TRUE, THE glamour factor is lacking (the principals are a 140-year-old university and a coach with a crew cut), but for sheer messiness this split could make the cover of People. Ex-- West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez surely anticipated some blowback from jilted Mountaineers fans when he took the Michigan job on Dec. 16. But with the method and timing of his leave-taking, this native son of the Mountain State guaranteed maximum rancor. Seventeen days before his team faced Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, the coach, who had six years remaining on his contract, dispatched a grad assistant to hand his resignation letter to WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong. The result: a soap opera complete with vandalism, death threats, document shredding and a lawsuit. The only thing this story's missing is a sympathetic character.
Rodriguez, who watched on TV as Bill Stewart coached WVU to a Fiesta win, held the moral high ground early on, thanks to Mountaineers partisans whose reaction to his departure called to mind the bunny-boiling antics of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. There was the death threat received by his brother's son, who also had hostile notes taped to his locker at East Fairmont (W.Va.) High. There was the fan who posted directions to his residence on the Web. The coach's mailbox was pulled up and left in his front yard; signs were hung on his fence. Mike Brown, RichRod's agent, says that the coach now hires a house-sitter before he leaves town.
Public opinion shifted away from Rodriguez on Jan. 15, when The Charleston Gazette reported that he'd shredded a small mountain of documents, perhaps even some player personnel files, before leaving. The coach has insisted that the paperwork was "useless to everybody": old game plans, personal correspondence, rough drafts of sonnets he'd composed between two-a-day practices. (O.K., we made that last one up.)
Overlaying this ocean of acrimony is the suit filed against Rodriguez by WVU's board of governors to collect on a $4 million buyout clause in his contract. While not denying that his client will probably end up forking over some of that money, Brown insists the school doesn't deserve the entire sum. RichRod contends that WVU reneged on promises it had made to him. Revelations were forthcoming, Brown assured SI, that would make it clear which party had behaved dishonorably.
When this blows over, both sides will find themselves diminished. It's a bit like those reports last fall that Lance Armstrong, 36, was seen "canoodling" with the 21-year-old Ashley Olsen. You end up feeling embarrassed for both of them.