and Garrison trust Rodriguez more than Garrison.

It definitely appears the Michigan Athletic Department encouraged Rodriguez to fight the lawsuit, given it will cover $2.5 million of the settlement and Rodriguez’s attorney fees. And that’s not just the cost of doing business – it’s the right move.

Athletic Director Bill Martin could’ve saved some money short-term by hiring another coach, but that would have had costly long-term implications. Hiring a lesser coach would have hurt the football program not only on the field but also in the revenue it generates. A successful football team means the Athletic Department receives more money through ticket sales and merchandising and that the University is more appealing to potential applicants.

That hardly tarnishes Michigan’s image. And it wasn’t a distraction either.

I’m sure not a single player performed worse in spring practice because the lawsuit was on his mind. And Rodriguez let his lawyers handle it enough that he was focused on football, too.

If the case had dragged into the fall and Rodriguez had to make court appearances, that would have been a distraction. But it never would have gone that far.

This was an isolated incident, and it was handled. Rodriguez doesn’t have a history of griping with his employers and chasing jobs. It wasn’t until he thought conditions at West Virginia became unbearable that he pursued Alabama in 2006 and Michigan last year.

Rodriguez turned down an offer to become head coach at Texas Tech in 1999, opting to stay at Clemson as offensive coordinator. The year before, he turned down the top spot at Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette) to take that job at Clemson in the first place. Hardly a guy who’s willing to do whatever it takes to jump to a more prominent position.

The lawsuit was a sensationalized story. It should have been covered, sure, but not as this grand issue that was disgracing Michigan and Rodriguez.

A guy thought he had a right to keep $4 million and, with the backing of his employer, made that claim through the legal system.

What was so wrong with that?

– Dan Feldman can be reached at danfeld@umich.edu.

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