Commentary

WVU gets new criticism, this one alleging hiring bias

Originally Published: January 20, 2008
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Former West Virginia offensive coordinator Calvin Magee has launched another salvo in the controversy that has followed coach Rich Rodriguez's departure to Michigan.

According to Mike Brown, Magee's agent, in a story published Sunday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a WVU administrator told Magee that he would not be a candidate to replace Rodriguez and pointed to Magee's black skin as explanation.

Brown -- who is also Rodriguez's agent -- told ESPN.com that the administrator "is in a position to know it's true."

Ugh.

Anyone interested in learning how not to squelch a controversy should enroll at West Virginia University. These guys are masterful.

An athletic department source told the Charleston Gazette last week that Rodriguez shredded files he shouldn't have before he left for Michigan. Not content to move forward under new coach Bill Stewart, the university responded by announcing that it had launched an investigation. West Virginia and the local papers kept stirring the story. And it kept stinking, and it kept making Rodriguez look bad.

It just so happens that WVU and Rodriguez are headed to U.S. District Court on Jan. 23 in a dispute over a $4 million buyout. It is not unusual for two sides in a very public lawsuit involving a lot of money and a lot of ego to try to make each other look bad in the public eye.

The file-shredding story touched a nerve with Rodriguez, and he threw back his veil of silence to deny that he had shred anything that the university didn't have copies of elsewhere.

Still, you can read the condescension between the lines of West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin's response. Manchin told the Gazette, "There is no smear campaign. The facts are simply what they are."

Now comes the counterpunch, and though Rodriguez didn't throw it, his assistant head coach did. The tale of Magee, the American Football Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year in 2007, plays into every racist stereotype there is about the Mountaineer State.

West Virginia assistant athletic director for communications Michael Fragale, taking on the question, told ESPN.com, "The WVU athletic department was not aware of that conversation and we have no information on that conversation taking place."

Magee also told Post-Gazette staff writer Chuck Finder that West Virginia athletic director Ed Pastilong, after receiving an inquiry from the Black Coaches Association about minority candidates for the head coaching position, told Magee on Dec. 21 that an interview "wouldn't mean much." Magee said that he replied that he had no interest in "a meaningless interview."

Pastilong disputed Magee's version of events to the Post-Gazette. Pastilong said that when he discussed the job with Magee, Pastilong believed that Magee already had decided to move to Michigan with Rodriguez. He had reason to believe it -- when Michigan named Rodriguez as its coach on Dec. 18, Magee traveled with Rodriguez to Ann Arbor and was introduced by him at the news conference.

But Magee, said Brown, went to Ann Arbor because of the comment from the unnamed administrator telling him he had no chance to replace Rodriguez.

Fragale, who e-mailed Pastilong's answers to Finder, also sent them to ESPN.com in a request for comment because, he said, "It's all I'm going to have."

Here is what Pastilong said: "Soon after Coach Rodriguez made his announcement at Michigan and Coach Magee returned to Morgantown, I asked Calvin to stay after the meeting to speak with me. We went to one of the position meeting rooms and he confirmed to me it was his intention to go to Michigan but he wanted to stay to coach the bowl game. Calvin indicated to me that he would have liked to have been considered for the head coach's job at WVU. I told him that would be difficult to entertain since he had already committed to go to Michigan."

Regarding the conversation between Magee and Pastilong, Fragale said, "Certainly, Calvin's recollection and Ed's recollection are two different things. ... Both sides remembered it completely different."

They agree on one thing: that Pastilong had no interest in Magee as a head coach.

Pastilong didn't know that Magee had been told he had no chance at the job. All he knew was that he had seen Magee in Ann Arbor. Surely, if Magee believed that he would be a serious candidate at West Virginia, he would have put a move to Michigan on hold.

Pastilong, to his credit, acceded to Magee's request that he be allowed to coach his offense in the Fiesta Bowl.

Magee, to his credit, put aside his disappointment in his old employer and his duties with his new one. He prepared the Mountaineers well enough that they racked up 525 yards in only 58 snaps in a 48-28 rout of Oklahoma.

And yet no one at WVU asked Magee to reconsider. It is unusual that an African-American coordinator didn't become a serious candidate on his own campus, especially in an age when athletic departments hire consultants to find qualified minority candidates.

West Virginia hired consultant Chuck Neinas, who arranged for university administrators to have a phone conversation with Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, an African-American. Locksley told the Chicago Tribune that the call came to gauge his interest and that he never heard from West Virginia again.

Jennifer McIntosh, the executive director of the WVU Office of Social Justice, told the Post-Gazette that the coaching search had been conducted properly. When Finder informed her that the Black Coaches Association had recommended Magee, a minority candidate already on campus, McIntosh said, "Who? I don't know anything about [Magee]."

Brown, Magee's agent, said in a statement emailed to ESPN.com that, "The actions of the search committee and non-actions by the university's Office of Social Justice certainly back up the implication made to Coach Magee that he or any minority candidate would not be considered for the head coaching position at West Virginia University because of the color of his or their skin."

Brown said he also ran Magee's version of his conversation with Pastilong past a senior athletic department official from a school in the Atlantic Coast Conference and a school in the Southeastern Conference. "Both of their responses were, 'We would be terminated immediately,' " Brown said.

Magee may have gone public with his story regardless of WVU's lawsuit against Rodriguez. Maybe it is coincidence that five days after an unnamed athletic department source put Rodriguez's reputation into play, West Virginia awakens to charges of, at best, racial insensitivity and a remarkable lack of regard for the university's own hiring rules.

One thing is certain -- West Virginia's campaign to win its $4 million buyout from Rodriguez is running up a very high cost. The school and Rodriguez need to settle, if only to make the problem go away. What good is winning $4 million if you lose your reputation?

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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