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Buyout Gambit: Fire Coach for Cause, Hope for Settlement

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Copyright 2018 Ventura County Star
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Ventura County Star (California)

 

The sluggish college basketball coaching carousel moved into a higher gear Saturday with Georgia's reported decision to move on from Mark Fox and UConn's inevitable firing of Kevin Ollie, opening up two more top-level jobs to go alongside Louisville, Pittsburgh and Ole Miss.

But the bigger theme emerging from this cycle thus far isn't as much about the expected movement, which will be underwhelming compared to the past few years, but rather the blatant attempt by some schools to wiggle out of hefty buyouts.

This is now a strategy for schools looking for a cheaper way out of their basketball problems: Fire a coach "for cause," concoct a set of issues that purport to show how the coach violated his contract, then wait for the lawsuit to come so that negotiations on a new buyout number can begin before the depositions.

Of course, nobody is fooled by what Pittsburgh and UConn are trying to do. Kevin Stallings went 0-18 in the ACC this season and was, quite simply, a horrible hire by former athletics director Scott Barnes two years ago. Kevin Ollie's fluke national championship in 2014 earned him a golden contract, but a host of issues in the last four seasons in roster management and on-court performance eventually made it obvious that he was in over his head, as the once-mighty Huskies finished eighth in the American Athletic Conference.

So it's no surprise that both schools, neither of whom are flush with cash, are trying to avoid paying the full price to correct mistakes.

Pittsburgh-based radio host Colin Dunlap reported that Pittsburgh offered roughly half of Stallings' $9.4 million buyout or be fired "for cause," with the cause allegedly stemming from a sarcastic comment to a heckler at Louisville when he said, "At least we didn't pay our players $100,000."

Sure.

That's only slightly less credible than UConn, a school that once stood by Jim Calhoun even though a former team manager-turned-agent was funneling benefits to a recruit, dismissing Ollie for any reason other than his inability to keep the Huskies viable and relevant as a national power.

And yet that's what UConn will attempt to prove, as its announcement Saturday morning indicated it had "initiated disciplinary procedures" to avoid paying Ollie the $10.6 million remaining on his contract pending the results of an investigation into alleged NCAA misconduct.

UConn, of course, is in the middle of an NCAA investigation into its basketball program. It's absolutely possible information will turn up to directly implicate Ollie and void his buyout clause.

But does anyone really believe that UConn would be dumping Ollie if he had parlayed that national championship into multiple NCAA tournament runs rather than slipping to mediocrity in the AAC? And if his alleged conduct in the NCAA case was so egregious to merit a firing with cause, why was there no "disciplinary procedure" the moment NCAA investigators started asking questions rather than 40 hours after a lifeless, season-ending loss to SMU?

Make no mistake, the agents have noticed.

In conversations Saturday with several people who are involved in the coach hiring industry, there already is talk about potential changes to how contracts will be drawn up thanks to UConn and Pitt trying to get cute.

Though most of the focus will be on the various contract clauses that can be cited in a "with cause" firing, agents might end up fighting back by shifting the focus to procedural issues. In other words, if the reasons a coach can be fired with cause aren't specific enough to protect someone such as Kevin Stallings, the natural reaction is to add language that outlines the procedures a school must take and the timeline it must act on to initiate that process.

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March 11, 2018
 
 
 

 

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