Mike Lantry, 1972
Dude, seriously: what's wrong with Michael Rosenberg? Over the past few years he's been one of the few Detroit sports columnists worth reading, but he's rapidly descending into Sharp territory. His column on the Big Ten Network's Comcast deal was stupid, ill-researched junk concluding with this Plaschke-worthy array of "paragraphs":
But whether you're watching football or field hockey, just remember:
Comcast is in this to win.
And Comcast gets to define winning.
Stay tuned -- if Comcast will let you.
Comcast has signed a seven- to ten-year contract that guarantees the BTN placement on the digital basic tier, which 80% of the Big Ten footprint already recieves. That number will probably be 90% a couple years into the deal. These facts 1) completely invalidate Rosenberg's entire column and 2) were available to anyone who could peck "BTN comcast" into Google. Sharp pretty much wrote the same column. Ouch.
Guess whose latest extremely reasoned and fair piece is headlined "Embarrassing ordeal reveals ugly truths about U-M coach Rich Rodriguez"? Rosenberg, and the words that follow it are terrible. The only embarrassing ordeal here attempting to get through them. I have no choice. I am forced to deploy the fisk.
Finally, somebody at Michigan was embarrassed enough to settle West Virginia's lawsuit.
Not Rich Rodriguez. He is way too bullheaded. And not Bill Martin. He was never going to stand up to Rodriguez.
It took Mary Sue Coleman, the school president, to end this mess. Coleman was on the verge of being deposed, and she obviously didn't want to be dragged into it. Not so coincidentally, Rodriguez finally settled.
Hello! Right out of the box we are treated to multiple enormous assumptions, all dubious. We know that Michigan and Rodriguez had an agreement about the buyout from the day Rodriguez was hired, and we know that the deposition Mary Sue Coleman was about to give was about this agreement. Since Rodriguez's case was (perhaps unwisely) largely based on the validity of a clause he felt was not valid, clear evidence that he acknowledged the validity of the clause and planned ways to pay it equals lawsuit FAIL. Michigan knew they were going to lose and bailed. (Michigan did not pay or plan to pay any portion of Beilein's buyout, BTW, which appears to be the critical difference between the cases.)
This had absolutely nothing to do with embarrassment. It was about poor legal strategy and a hurried negotiation process that contained slipups.
What the fuck, Rosenberg? I pretty much expect Sharp to sit on his ass all day and fart out a 600-word piece of garbage without lifting the slightest finger to do any research, but you have proven to be a non-asshat. It took me two minutes to confirm all this stuff that had flitted through my RSS reader over the past few days. Two minutes. You suck.
Predictably, Rodriguez got absolutely nothing out of this except embarrassment. His buyout did not go down a dime. The U-M athletic department has to pay his legal fees. Rodriguez got a delay in his payment schedule, but that is a small victory.
This whole thing could have, and should have, been settled long ago. But RichRod was determined to fight West Virginia all the way to the bitter end. Anybody who has even driven past a law school knew he had no case, but that didn't matter to Rodriguez.
...or a university that had just hired a coach from the same school who had flirted with other jobs the year before and signed a contract extension with a stiff buyout clause and successfully negotiated that buyout down by 40% thought maybe the same thing would happen again. Which is completely ludicrous, of course. No similarities between those situations. Anyone who's driven past a law school could pick that out.
Martin should have told Rodriguez that this whole ordeal was embarrassing the university, and that the case was a lost cause. But Martin's legacy is in Rodriguez's hands, so he let his coach do whatever he wanted.
Again the assumption that the lawsuit was entirely Rodriguez's decision. I don't know what happened and I don't think anyone will, but we have an absolutely clear series of events here: Michigan agrees to pay part of the buyout, Michigan figures out it can't win the lawsuit, Michigan throws in the towel. Given that Michigan is and was on the hook for a large portion of the $4 million, isn't it reasonable to assume that they were going forward with the lawsuit?
The kicker here is the legal fees: Michigan pays them. Is that not an indicator as to who was behind the lawsuit? If Michigan just wanted to pay the thing and have it go away but Rodriguez was telling everyone The Truth Was Out There, no doubt he'd be the one footing the bill. I'm not saying I know exactly what went down, but the preponderance of the evidence suggests the university was at least an equal driver in the lawsuit.
Unless you've completely lost your shit and are flying off half-cocked without a shred of research or common sense, of course. Then who knows what happened? Maybe flying bears did.
There are only two winners here. One is West Virginia, which will get the $4 million it is rightfully owed. The other is those of us who just wanted the truth.
...wait, what? No way, man, I wanted Bill Martin deposed for six days so we could find out what really happened during the Les Miles fiasco. I want him on the stand with Tom Cruise bellowing "did you order the mizzen-mast furled?" over and over again until he finally cracks. We don't get any truth here. At least not fun truth.
We now know Rodriguez to be a serial job-shopper. His agent, Mike Brown, had pitched Rodriguez's services to Alabama, Arkansas and Lousiana State in recent years before pursuing Michigan.
This passage is outright dishonesty. Rosenberg makes it sound like the well-publicized Alabama flirtation was one in a series of dalliances stretching back over the years, and that Rodriguez was constantly looking for a way out of West Virginia. Rosenberg's own paper summarnized the deposition by noting that Brown contacted LSU "less than a year after Les Miles took over," which is a pretty weird way of saying "in 2006." Rodriguez was on the market last year because of his poisonous relationship with the dysfunctional, nepotistic WVU leadership. Brown was contacting everyone who might be interested. The only indication that Rodriguez had any interest in other jobs was Brown "speaking to" Chuck Neinas in 2006, which could reasonably be interpreted as the first sign of a rumbling discontent.
Rich Rodriguez was not happy at West Virginia. He looked to extricate himself. This is something any rational human would do, and very few would give the situation another chance after being on the verge of departure.
We now know Rodriguez doesn't believe in contracts. He signed an amended contract with West Virginia just four months before he left. He then claimed that the signed contract was not as important as a verbal agreement that preceded it - a laughable legal argument.
Every coach who changes jobs violates a contract. The reasons buyouts are in contracts is because contracts are violated. Coaching contracts are expressly constructed with the idea they will be violated. No one believes in coaching contracts except jilted fans and columnists with an axe to grind. Wanton naivete.
Rodriguez said in December that he was battling the buyout because "we have to do what we feel is right." He meant right for him, not the school.
This is an unsupported ad-hominem. Michael Rosenberg punches small children for fun.
Michigan is just a name to him. The school is just a platform for winning championships. This is evident in everything Rodriguez does, from his abandonment of a century-old captains tradition to his bristling at the notion that Michigan holds itself to a higher standard.
"The Michigan way is just the right way," he said in December, before adding that a lot of schools do it the right way.
Scraping the bottom of the barrel now. Michigan's traditions have varying degrees of importance. Winged helmet: 1000. Running under the banner: 900. How the captains are chosen: 0.0001. Pretending Michigan is Stanford: 0. Here, again, Rosenberg omits the context... if this thing ever actually got said.
The only reference I can find to it is in this article from the wonderful John Heuser, who must have found some time in between lying to Chad Kolarik and others to attend Rodriguez's introductory press conference. The Rivals transcript($) of the press conference has no mention of the quote and the audio file($) of the presser also omits it. Even if this quote did actually transpire, it was no doubt in response to some media guy questioning his recruiting methods and was a way of pointing out that Michigan will accept any athlete that meets NCAA minimums and the occasional Marques Slocum who doesn't. It is an accurate representation of reality.
Rodriguez is an excellent coach. I'm not sold that he is the right coach for Michigan.
He can charm the media, which is nice. But those who have attended his practices say Rodriguez's staff uses some of the foulest, most degrading language imaginable. I know coaches curse, and I'm no prude, but this goes way beyond a few dirty words. He belittles his players. This is a big part of why offensive lineman Justin Boren left the team. He felt his dignity was at stake.
Of course, a lot of Michigan fans would rather think of Boren as a traitor who couldn't handle tough coaching. They tell themselves Rodriguez is no different from Bo Schembechler, whose rigorous 1969 practices are part of the program's legend. And there will always be some people who happily make that comparison, especially if their income comes from Michigan football.
Tell yourself what you want. I find it sad that the University of Michigan is paying a man millions of dollars a year to humiliate some of its students.
Justin Boren left the team for a lot of reasons, but those who stayed behind think those reasons are mostly Justin Boren. Desmond Howard:
So I came up here (to Michigan) and I watched them practice. I was in the weight room working out, and two players started talking to me, and in general conversation they said, 'This guy, Desmond, was a complainer. He complained about workouts, he complained about practices.' And this is what they told me: 'Really, we're better without him.'
Boren was one of sixty scholarship players around for spring practice, and the only one who found Rodriguez's degrading language impossible to take. In the interim, enough high-profile players committed after observing Michigan practices to vault Rodriguez's first full recruiting class into the top five. (So far, obviously.) Shaun King is running around telling anyone who'll listen about Rodriguez's general brilliance. Rodriguez coached up and held together a high quality football program for seven years. You don't do that without earning some level of respect from your players.
This shouldn't be dismissed entirely. The Feldman article on Rodriguez and Michigan had some piercing quotes:
"Rod cusses. A lot," says former NFL QB Shaun King, who played at Tulane when Rodriguez ran the offense there. "He takes some adjusting to. I hated his ass at first." Says Michigan wideout Greg Mathews, "You have to learn how to not take it personally."
I'd rather have a guy you didn't have to tune out. I'd rather have a version of Lloyd Carr who was ruthlessly cutting edge. That's not likely, though, and there doesn't appear to be any backlash from the actual players. Even the guys he ditched at West Virginia -- the most likely to have a beef -- were universally positive when interviewed in March. Slaton: "I'm happy for him because he gave me a chance." Reynaud: "Did I have any anger? I never did." They were given a chance to say their piece in a decidedly unfriendly environment; they praised Rodriguez, shook their head at some of the treatment he's receiving, and went back to West Virginia.
The bottom line for coaches is whether or not their players are happy once they're done. I don't think we have enough data to draw a solid conclusion yet -- Pat White has been quoted as saying it will be nice not to be yelled at, though I can't dig that article up right now -- but there are 60 players and 35 recruits and hundreds of former players, none of whom appear to have Amani-Toomer-like negative things to say about the program. They appear to like Rodriguez just fine. This is basically superficial.
When Rodriguez was hired, he and Martin spun the story well: Martin landed a premier coach, and Rodriguez, who loved West Virginia, couldn't turn down Michigan. The truth is not as simple, or as pretty.
The first part of the "spin" here is indisputably true. Rodriguez is a premiere coach. So the messy, ugly truth that's coming is about the hiring process. And what a mess it is...
On the night of Dec. 6 - several days after the Les Miles fiasco - Martin told several people he had hired a coach. He thought he had landed Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. But the next day, Schiano turned down the Michigan job, sending Martin scurrying for another plan.
This is actually interesting. More on Schiano in a separate post.
Schiano's financial adviser, Mike Wilcox, nudged Michigan in the direction of another of his clients: Rich Rodriguez.
Rodriguez wanted a chance to compete for national championships. Martin saw a chance to hire a big name. They were in love with each other's names - so much so that they failed to do their due diligence.
Martin met with Wilcox before he ever talked to Rodriguez. When Martin finally met Rodriguez at Wilcox's office in Toledo, he brought Coleman with him.
Martin and Coleman did not go to Toledo to interview Rodriguez. They went there to hire him.
At Rodriguez's introductory press conference, he was still selling the line that he was in Toledo to meet with his financial advisor. You know, like they were discussing tech stocks and all of a sudden the president and athletic director at Michigan magically appeared in the room.
The ugly truth... Martin and Coleman wanted to hire Rich Rodriguez and did so? BUT THEY DID IT IN TOLEDO! I guess the upshot of the passage is that the Rodriguez hiring was rushed so Martin and Coleman couldn't find out the awful truth.
But what's the awful truth? Rosenberg's leveled the following criticisms:
- Rodriguez selfishly dragged Michigan into a lawsuit they wanted no part of. This is very probably untrue.
- Rodriguez looked for other coaching jobs. Uh... I have a feeling they knew this. Call it a hunch.
- Rodriguez didn't care about his contract. I'm getting that hunch thing again.
- Rodriguez swears and is "degrading."
So... that's it. Rosenberg has heard Rodriguez is mean at practice in a way that has turned off one scholarship player. I raise with Ty Law and Amani Toomer.
Rodriguez might win big at Michigan. But if he does, and he demands a big raise every year, or flirts with other employers, or ignores his contracts, or refuses to put the school's interests ahead of his own, then Michigan fans should not be surprised. As we have seen in the last few months, this is who he is.
Michigan is a terminal college job and if Rodriguez is flirting with the NFL despite running an offense the NFL isn't ever going to run... uh... okay. I think I can deal with that, as it will come after a Spurrier-esque run of fun, ass-kicking football. This is the big objection? Rich Rodriguez may someday take another job? Rodriguez has every right to take whatever job he pleases, and he tried to make his situation at West Virginia work despite West Virginia's best efforts.
A question between this and the Grady thing: what is it with sportswriters offering no quarter? Rosenberg just wrote two straight columns that were garbage and I'm still trying to be polite-ish to a guy who's proven to be a solid columnist in the past. I'm not doing a good job, but assuming he stops writing hysterical, ill-researched trash I can, like, forgive and forget. If Rodriguez has committed any sins they're ones just about every coach has. And yet...