Coaches’ Contracts: Overrated?

April 14, 2008

In my world, there’s a scent of irony floating through that just as I begin a series on coach contracts, we come to find out that not everyone thinks they’re necessary.

Penn State and Joe Paterno have decided after weeks of hand wringing over him having just one year left on his contract that he doesn’t need one. PSU’s position is that his seniority is supposed to speak for itself, a contract is “not necessary or practical,” and not having a contract doesn’t imply a retirement date. Paterno, for his part, says that he doesn’t need a contract, trusts the university to do the right thing, and that if he needed a contract in order to keep his job then he’s in the wrong place.

Whether it speaks for itself or not, his seniority is certainly self-evident.

Across the border in West Virginia, neither Bill Stewart nor Bob Huggins has a contract with WVU. Apparently both have handshake and verbal agreements with AD Ed Pastilong that they won’t leave, and they are only bound by term sheets that outline their pay. Granted, term sheets can be binding legal contracts (and are in this case), but they don’t cover nearly as many legal contingencies as contracts do. They’re just bullet point outlines, after all.

Stewart and Huggins are West Virginia natives and each has known Pastilong for more than 30 years. Perhaps this is a special case in which contracts are not needed. Given Stewart’s coaching history and age, it’s unlikely that a school like a Michigan will come to poach him, and he doesn’t even have an agent. They’re probably fine with him. Huggins is a more difficult case; it’s not so much that he’d leave for greener pastures soon, but his history of misconduct should raise red flags to anyone with a proper risk management policy regardless of personal histories.

West Virginia should know better, given the messy departures of both John Beilein and another West Virginia native, Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s contract clearly states beginning on page 22 the terms of his buyout. The only way he could take another coaching job before August 31, 2008 and not have to pay the buyout is if WVU breached the contract. The agreement has no room for ambiguity there. Yet, thanks to an alleged verbal agreement with Pastilong that the buyout wouldn’t be enforced, the university is now trapped in court and no doubt spending quite a bit on legal fees trying to get the money that Rodriguez is contractually obliged to pay. Rodriguez said the school didn’t fulfill promises it has made to him over the years, but without them being in writing, I doubt he’ll win his case in court.

Rich Rodriguez: willing to fight in court to save Michigan boosters $4 million that they likely are more than willing to pay. Image CC by Flickr user CA2.

The proceedings with Beilein and Rodriguez should be enough evidence for the school that having all agreements be in writing is by far the best way to go. As I said, I don’t anticipate Stewart leaving for another job, but what if T. Boone Pickens throws a mountain of cash at Huggins after the guy who replaces Sean Sutton gets fired? Huggins’ term sheet has a $1 million buyout, but no one knows what handshakes and verbal agreements might be on the side.

The rumblings up at Penn State say that a movement to get Paterno out is building steam. The only thing allowing him to coach as long as he wants at this point is the desire of Penn State not to look bad for pushing a legend out the door. Based on how shameless big time college football powers have become lately, that may not be enough. At least the school hasn’t gone so far as to try to silence critics of Paterno.

In this day and age where legal ninjas roam the countryside, the importance of written contracts should be self-evident. The potential for ugliness is greater at Penn State, but I hope WVU doesn’t make a habit of this, or we’ll probably end up with more never-ending coach litigation sagas, and no one wants that.

A legal ninja (artist’s conception).

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Orange and Blue Review

April 14, 2008

Well, only a few of my pictures from the game came out since my camera is just a simple point-and-shoot deal and not a professional setup where I can adjust brightness and color. I also got home late last night so I haven’t been able to see all the coverage from ESPN that I recorded, but I have seen some. I can just tell you a few quick impressions from the game.

The Crowd

It was a record crowd, at over 61,000 for the spring game. If you’re wondering why the crowd didn’t react to what the GameDay guys were saying despite hearing their voices echoing through the stadium at times is because you couldn’t hear them that well in the stands. Even when Chris Fowler counted off for the third pregame race and the people in the stands were quiet, it was still somewhat difficult to hear him. Despite the increased numbers, it was still a standard Spring game crowd: they cheered for only for the offenses and started filing out after halftime.

The GameDay set roughly 20 minutes before the game. As you can see, the location wasn’t conducive to a standard GameDay experience.

The Races for a Scholarship

Everyone around me in the stands wondered why Fowler only announced the final heat participants, and it appears from what the TV guys yakking with Urban Meyer said is that they saved the fastest students for the last race against Chris Rainey. It’s too bad they didn’t just start that heat with a whistle because though Rainey would still have won, the students in it did look pretty fast. It did worry some people that Louis Murphy didn’t win by much, but we gave him a pass since he’s been bothered by an ankle sprain this Spring.

Who’s red shorts? I gotta recruit red shorts to come play.

The Passing Game

It didn’t look much like anything we’ll see this Fall since so many guys like Percy Harvin and Cornelius Ingram were out. Tim Tebow is clearly better than Cam Newton still, which makes sense and all but the gap is unsettlingly large. Newton’s nadir was rifling a pass intended for 5’6″ Brandon James about 9 feet high. Still, he’s big (looks like he’s been on the JaMarcus Russell diet this winter), and we’ll see him carrying the ball to pick up tough yards so Tebow won’t have to. All you need to know is that despite the teams having roughly equal receivers, Tebow threw two interceptions and still had the blue team up 28-0 in offensive points by the end of the third quarter.

If the game is any indication, we’ll see a lot of roll outs, sideline patterns, and Riley Cooper on the slant route. Until everyone gets back, though, we won’t know what the total picture will be. I do have a hunch though that we’ll see a ton of Harvin.

Florida may have the rattiest no-contact jerseys in the country. Tebow’s and John Brantley’s have the numbers fading off the front, and here you can see Newton’s with a hole.

The Running Game

Based on who played and for how long, the depth chart here something along the lines of:

  1. Kestahn Moore
  2. Rainey
  3. Mon Williams
  4. James
  5. Emmanuel Moody

James and Moore started for the orange, and Rainey and Williams started for the blue. Moody then replaced Moore in the orange’s rotation.

As I understand it, the game was a microcosm of Moody’s spring: it began slow, got better, but was marred by putting the ball on the ground. I think we can all give the “Yeah, but we got Moody” talk a rest for a while. Moore will almost certainly start the opener against Hawaii, and Williams will be able to get some tough yards up the middle.

What I didn’t get was rushing Rainey up the middle. We saw Meyer run James up the middle some last year too, and I can’t understand having undersized speed guys go between the tackles. Sure it’s unexpected, but that’s because it’s a bad idea. Rainey will be at his best on the edges in a Harvin-like role. And he will be very, very good.

The Defense

You never get to learn anything about the defense as a whole in the spring game since they can’t go after the quarterback full-on and there’s a lot more rotating of guys than normal. Carlos Dunlap has gotten a lot better, having added some technique to his natural skills, but it’s hard to say too much more.

So, I’ll just say how funny it was to see Tebow lay out Major Wright on Lorenzo Edwards‘ interception return. What you couldn’t see on TV was Wright tugging at Tebow’s sleeve after the play, evidently trying to remind him that it doesn’t just mean that he can’t be hit but that he shouldn’t be hitting other people either. He then got quite a lecture from Dan Mullen, more than what you saw on TV.

A coach’s nightmare: the returning Heisman-winning quarterback in his no-hit jersey winding up to lay out the hard-hitting starter at free safety in the spring game.

Special Teams

Chas Henry has a monster leg now. If he can be consistent, he’ll be a humongous asset in the field position game.

Caleb Sturgis definitely has a big leg, but he’s got to find accuracy. Jonathan Phillips will probably be the kicker to begin the year, but Sturgis will almost certainly do the kickoffs.

Overall

No serious injuries, and everyone had a good time. You really can’t ask for much more out of a spring game, especially when you get 4 hours of free publicity on ESPN while you’re at it.