MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Rich Rodriguez says opening the books
of West Virginia's private fundraising arm is the only way to
determine whether his abrupt resignation as football coach harmed
the school financially.
That was a key demand in the formal response that Rodriguez
filed Friday to WVU's lawsuit over the $4 million buyout clause in
his contract. He also said it was the administration's actions --
not a better offer -- that forced him to resign in December and take
the coaching job at Michigan.
WVU attorney Jeff Wakefield said Rodriguez's response "contains
nothing new or unexpected."
"It will have no effect on the merits of the university's
claims," he said. "We believe there is no basis in fact or law
for their claims and defenses. We look forward to presenting our
case before the court as soon as possible."
Largely, Rodriguez's answer to the lawsuit in U.S. District
Court in Clarksburg restated many of the arguments his camp has
made since Dec. 18, when his resignation sparked a feud with the
school. His lawyers have ratcheted up the stakes by drawing the WVU
Foundation into the matter.
The foundation, which had been run in part by WVU president Mike
Garrison's chief of staff, Craig Walker, is not legally obligated
to open its books to public scrutiny under ordinary circumstances.
But the foundation is a key part of keeping the WVU football
According to its annual report, the foundation ended fiscal 2007
with total assets of more than $1 billion and endowment investments
of $474 million, a 24-percent increase over the previous year.
"The only way to tell whether or not West Virginia University
has been damaged is to see if its donations to the foundation have
decreased and/or if other expenses have increased,'' his lawyers
said, noting WVU hired assistant coach Bill Stewart to replace
Rodriguez at a significantly smaller salary.
Rodriguez asked the court to make the foundation a third party
to the lawsuit, citing recent news releases that claimed gifts to
the foundation "were at an all-time high." He wants the right to
examine its books to find out if donations have dropped off since
Rodriguez also aimed to disprove Garrison's alleged assertion
that "certain large donors" demanded the coach's contract include
the $4 million buyout clause.
Rodriguez has repeatedly claimed that WVU broke the contract by
failing to honor a variety of verbal promises, including one to
reduce or eliminate his buyout.
WVU, which sued Dec. 27, denies such a promise was made.
The counterclaim also argued that WVU lacked the authority to
file the lawsuit, which it said should have first been approved by
the Board of Governors.
But Chairman Steve Goodwin said the board, which is named as a
plaintiff, "was intimately involved in the decision."
A meeting was not required because of long-standing practice
established under former President David C. Hardesty Jr., he said.
The president is permitted to act on the board's behalf in
initiating or defending lawsuits.
"An actual vote on this was not necessary," Goodwin said.
Rodriguez admitted he didn't spell out his reasons for leaving
in a one-sentence resignation letter in December, but pointed out
that he did so in a second letter on Jan. 10 that essentially
formed the foundation of his legal defense.
Earlier this week, Rodriguez filed a $1.5 million letter of
credit with the court, arguing that's the most he could potentially
owe under the contract in effect when he quit.
His legal team called that filing a gesture of good faith, not
an offer to settle.
The gradual disintegration of the relationship between Rodriguez
and the WVU athletic department was documented in a series of
e-mails written over a five-month period. They showed that
Rodriguez's relationship with the school was on a downhill slide
months before he resigned, in part because of his failed attempts
to gain total control over the football program.