Rodriguez accuses WVU of staging 'smear campaign'

Updated: January 17, 2008, 8:54 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Rich Rodriguez broke his silence on the controversy that has followed since he left West Virginia for Michigan, saying during a hastily scheduled conference call that he had been the target of a "smear campaign."

"There seems to be a campaign to try to smear me," Rodriguez said Thursday. "I haven't said anything until recently, when I felt I needed to defend all the false accusations.

"It has just gotten ridiculous over the last couple of days."

There's so many inaccuracies and falsehood and innuendo, at some point, you get tired of getting beat up.

--Rich Rodriguez

An investigation into missing files from Rodriguez's former office revealed the academic records of West Virginia football players are secure after a newspaper report raised questions about missing paperwork.

Citing anonymous sources, The Charleston Gazette reported Tuesday that files kept in Rodriguez's private office disappeared between Dec. 16 and Jan. 3, along with strength and conditioning records from the weight room.

The newspaper report claimed the missing documents included players' personal contact information, scholarship payments and class attendance records, as well as strength and conditioning records and photographs that tracked players' physical progress.

"There's so many inaccuracies and falsehood and innuendo, at some point, you get tired of getting beat up," he said. "It was that I erased academic files, then the next day, 'Oh no, that didn't happen.' The corrections are on page six and the lead story is on page one."

Rodriguez said he only removed personal papers, such as notes about players or his game plans.

"There was an implication that I had all these secret files and I was throwing them away, but it's simply not true," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez also addressed questions about another story in the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail, which reported that West Virginia officials were concerned Rodriguez contacted Michigan recruits before he resigned as Mountaineers coach. The NCAA recruiting period was also in a "quiet period" when WVU believes Rodriguez made contact with the Wolverines recruits.

I changed jobs. This is America, and sometimes you change jobs. I would hope that at some point when emotions cool down, that you can see the good things.

--Rich Rodriguez

The newspaper also reported Rodriguez's West Virginia cell phone records show he called two Michigan recruits and possibly a third from his WVU-issued phone on Dec. 16 after he told the Mountaineers players he was going to Michigan. He was introduced at Michigan the next day.

During the conference call, Rodriguez insisted he did not contact any Michigan recruits while he was still employed by West Virginia.

Mike Brown, Rodriguez's agent, backed up Neil's statement.

"[Rodriguez] did not keep records for every player and academic records for the players are certainly on file at the school," he said.

The West Virginia native and former Mountaineer player expected hard feelings when he left to lead the Wolverines, but he has been disappointed by the scope of the resentment.

"I know there is disappointment and hard feelings because it's a small state and the program is a source of great pride, but this campaign is not helping West Virginia's program," he said. "You're trying to hurt Rich Rodriguez, but you're hurting West Virginia."

West Virginia has sued him to collect on a $4 million buyout clause in his contract. On Wednesday, the case was transferred from Monongalia County Circuit Court to U.S. District Court in Clarksburg.

The court filing indicated Rodriguez had established residency in Michigan by the time the lawsuit was filed.

"We're perfectly comfortable and happy to litigate this case in any court," said Thomas Flaherty, a Charleston attorney representing the university. "This is not unanticipated."

The move gives Rodriguez five extra days, until next Wednesday, to file a response to the lawsuit. The initial deadline was Friday. The jurisdiction move also means any appeals would be filed through the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., instead of the state Supreme Court.

"I changed jobs. This is America, and sometimes you change jobs," Rodriguez said. "I would hope that at some point when emotions cool down, that you can see the good things."

Rodriguez's relatives have been harassed and threatened since his resignation as West Virginia football coach.

His mother, Arleen Rodriguez, said her teen grandson received a death threat and found other harassing notes taped to his locker at East Fairmont High School. Arleen said her 12-year-old granddaughter had to be escorted to classes.

Mountaineers fans furious over Rodriguez's decision to accept the coaching job at Michigan also vandalized his home near Morgantown, hanging signs on a fence and tossing a mailbox in the yard.

Last month, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin blamed the involvement of what he termed "high-priced agents" for changing Rodriguez as a person.

Rodriguez said Manchin has called him to apologize.

"I said, 'Why did you say those things? It kind of hurt me,' " Rodriguez recalled. "He apologized and said, 'Maybe I shouldn't have said some things.' He said in the future, he could put things in a positive light.

"That was on Christmas, but I haven't heard anything."

The Associated Press and ESPN's Joe Schad contributed to this report.

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