MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Even before the first snap at fall football practice, Rich Rodriguez and his agent were pursuing a promised "culture change" at West Virginia and a shake-up at the highest levels of the athletic department, e-mails obtained by The Associated Press show.
But by mid-November, Rodriguez's agent Mike Brown was threatening to take his client elsewhere, warning WVU the coach was being mentioned for possible openings at Texas A&M and Florida State.
Rodriguez resigned Dec. 18 and took the head coaching job at Michigan, touching off a bitter and ongoing public dispute that has included a $4 million lawsuit over his buyout clause and allegations of broken promises and missing files from his athletic department office.
The gradual disintegration of the relationship is documented in a series of e-mails written over a five-month period and released to the AP under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act. They show Brown fighting for more operational and marketing control over the football program and over money Rodriguez helped raise through a booster organization he founded.
In e-mails to WVU president Mike Garrison and his chief of staff, Craig Walker, Brown also complains of Gov. Joe Manchin interfering with the program.
WVU administration officials declined to discuss the e-mails, citing concerns about the lawsuit.
Brown also declined to discuss the e-mails when contacted Wednesday.
But athletic director Ed Pastilong, whose department was not copied in on any of the correspondence, said Wednesday he was unaware of plans for a culture change or of conflict between his staff and Rodriguez.
"Rich and I got along very good. I was largely responsible for hiring him, and we had an open communication," he told the AP. "This is the first I've heard of it."
Pastilong, who is close friends with the governor, denies Manchin interfered, as did Manchin spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg.
"The governor and Rich were friends for 30-plus years, first and foremost, and their discussions throughout Rich's tenure were primarily as friends, with no intent on the governor's part of interfering in the WVU football program or its operations," she said.
Brown had been pressing WVU to act on new moneymaking ventures such as allowing advertising on the walls at Mountaineer Field and letting Rodriguez have his own paid-subscription Web site. The e-mails indicate WVU was proceeding slowly, researching legal and NCAA issues after learning of a controversy involving the Web site of Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione.
But an Aug. 1 e-mail from Brown suggested a long-simmering tension between Rodriguez, Pastilong and key assistant director Mike Parsons. That e-mail complained that "Pastilong is talking directly to the governor," and Manchin subsequently called to placate Rodriguez.
Brown goes on to discuss the resignation of Whit Babcock, an assistant athletic director tasked with fundraising: "If you were to ask Whit Babcock why he was leaving, he would say 2 words, 'Ed Pastilong.'"
Babcock said Wednesday he left WVU to become senior associate
director of athletics at Missouri.
"It was not an Ed Pastilong issue. It was a job responsibility
issue and a tremendous opportunity. At Missouri, I have the
opportunity to be the number two guy and expand my role," he said.
"Ed Pastilong and I parted on good terms."
Rodriguez was promised in December 2006, in agreeing to a new contract with WVU, that Parsons' "interaction, tactical and strategic decisions affecting football would be reduced and Whit Babcock's role in the AD would be increased. Whit's leaving not only affects WVU, but is a result of an unfulfilled verbal promise made to Rich," Brown wrote.
Pastilong said he was unaware of such a promise.
Forgoing a six-year, $12 million offer from Alabama, Rodriguez signed a new contract with WVU on Aug. 24. It included a pay raise from $1.05 million to $1.78 million and a one-time increase of $100,000 to the assistant coaches' salaries.
WVU also created a retirement plan that gave Rodriguez tax benefits; promised to reduce his buyout clause from $4 million to $2 million in 2008; built a $2 million academic center for athletes; and agreed to a nearly $6 million renovation of the locker room facilities at season's end.
But Rodriguez had additional demands the e-mails show were being addressed throughout the fall, including free game passes for high school football coaches, control of the sidelines, an all-access pass for wife Rita and seats at WVU basketball games for his football recruits.
"Also of importance is the status of different initiatives we have discussed regarding increasing athletic department revenues," Brown wrote Nov. 14. "We both agree there is millions in revenue not being realized. Those revenues over time will allow WVU to remain competitive for Rich's services."
Brown said he had hoped new revenue streams would be in place by 2008 and that Rodriguez was "very concerned" a request for proposals hadn't been issued for revamping the athletics Web site, msnsportsnet.com.
"Why is this important?" Brown wrote. "There is a projected opening at Texas A&M this year and Florida State next year. Rich's name is being mentioned heavily."
From there, the relationship appears to deteriorate, with e-mails among Walker, Garrison and Rodriguez's financial adviser, Mike Wilcox, showing a united effort to exclude Brown from many discussions.
Wilcox appears to work amicably with WVU on a retirement package for the coach and praises Garrison for "convincing Rich and Rita that you and Craig and your administration will function in a much more effective and forthright manner."
Wilcox did not respond to a telephone or e-mail message Wednesday.
Former WVU president David C. Hardesty, who ceded operational control to Garrison on Aug. 1, declined to discuss the nature of his relationship with Rodriguez when asked about the "culture change."
The e-mails show any harmony with the new administration was short-lived: On Sept. 6, Brown e-mailed Walker, complaining the athletic department had released the terms of Rodriguez's new contract to the media. The next day, he complained the contract itself has been released.
"Sure at some point in time through information requests the media can get a copy of the contract, but within 24 hours of announcing it has been signed!" he wrote. "... This is a major breach of the trust factor we discussed two weeks ago."
Walker defends the staff's action, citing requests from the AP and the Charleston Daily Mail that the university was legally bound to answer.
As late as the last week of November, Wilcox and Walker were planning meetings. Then, on Dec. 1, the No. 2-ranked Mountaineers fell 13-9 to Pitt, losing a shot at a national championship game.
Within days, there were signs of more trouble.
On Dec. 4, Wilcox tells Walker he has had "tough discussions with Rich and Rita," who were discouraged by the loss. He urges Garrison to meet with the couple: "I think it's REALLY important in light of Eddie's [Pastilong] remarks and the deteriorating relationship ... it's not good and getting worse."