Apple's Seedlings

Head coaches (or field managers or whatever they are called in some sport or other) usually have costly contracts of lengthly duration.  Presumably, this is okay if the team is performing well and if the head coach keeps on good terms with the "front office."

But what happens if the coach's team loses more than people think it should, or if there is stress between the coach and the front office?  The usual activity when this occurs is for the front office to "buy out" the remainder of the coach's contract, effectively firing him or her and giving a whopping severence pay package.

 But one team found a better way.  The coach had established a winning record and was a fan favorite, so the usual approach was not available.  A strategy had to be developed which would put the coach at the disadvantage.  It took a good deal of coordination, but they were able to pull it off.

This was a public institution, so they were able to get many people into discussing contract renewal.  These people had different constituencies.  They were the governor of the state, the CEO of the institution, and the head of athletics.  Each, under the guise of representing their "people," told different stories and wanted different provisions in the wording of the contract renewal.

After the dust settled, there was a provision in the proposed renewal that stated that the head coach would have to pay the institution a sizable indemnity if he left before the term of the contract was up. This was initially unacceptable to the head coach, but upon being assured by one of the negotiators for the institution that it would be removed or eased, the coach agreed to sign the contract.

It should have come as no surpise that the front office immediately began finding fault with the head coach.  They not only criticized him publically, but indicated that there would be delays in providing funds and other resources he needed to fulfill his obligations.  After more than a year of this, the coach was offered a position at another institution with other considerations such as better compensation and working conditions.  He took the position.

 Most of us know by this time who the principles in the above story are:  Rich Rodriguez moved from head football coach at the University of West Virginia to head football coach at the University of Michigan.  In the lawsuits and counter lawsuits that followed, it was clear that the contract he signed ruled (as perhaps it should) and that people told him things with the express purpose of getting him out without having to buy out his contract or incur the animosity of his fan base.

Other schools, professional teams, and the like have certainly learned from this.  The day of the team buying out a coach's contract is probably behind us.  A coaching job is now a liability and a coach will have to pay the institution which effectively fires him (even though he was forced to resign).One is remined of the line from the folk song "Pretty Boy Floyd": Some men rob you with a six-gun.  Some with a fountain pen.

And sports, including players, coaches, fans, and even front offices, are all losers because of this.


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