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Legally Speaking, Now Is Time to Fire Rich Rodriguez

Nov 24, 2009 – 8:00 AM
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Clay Travis

Clay Travis %BloggerTitle%

Rich RodriguezFor the second consecutive season under coach Rich Rodriguez, Michigan will not be going to a bowl game.

In two seasons, Rich Rod has racked up a 8-16 overall record, beaten down the Michigan fan base to such a degree that Ohio State scarlet and gray filled up many of the best seats in the Big House this past Saturday, and left my wife, a Michigan alum, refusing to watch their games on television. "I'm already over Rich Rod," she's said on many occasions.

Now as Michigan enters the long, difficult winter of Wolverine discontent, there's a real issue that has to be decided. If you don't think Rich Rod is going to get it done at the school, you need to fire him now, before the next season commences.

Why?

Because you have a legal hook that can significantly lessen the blow of the firing -- you can argue that Rich Rodriguez breached the terms of his contract by violating NCAA rules. Bang. Meet Michigan's own stimulus plan for the athletic department, firing Rich Rod for cause.

A bit of a legal primer: All NCAA contracts contain a contractual provision allowing a school to end their relationship with a coach "for cause." Think of it is as the school's parachute in the event the plane is going down. Unlike a golden parachute where a coach is fired but receives millions to end the contract, firing someone "for cause" effectively wipes away the buyout provisions in a contract.

Rather than face a multi-million dollar obligation for a buyout, something Michigan fans are all too familiar with after the negotiations between Rich Rod and West Virginia, the school can allege a major violation of NCAA rules or intentional misconduct and show him to the door. Given that the NCAA and Michigan are already investigating Rodriguez and the football program over the amount of hours that players have spent playing or practicing football each week, the door would appear to be open to push Rich Rod out.

Some Michigan fans might be thinking, why can't we give Rich Rod one more season to see if he can win and then fire him for cause if he fails again? Here's the reason: If you uncover a breach of your contract and don't act upon it within a reasonable time, then you can't later scream breach at your convenience in order to invalidate a contract. According to the law you have to act within a reasonable time upon learning of the breach.

Michigan probably has a good idea what the results of their internal investigation are going to uncover. Why? Because the school already announced that Rich Rod and crew have failed to keep adequate logs of their players' hours spent on football. Of course, this is a preliminary finding that probably doesn't rise to the level of major violation, but releasing this information suggests that Michigan is far enough along in their internal investigation to have some idea what their final results will be. Will this investigation uncover major violations or intentional misconduct by Rich Rod?
In the hands of the right lawyer, virtually any results of an internal investigation could become ammunition to justify a "for cause" firing. And trust me, while Michigan might not have a good football coach, they've got an army of good lawyers.

What's more, we already have a pretty fascinating trail blazed by another collegiate sports titan when it comes to firing a coach after just two years and refusing to fulfill the terms of his contract.

You'll recall that Kentucky fired head coach Billy Gillispie this spring after just two seasons at the school. By virtually every measure, Gillispie had been more successful at Kentucky than Rich Rodriguez has at Michigan. Yet Gillispie never really fit in with the culture of the Kentucky program, some of his players rebelled, and after just two seasons the school felt compelled to act.


Sound familiar?

Kentucky fired Gillispie and swore that they owed him nothing for the remaining years on his contract. According to Kentucky, Gillispie had never officially signed a contract so the university attempted to argue that the memorandum of understanding he'd signed didn't constitute a valid contract. I argued back then that it was a contract, and that both sides were posturing in advance of a settlement.

Which is exactly what happened.

Kentucky paid out a little less than $3 million to Gillispie, and their relationship was sundered forever. But the school got away with paying barely half of what they contractually owed him.

Michigan's options are similar, but I think its legal standing is actually much better. Why? Because at the time of his firing neither Gillispie nor the University of Kentucky were being investigated by the NCAA for any allegations of rules violations. Kentucky had to rely upon a bogus claim that the document Gillispie signed was not a contract.

Merely making that argument saved the school almost $3 million.

Here, Michigan and and Rodriguez both acknowledge a valid contract. All we need to determine is whether Rodriguez breached the terms of that contract. Michigan would argue that he did, while refusing to pay him the buyout owed, and Rodriguez would argue that he didn't, and demand the school pay him. Likely, the truth as to whether or not Rodriguez has breached the contract is somewhere in the middle. But by arguing that he'd violated the contract Michigan could withhold any buyout payments and gird for legal battle.

Both sides would immediately lawyer up, and, in the end, Michigan would likely end up settling with Rodriguez for millions of dollars less than they'll have to pay him if they fire him simply because he's not winning enough games for a proud football program.

So if you're a Michigan fan and you don't think Rich Rod is the right fit, you want your school to make that decision sooner rather than later.

And that means now.

Right now.

Otherwise, getting rid of Rich Rod is going to cost you a lot more in the long run.

Hail to the legal victor.

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