By HOPPY KERCHEVAL
MORGANTOWN -- Rich Rodriguez's argument that he was duped into signing an extension to his contract with West Virginia University may well hinge on what happened Aug. 24, 2007.
On that day, Rich and Rita Rodriguez, agent Mike Brown and financial advisor Mike Wilcox, gathered for a meeting at WVU with President Mike Garrison and Chief of Staff Craig Walker. Rodriguez then signed the now famous "Second Amendment to the Employment Agreement for Rich Rodriguez" that contained a $4 million buyout.
There's no argument that Rodriguez signed the contract, but what is the subject of debate, and at the center of the legal fight between Rodriguez and WVU, is what was said that day before the contract was signed.
Rodriguez claims it was then that Garrison allegedly told the coach that if he decided to leave "the lawyers would get together and reduce the cost of the buyout to $2 million." Rodriguez, in a filing this week by his lawyers, goes on to claim "Garrison even implored Rodriguez to do him a favor by signing the amendment as it would help Garrison to 'get the Board of Governors off his back'."
That, Rodriguez claims, was a false promise. And that's a critical argument because how else is Rodriguez going to get out from under the $4 million buyout? Generally speaking, a contract willingly agreed to all parties is valid unless there's fraud, so Rodriguez has to claim he was duped.
Rodriguez's argument is flawed.
First is the question of whether Garrison ever made such a promise. He says he did not and when I asked him several weeks ago how he felt about being deposed under oath about the Rodriguez dispute he said defiantly, "swear me in."
Second, Rodriguez and WVU both signed a terms sheet for the contract eight months earlier that included the $4 million buyout. The coach had been living under the terms of the contract ever since. His lawyers and agents had been mulling over contract for months.
Now Garrison allegedly tells Rodriguez on Aug. 24th not to worry about the buyout even though it's in the contract!? The court is supposed to believe that Rodriguez with his wife, high powered agent and financial adviser all say, "Never mind what's in the contract…Garrison is going to fix it."
I'm not buying that. And I don't think the court will either.
Rodriguez needs fraud to make his defense work. Absent that, the next question is whether the $4 million liquidated damages is a legitimate amount for Rodriguez to pay and, if it's too much, what is the amount?
And the final question for Coach Rod, which I hope and believe we will ultimately get to is, "Where's your check?"
By HOPPY KERCHEVAL