David Climer: Tennessee racks up buyouts, not wins

11:23 AM, Nov 21, 2012   |    comments
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By David Climer | The Tennessean

When he is identified and hired, the new football coach will be the highest-paid person at the University of Tennessee.

The second-highest paid person at UT?

The former football coach.

For winning 15 games and losing 21 times over the past three seasons, Derek Dooley walks away from Vol Ball with $5 million in parting gifts. In January, Dooley will start collecting monthly installments of $104,166.66 through 2016.

This golden parachute has a definite orange tint.

It doesn't end with Dooley. Assuming offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is not retained by the next head coach, he is owed about $645,000. Seven other current assistants are working under multiyear contracts and would be owed a combined $3.71 million. That cost would be reduced if those coaches were hired elsewhere.

And don't forget former Vols wide receiver coach Charlie Baggett. When Dooley canned him after last season, Baggett walked away with $425,000, which is being paid in 24 equal installments. For that kind of money, Baggett should have stuck around as a consultant to teach Cordarrelle Patterson how to read pass coverage and run the right route.

Here's the kicker: It's money UT doesn't have. At the press conference on Sunday where Dooley's firing was announced, athletics director Dave Hart allowed that the Vols are in a financial crunch. After operating at a loss in the 2011-12 fiscal year, UT athletics has a reserve of only about $1.9 million, far below much of the SEC competition.

"We are in a tough position financially," Hart said.

So where is the money coming from for Dooley's buyout? Chancellor Jimmy Cheek announced on Tuesday that the athletics department will not make its usual $6 million annual contribution to campus funds for the next three years, which should loosen things up.

Otherwise, they might want to start by looking under the cushions on the sofa. Maybe Bernie Madoff has a few ideas.

You've heard of throwing good money after bad? UT takes it to a new level. The Vols throw good money after bad coaches. They're running an entitlement program for failure.

UT isn't alone. Big buyouts have become standard operating procedure in college sports. After getting fired at Notre Dame in 2009, Charlie Weis pocketed $6.6 million in parting gifts. When Illinois cleaned house of its coaches in football and men's and women's basketball, the three were owed a combined $7.1 million.

Give the Vols credit. While UT may have fallen out of the national rankings, it continues to set the standard for buyouts. The school still owes Phillip Fulmer one more installment on the $6 million exit fee he got after being fired in 2008. No sooner does Fulmer come off the books than Dooley goes on.

And it's not just football. Despite the fact that he was fired after lying to NCAA investigators, ex-Vols basketball coach Bruce Pearl kept getting $50,000 a month from UT until the pipeline ran dry in July.

Sometimes you wonder if UT is playing with Monopoly money when it writes these contracts. The man who hired those coaches and brokered those deals, former Athletics Director Mike Hamilton, walked away with $1.335 million after what was termed a "negotiated resignation." That's like saying Bonnie and Clyde used to make "negotiated withdrawals" from banks.

I guess it could've been worse. When Buzz Peterson was fired as Vols basketball coach after the 2005 season, UT had to take out a loan to cover the $1.39 million it owed him within 29 days of his ouster. Why? Because UT was still on the hook to Peterson's predecessor, Jerry Green, for $200,000 at the time. The short-term loan cost UT almost $80,000 in interest.

Contrast all those colossal buyouts with the comparatively meager sum -- $800,000 -- Lane Kiffin owed UT when he bolted for Southern Cal after one season in 2009.

All told, the extreme makeover of UT athletics during the past five years could wind up costing more than $20 million in buyouts.

It's nice work if you can get it ... even if you don't have to work to get it.

David Climer's columns appear on Wednesday, Friday, Sunday and Monday. Contact him at 615-259-8020 or dclimer@tennessean.com.

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