-Tommy Foltz and Evin Demirel
So, the Bret Bielema buy-out saga continues. His lawyers have responded to a motion by the Razorback Foundation, yada, yada, yada,…….we’ll get to that in a minute.
ONCE UPON A TIME:
They say the “two best days in a boat owner’s life are the day he bought the boat and the day he sold it.”
The same can be said about head coaches in college football.
Long ago, I ran into former Arkansas governor Mike Beebe at a charity golf tournament for Arkansas State University. It was before Bielema’s first game as the Razorback coach, in that honeymoon when you know he’s doing everything right because he’s still undefeated. Beebe told me something to the effect that “from what my friends up there tell me, you’ll be just as happy when you fire him as when you hired him.”
I disagreed with him as politely as I could disagree with a former governor and friend. But, at the end of the day, he was right and I was wrong. All of this begs the question, “Why do we pay ridiculous buyouts for people we know we’ll probably fire in the next five years because he didn’t have enough wins?”
HERE’S THE RUB…..
When it comes to the current litigation, there are two issues at hand: Venue and Contract Performance.
—Bielema: Filed in federal court
—Foundation: Says federal court has no jurisdiction.
The wording in Bielema’s negotiated buyout agreement states “Washington County, Arkansas, shall be the exclusive venue for any action arising under or relating to the Agreement.” But previous contracts between the foundation and Bielema stated Washington County Circuit Court would settle any disputes during the buyout period.
And we can assume all these legal documents were signed by Bielema and/or his lawyers.
—Bielema: Suing the Razorback Foundation for breaking its promise and failing to pay a little more than $7 million.
—Foundation: Essentially says Bielema didn’t do a good enough job searching for a job.
To get right to the point, Bielema’s attempts to gain employment have netted him a few hundred thousand dollars in the nearly three years he’s been gone. While he made between $100,000 and $250,000 as an assistant with the New England Patriots, he was interviewing for various head coaching jobs. “Bielema was under varying degrees of consideration for… Colorado, Michigan State, Florida Atlantic University, Boston College, the University of South Florida and Rutgers,” according to Sportico.com.
That range is about 10% of what he was making per season as the Head Hog.
—Chad Morris: Took an OC position at Auburn just weeks after he was summarily dismissed by Yurachek after going 4 and 18 in less than 2 seasons. He’ll bag $735,000 from Auburn per year, while still bagging $1.7 million per year from Arkansas.
—All the King’s Men: The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that all of Bielema’s assistants were fully employed at the same, or higher, salaries than what they had made at Arkansas by the football season following their firings.
—Bielema: According to the ADG, the Razorback Foundation wrote in a letter to Bielema that he had “made no efforts, diligent or otherwise, to obtain replacement employment of the same or similar character.”
SIGNS, SIGNS….EVERYWHERE ARE SIGNS…DO THIS, DON’T HIRE HIM….CAN’T YOU READ THE SIGNS?:
The ADG also reports that “shortly after he was fired by Arkansas,” Bielema “personally inquired about openings at Arizona State and Nebraska.” And his agent contacted a search firm assisting Arizona’s coaching search.
None of these schools, or the ones mentioned above, gave him the nod. Further, neither Bielema nor his agent were contacted by any schools during the offseason that followed the 2018 season.
Hmmmm…..let’s see….where to start…?
First, this must be just another part of the bizarro world of college football coaches, but I was always led to believe that the one seeking the job was the one who made the phone call. Apparently, that’s what Bielema believed about eight years ago as well. That was when he, out of the blue, personally contacted Jeff Long about the HC job as the embers from that John L. Smith debacle of a season began cooling down. At the time, without an earth-shattering buy-out sitting in the bank at Wisconsin (only $1 million), he was motivated to get a job.
Our buy-out, turns out, incentivizes him to not get a job.
But, really. Did BB actually think people would come knocking down his door and beg him to coach their team after taking Arkansas to a 29-32 record?
HERE’S THE DEAL:
This case could be thrown out over the venue argument. If so, Bielema has every right to re-file it in Washington County Circuit Court. Let’s hope he does.
The fact is, for the sake of the college football and basketball environment, the merits of this trial need to be aired for all to hear. The public will soon know how out of hand this whole business model has careened off the highway. And, we need it on the legal record.
What we need out here in spectator land is to know that when we suffer as fans because of a loss, the coach needs to jump in the boat with us and feel the pain — financially.
Maybe, just maybe, that’s actually starting to happen. Even if it took a damn pandemic to accelerate the long-needed change. Recently, because of overall athletic budget cuts at Florida State, Seminoles honcho Mike Norvell said he would take a temporary 25% haircut on his annual $4.4 million salary. Other schools are following suit, and there are signs that more permanant contract negotiating to save cash could be around the corner.
Plus, there are a few other schools (think Florida, Kansas and maybe South Florida) besides Arkansas that are refusing to allow this ridiculousness and are fighting monetary hemorrhaging in court.
It looks like we’re on the cusp of a trend against mega buyouts. Perhaps, there’s a silver lining in this godforsaken sports year yet.