When Rich Rodriguez donated a dozen bags of Michigan apparel to the Salvation Army, Wolverines fan Darren Schumacher became curious.
So he showed up Saturday at a cold parking lot about halfway between Ann Arbor and Detroit, where the former coach’s belongings were being auctioned off in a small tent.
“I’m shocked at how many people are here and, to be honest, what things are going for,” the 43-year-old Schumacher said. “It was kind of an unfortunate era for Michigan football, and people are buying it like it was Bo Schembechler.”
Rodriguez was fired as Michigan’s football coach on Jan. 5, then donated more than 400 items Monday to a Salvation Army store in Wayne, about 15 miles west-southwest of Detroit. On Saturday, the store set up an outdoor tent with a seemingly endless variety of shirts, jackets and hats, auctioning them off to a large crowd of people, many of whom were already wearing Wolverines attire.
Maj. John Aren said over 300 bid cards were handed out for use during the auction, and there were about that many people crowded around the tent at the beginning of the event, despite snow flurries and the usual chilly January weather. The Salvation Army made $12,930 off the 161 of Rodriguez’s items that were auctioned off. The rest were put up for sale.
Rodriguez wasn’t at the auction, but it drew quite a crowd anyway.
“I saw some people who said that they drove 90 minutes,” Aren said. “It’s a real blessing for this store. This is the smallest store that has probably struggled the most, so we really appreciate the donation and the activity here.”
Rodriguez’s three-year tenure at Michigan was a struggle for both him and the fans, but there weren’t many ill feelings on display toward the coach on this day. At one point, a voice asked, “Where’s Brady Hoke’s stuff?” — a reference to the man hired to replace Rodriguez.
But the departing coach still has his supporters, including Larry Hearin, 72, of Dexter. He claimed the first item up for bidding, a maize and blue jacket that looked as though it hadn’t been worn.
“I’m a big RichRod supporter,” Hearin said. “I wish he was still there. I think they made a huge mistake.”
That attitude was shared by Jennifer Mahn, 26, of Troy. She bid $70 to buy a blue T-shirt.
“I’m not only a die-hard Michigan fan, but I’m a huge RichRod supporter,” she said. “This is, like, psychotic, but things that don’t have tickets — I was thinking maybe he wore them. Mine didn’t have a tag on it.”
Bart Bernocco, 51, of Dearborn, won himself a blue button-down shirt with a Michigan helmet on it with a $100 bid.
“It’s the type of shirt you haven’t seen in a store,” he said. “You can wear it to work on casual Fridays.”
Perhaps the most active visitors to the auction were Barry Hunt of Clarkston and wife Kim. They spent around $1,100.
“About 14 items,” he said. “Kind of cool that they were hanging in RichRod’s closet earlier in the week, maybe? … I’ve got a couple of buddies that I’ll give some things to.”
Rodriguez, who has kept a low profile since being ousted, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment about the donation.
Rodriguez’s gift was a surprise, especially at this location, which is by no means the closest donation center to the Ann Arbor university.
“He put the Salvation Army into his GPS and they directed him here,” Aren said.
Once fans found out about the opportunity to buy some of the coach’s old apparel, they came from all over, and no matter how they felt about his coaching, they seemed to appreciate Rodriguez’s latest gesture.
“I think it’s great,” Schumacher said. “You’re talking about thousands of dollars for the Salvation Army. It was real nice of him. I don’t think he’s a bad guy, he just didn’t fit. It happens.
“I wish him all the luck in the world — unless he plays Michigan.”
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