Former West Virginia football coach Rich Rodriguez agreed to pay a $4 million buyout clause and settle a lawsuit that the university filed after he broke his contract in December.
The tentative agreement, which university attorney Tom Flaherty expects will be approved by the WVU Board of Governors later Wednesday, would end a case that had been set for trial this fall. It also may end a bitter public feud.
“It’s a case that should have settled a long time ago and could have settled a long time ago. It’s in the best interest of everyone to resolve it,” Flaherty said.
A call to Ohio attorney Marv Robon, representing Rodriguez, was not immediately returned.
Rodriguez quit the Mountaineers in December for the head coaching job at Michigan, only a year after extending his contract with WVU. He had argued that WVU broke the contract first by failing to honor certain promises, a charge WVU denied.
Flaherty said he would reveal additional details about the settlement, including the period for repayment, after the deal is approved by the board. However, he said the payment would not be made in a lump sum.
The settlement was reached on what had been a key deadline in the case. As part of the discovery process, a judge had given Rodriguez until the end of Tuesday to reveal whether the University of Michigan or anyone else had agreed to pay WVU on his behalf.
Flaherty said a document was produced, but he could not immediately divulge its contents.
Adding pressure to Rodriguez was a lawsuit WVU filed in a Michigan court last week, asking a judge to order Michigan athletic director Bill Martin and President Mary Sue Coleman to testify in depositions. A hearing on that request had been set for Wednesday afternoon.
WVU also recently got an Ohio court to issue a subpoena for testimony and records from Mike Wilcox, Rodriguez’s financial adviser.
The Rodriguez camp approached the university with a “significant and serious offer” within the past few days, and WVU responded with a counterproposal Tuesday, Flaherty said. That set off a series of meetings with a court-appointed mediator, Frank Fragale.
“Mike Garrison and the people at Stewart Hall worked tirelessly under the very, very difficult circumstances that he’s in to get this done,” Flaherty said. “They also, in my opinion, did everything they could to keep Mr. Rodriguez here.”
Garrison is stepping down as WVU’s president Sept. 1 over an unrelated scandal involving a master’s degree the university wrongly awarded to the governor’s daughter last fall.
The $4 million liquidated damages clause was suggested by an attorney on the WVU Board of Governors in December 2006, after Rodriguez turned down an offer from Alabama.
It was double the amount of the previous contract, but a number attorney Steve Farmer said he believed would protect WVU from lost marketing, merchandising and other opportunities if Rodriguez left early.
Though Rodriguez initially balked, he ultimately signed a contract with that figure in August 2007. He then resigned Dec. 16, taking recruits and assistant coaches with him, and leaving the Mountaineers just before the Fiesta Bowl game against Oklahoma. Bill Stewart replaced Rodriguez after a 48-28 victory over the Sooners.
Stewart has a five-year contract worth $800,000 a year, plus incentives. The base salary totals $4 million, the same amount WVU aimed to recover with its lawsuit.
Rodriguez testified recently in a deposition that he signed his contract under pressure from board members and Gov. Joe Manchin. He argues that WVU failed to honor some of his demands and Garrison assured him the buyout clause would be reduced or eliminated if he were to resign, a promise Garrison denies making.
Rodriguez also testified that while he considered the amount “excessive” and “unfair,” he acquiesced when he was told a major WVU donor had insisted on it.
He has agreed to a similar $4 million damages clause at Michigan.
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