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Don Treadwell didn’t work a day last year at Miami University.
Just the year before, college leaders fired the former head football coach after the team had started 0-5 during the 2013 season. The RedHawks finished with a 0-12 season.
But in 2014 Miami University paid $147,750 to the former coach.
The college paid a total of $207,210 to Treadwell and Maria Fantanarosa, the women’s basketball coach, both of whom were fired the year before. In a public records request, this newspaper asked for the university’s 2014 payroll data and found severance payments to the former coaches.
The same year Miami paid severance to Treadwell, he was also paid $60,000 as a running backs coach at Kent State University, a public college in northern Ohio. Earlier this year, he was promoted to the offensive coordinator at the school making $140,000. Treadwell, who did not return calls for comment, will also get an additional $53,184 this year from Miami as part of his termination agreement.
“Unfortunately, it’s all too common that these athletic coaches … get golden parachutes when they’re fired,” said Sara Kilpatrick, the executive director for the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors.
She said professors are rarely given severance packages, unless they’re used to encourage retirement among faculty.
“That’s valuable money,” Kilpatrick said of the payouts. “When we’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to fire people, I think we have a real problem here.”
Treadwell’s contract, and the one used for Miami’s new head football coach Chuck Martin, are fairly standard across the Mid-American Conference, said Miami Athletic Director David Sayler.
“By and large, we’re very similar and consistent, we’re extremely similar to how contracts are across the league,” Sayler said.
The ‘golden parachutes’
Universities can pay big money just to fire coaches if they lose too often.
This newspaper requested the contracts for current head football coaches at eight of Ohio’s largest public schools with football teams. Each of those contracts include hefty termination packages for coaches if they’re forced to depart the team — even when they’re fired for shoddy performance.
If University of Cincinnati, Ohio State University and Miami University were to fire their football coaches this year, they could be on the hook to pay those men a combined $41 million, this newspaper’s analysis found. That amount of money would send roughly 2,000 state students to OSU for a year — tuition, room and board included.
Miami University’s head football coach contract stipulates he would be paid $900,000 if he were fired this year.
Urban Meyer, the coach of the 2015 National Championship college football team, would get the largest payout at $34 million on the off-chance he were to be fired this year. That payout goes down for every year he sticks with the team. If he were to be fired in 2017, he would only get $27 million under the contract.
Meyer just renewed his contract last week, boosting his pay to $5.8 million this year and extending his contract through the 2020 season.
Most universities place controls on what triggers payouts to fired coaches. For example, if Ohio State’s head coach were to be caught drinking on the job or participating in an “embarrassment or scandal,” the university wouldn’t give a dime of severance payout under the contract.
“We started tightening that down,” said OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith. He said the university began looking at controls for severance payouts years ago, before Meyer came on the scene. “We gleaned ideas from other contracts just to tie that down and be more definitive so that people could have clarity as to what would happen.”
Contracts also frequently include mitigation clauses. The Miami contract decreases severance pay depending on what Treadwell makes at his current job.
In recent years, UC officials haven’t had to payout a coach who was fired early; they’re the ones who got paid. When Butch Jones breached his contract and left UC for the top coaching spot at University of Tennessee in 2012, UC was paid out $1.4 million.
But, in turn, UC had to pay Texas Tech University $943,000 to buy out the contract of current head coach Tommy Tuberville in 2012.
Severance pay is just one in a list of perks that head football coaches have written into their contracts.
On top of his multi-million dollar salary, Meyer gets to use a private jet for 50 hours of personal use every year as well as a $1,200 monthly stipend for his cars. UC pays for food, lodging and travel for the spouse and legal dependents of the head football coach to attend any away games throughout the season.
Perks for head football coaching are plentiful, but that hasn’t stopped salaries for rising in recent years. Coaching pay has jumped by 34 percent since 2008 at U.S. colleges with football teams, said Amy Perko, the executive director for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which studies college athletic programs around the country.
“The growth rate for athletic spending outpaces the growth of academic spending at those same institutions,” Perko said.
For Ohio public schools with football teams, coaching salaries have increased 56 percent since 2008 to $75.1 million in 2013.
Smith, of Ohio State, said some of that growth is the outcome of money paid to head coaches through corporate sponsorships, which are written into the contracts of coaches like Meyer. Companies like Nike pay Meyer through his contract to wear Nike, and Coca-Cola pays him to speak at events, for example.
Perko said some states are exploring ways to curb athletic spending on college campuses. Lawmakers in Virginia are considering a bill that would cap how much students pay in fees for athletic programs.
Earlier this year, Gov. John Kasich assembled a task force to examine a series of college affordability issues. But the money Ohio’s public colleges spend — and lose — on sponsoring athletics, however, will not be broached. The state has no control over how colleges spend money on athletic programs, either, a spokesman with the Ohio Board of Regents said.
It’s one area, however, where professors want to see universities tighten their spending belts, said Kilpatrick of the professors’ association. A study by her organization released this year found Ohio State has the only self-sustaining athletic program among public universities in Ohio.
“We have all of these universities that aren’t Ohio State that are trying to spend money to become Ohio State,” Kilpatrick said. “It isn’t going to happen. These universities think they have to pay these big salaries because they want to be competitive but we’ve been getting the same results year after year.”