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Posted on Mon, Aug 10, 2009 : 9:08 p.m.

Rich Rodriguez never saw signs of trouble from Justin Feagin, won't recruit 'a guy that has baggage'

By Dave Birkett

At West Virginia, Rich Rodriguez was known for taking chances on recruits with questionable character.

He signed players who went on to be noted NFL bad boys Pacman Jones and Chris Henry, gave running back Noel Devine a chance when others backed away, and offered a scholarship to linebacker Pat Lazear, who pled guilty in high school to conspiracy to commit robbery of a Smoothie King.

On Monday, as Michigan kicked off its second season under Rodriguez with its first practice of the fall, Rodriguez defended his recruiting practices and said he never saw any signs of trouble from recently dismissed receiver Justin Feagin.

Feagin was kicked off the team last month for his role in a failed cocaine deal. In a police report first made public Sunday by the Detroit Free Press, he also admitted that he “used to sell drugs in Florida” and was arrested twice in his home state for battery and trespassing.

“Trust me, no coach in America is going to want to take a guy that has baggage or that they think is a bad guy,” Rodriguez said. “We certainly won’t.

“But everything in the recruiting process (with Feagin) that we had heard was all positive and our dealings here was there was no negatives until that recent thing. And once we heard that, it was immediate dismissal.”

Feagin met with police July 23 and was kicked off the team later that day.

Rodriguez said he called Feagin’s mother immediately after learning of the incident, then met with coaches to try and determine if they overlooked anything in the recruiting process.

“Sometimes there’s mistakes made and if it’s an avoidable mistake then we have to look and say what did we miss?” Rodriguez said. “And sure, you do that. And that’s the first thing that happened. As soon as we found out this situation, you boot him off the team, then you call the coaches in and say, what did we miss? You call the mother up and say, hello, Mrs. Feagin, what did we miss?” recruiting analyst Jeremy Crabtree said no one expressed concerns over Feagin’s character when he signed out of American Heritage High as the last member of Michigan’s 2008 class, Rodriguez’s first with the Wolverines.

Feagin, who hung up when reached by cell phone Monday night and did not return another message seeking comment, took official visits to Michigan, Rutgers and Syracuse, and had offers from Miami, West Virginia and several other programs.

“I can’t imagine (that many schools) would have been actively recruiting him if there were red flags there, too,” Crabtree said. “The only question we had with him was what position was he going play.”

Rodriguez said coaches do a thorough background check on every player they recruit, talking to coaches, parents, school administrators, even janitors.

“Our coaches, we’ll remind them - and not just here at Michigan but certainly here - we want to bring the right people in,” Rodriguez said. “In our community, in our university, and we try hard to do that.”

Judy Van Horn, Michigan’s associate athletic director for compliance, said ultimately coaches make the final decision on who they recruit. If there are questions about a recruit’s character, the situation would then be presented to athletic director Bill Martin before a scholarship is offered.

Van Horn cited privacy laws in declining to say whether Feagin’s recruitment was referred to Martin.

“It is rare that there would need to be a conversation because our coaches are gatekeepers in a sense and are very cautious about who they recruit on behalf of the university,” she said.

Rodriguez said he was stunned to learn of Feagin's troubles and doesn't want that to reflect poorly on the rest of his players.

“I would like to sit here and tell you I’ll never have another kid that I ever recruit get in trouble,” Rodriguez said. “Never have an underage drinking, never get in a bar fight. I hope I never have one.

"But to tell you I’m going to be coaching here the next 20 years and never have that, I can’t guarantee that because sometimes good people make bad decisions. What you hope they do is they learn from it and don’t make it again, or they’re good people that just decide to have one bad decision. That’s what you’re hoping is the case."

Dave Birkett covers the University of Michigan football team for He can be reached at


Dave Birkett

Tue, Aug 11, 2009 : 9:55 p.m.

Sure. I think Michigan would make just about everyone's list of the top 10 programs in college football. There is not as big a need to take a gamble on recruits with character issues at Michigan. For all its success recently, West Virginia is not on the same level. In order to compete for national championships year in and year, WVU might be need to take a gamble on a player every now and then. Theoretically, Michigan's Plan B recruit (if they pass on someone for character concerns) would be a higher caliber than the fallback recruit at most other schools.


Tue, Aug 11, 2009 : 5:17 p.m.

Dave you stated " Michigan and West Virginia are different level programs. " could you expound on that? Do you mean West Viginia wins more or Michigan has a snobby cliental? Please explain....Thx


Tue, Aug 11, 2009 : 3:01 p.m.

RR knew what he was getting as he offered the kid while at West Virginia. Be optimistic if you'd like but he has a history.


Tue, Aug 11, 2009 : 1:05 p.m.

Did Tressel know that Maurice Clarrett would end up being a future felon? Did he know that Troy Smith would accept money from boosters? Did he know that Antonio Henton would be arrested for soliciting sex from a female undercover officer? Did he know that Jamal Berry was a marijuana user? Yet, no one questions the type of "CHARACTER" athletes he recruits. You guys need to get off RR's back.

Dave Birkett

Tue, Aug 11, 2009 : 7:29 a.m.

Pacman did get into trouble at West Virginia He got into a bar fight his first month at the school. He was also a supposed discipline problem in high school (link below). And some NFL teams downgraded him because of those concerns. (To be fair, RIch said Pacman also was routinely first to practice, last to leave during his time there.) Henry was suspended twice at West Virginia for on-field discipline issues (second link below). "Character issues" is a broad term and there really is no way of knowing what issues will blow up into something like this. Michigan and West Virginia are different level programs. Rich doesn't need to take as many gambles here (and wouldn't be allowed to if he wanted to). Either way, as he said, that doesn't mean every player is going to be trouble free under his watch. Just some transgressions are easier to deal with than others.


Tue, Aug 11, 2009 : 6:34 a.m.

I think RR would not recruit a guy like feagin if he new all the details. I do know this if he wins 8 or 9 games this year and beats ND or OSU this will all forgotten.


Tue, Aug 11, 2009 : 4:28 a.m.

It was written: "mercury69... Pacman Jones and Chris Henry never got into trouble while at WV. Yet everyone blames their actions while in the NFL on RR. Dosen't seem fair." There are some people who will ignore facts and contrive a convoluted rationalization to blame RR if they have a flat tire on the way to work. Thus, the "sold their soul" comment. RR is totally right here; there was no indication that Feagin would be troubled when he got to UM, and RR kicked him off the team once he found out what he had done. If there had been any red flags, everyone who follows recruiting would have known about them. I think it's funny that Feagin hung up and didn't want to talk to reporters. I would hope someone would ask him if his athletic failure was related to his drug use. And I still think he should pay UM back for his scholly.


Tue, Aug 11, 2009 : 12:40 a.m.

mercury69... Pacman Jones and Chris Henry never got into trouble while at WV. Yet everyone blames their actions while in the NFL on RR. Dosen't seem fair.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Aug 11, 2009 : 12:03 a.m.

I wish RichRod could be a little more forthcoming, but I understand why he has to give the politically correct answer here. The honest answer would be, "yes, we had concerns. But we were absolutely desperate for a quarterback last year, and thought we might catch lightning in a bottle. The bottom line is that we're willing to keep giving a great athlete chances as long as he seems willing to put in the work. Sadly, Justin didn't put in all the necessary work, and I wish him well in life, but he can't help our football program."


Mon, Aug 10, 2009 : 11:53 p.m.

Feagin was arrested twice in Florida and they didn't know about it during the 'recruiting' process? Are you kidding me? Certainly had they done even a little homework on this kid, his troubled past would have came up. Maybe they should try talking to a few of his high school teammates or an assistant coach who can talk freely and anonomously. Rodriguez is a schmuck, this just supports my feelings about him.


Mon, Aug 10, 2009 : 10:07 p.m.

No wonder he was kicked off the team and out of school. Too bad he had to make such a stupid mistake. I Feagin can turn his life around. Feagin was not a bad apple in high school. I hope RR stays away from the bad kids, we don't need them at UM. But any kid can make a stupid mistake.


Mon, Aug 10, 2009 : 10:05 p.m.

With such a history of recruiting players with "questionable character", quoting the articles author "He signed players who went on to be noted NFL bad boys Pacman Jones and Chris Henry, gave running back Noel Devine a chance when others backed away, and offered a scholarship to linebacker Pat Lazear, who pled guilty in high school to conspiracy to commit robbery of a Smoothie King." is it any shock that this happened? Michigan sold it's soul when they brought him on board.


Mon, Aug 10, 2009 : 9:06 p.m.

There will always be instances where a recruit with character issues or personal issues nededs to be offered a helping, understanding hand. Each case needs to be looked at individually to determine what the issues are and what the circumstances surrounding the issues are. Like Coach Rod said " good people sometimes make bad decisions. " Having said that I find it hard to believe that there were no indications that Feagin was dealing drugs in Florida and doing other illegal activities. Certainly someone must have known something - you just need to ask around - outside of the normal channels. Football is a cross section of society just like any organized sports group - you will get all kinds.