We all had a nice chuckle a few weeks ago when Darren Rovell reported that Sean Miller would actually get paid way more if Arizona fired him for cause, but UConn’s trying to weasel out of paying Kevin Ollie the remainder of his contract by firing him “for just cause” is exactly why you can’t fault coaches with leverage for protecting themselves in that manner.
Ollie just signed a $17.9 million extension through 2021 last March, but the team stunk so bad this season that firing him right now was definitely the right decision. The “just cause” circumstances of the firing pertain to an NCAA investigation into “improper workouts”. If the Huskies were still good at basketball, this would be about as dire as a mosquito bite.
But they’re not, and Connecticut is in a state budget crisis, and paying Ollie double-digit millions to go away would create a tempest. Remember, back when the Huskies were good at basketball, Jim Calhoun sniped at a reporter that he wouldn’t give a dime back of his pay, and the general sentiment amongst UConn fans was that the reporter was an asshole and that Calhoun earned his check.
But this is where UConn’s Athletic Director David Benedict needs to earn his pay. An important facet of the AD job in modern day top-tier college athletics is to get on the phone with a half-dozen deep-pocketed donors and get them to write the check for Ollie to go away so the school can hire someone new and hopefully their courtside seats will be worthwhile again.
Louisiana isn’t exactly in a stellar budget situation, but they had no issue paying Les Miles’ buyout because the fans there demand excellence and backed up their persistent complaints with their wallets. University administrators stressed that no public money was spent on this decision.
Again: Ollie deserved to be fired. The 2014 national championship feels like a generation ago. This year the offense resembled a caricature of a construction site, where one person is working and the other four men are standing around.
Jeff Goodman detailed all the issues with the program last month. One particularly illustrative example about why Ollie has failed in recruiting was how he lost out on current Kentucky freshman Hamidou Diallo. Even though Diallo went to high school less than 30 miles away from UConn, John Calipari went to see him play as many times as Ollie did.
Nevertheless, shirking on paying out the rest of Ollie’s deal sends a signal that the program is not serious about attempting to reclaim its glory days. Wouldn’t an elite coach — or an up-and-coming one with options — look at this situation and worry about similar circumstances? If an improper workout is sufficient cause at UConn to cost the coach his money, other destinations become more desirable.
It stinks that the wheels came off in the Ollie era so abruptly that getting rid of him was the only decision UConn could make. It also stinks that in the game of conference musical chairs they wound up getting left out. But, to me, doing this song and dance with Ollie has potential risky long-term consequences. If Benedict is a legit AD, he needs to come up with the money.