At some point, you’ll want to fire your head coach. This is college football; if even our most gilded power programs can still breed malcontent fans in between national title runs, imagine how folks cheering for the 100-odd other teams that lose more than once a year feel. You probably don’t have to.
The volume of any FIRE COACH NOW screed is measured by the dollar amount your school would need to pay to ditch that hapless, dipshit fraud immediately. The amount of that buyout determines the tone and tenor of the hollering: The higher the buyout, the crazier it sounds to do it. The crazier it sounds, the angrier you are - because, of course, you’re right, We have to get rid of this deadbeat flop - and the more you holler. Got it so far?
There are only two real values in any buyout scenario: The number your schools’ boosters believe they can afford, and what they can’t. One group’s scraped-together $3 million is, well, not Auburn University, which is insane. The Tigers famously locked in a $43 million buyout of a football coach their power brokers have never been completely and collectively in support of, and almost instantly regretted it, creating our sport’s most endlessly renewable source of angst.
But there’s new hope for angry-but-broke institutions hankering to cut ties with little or nothing due at severance: the NCAA.
Sure, you know the NCAA as a purposefully overcomplicated governing body employed as a straw man by a billion dollar industry seeking to muddy up its business model. But if your athletic director suddenly needs to avoid paying a heap of heretofore legally required money to that now-former coach, Indianapolis can help!
In case you missed it, former Kansas football head coach David Beaty filed a federal lawsuit against KU in March over the school’s refusal to pay his buyout after firing him in November of 2018. This suit’s outcome could create a loophole to void coaching buyouts: NCAA violations.
Beaty and his attorneys declined multiple requests to comment for this story.
Most coaches have standard language in their contracts mentioning that NCAA violations on their watch could cancel their current and future paychecks, potentially nullifying a high-dollar buyout. The interpretation of each coach’s contract is different, but it turns out that the right lawyers are willing to argue even the tiniest violations can trigger a voided buyout.
You won’t believe the penny-ante hall monitor violations that can save a university millions.
Dumb, small violations, with little to no direct involvement by the coach in question. Even violations found after a coach is fired without cause. Even minor violations submitted by the university itself after their own self-initiated investigation.
If all this sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is - think of it as a cheat code for athletic directors to force-quit on an entire coaching era with no penalty.
The current NCAA investigation into Kansas athletics could create a blueprint for any school looking to instantly void most coaching buyouts as they’re currently phrased in contracts. Grab your local booster, and his lawyer: Here’s how Kansas’ actions could potentially show you, Joe Newmoney, how to void your own unwanted coach’s buyout. Fire walk with me:
1. Fire your coach for football reasons
Beaty was dismissed after 2018 by the Jayhawks with a 6-42 record over four seasons. That is, without argument, a bad run, even by Kansas standards. And you probably don’t care too much about a single chapter of the hefty bad Kansas football tome, but there’s a secret ending.
At the time of his hiring, Beaty was as safe a bet as Kansas football could have made: A former two-time KU assistant who returned to Lawrence via Texas A&M’s staff, with a reputation as a recruiting star in his home state of Texas. He took on a program in shambles following Charlie Weis’ reign of six wins in three years, and a roster heavily reliant on transfers.
And despite his record of just 2-22 in two years (one of those wins was Texas!), Kansas’ AD, Sheahon Zenger, liked Beaty’s progress in recruiting and development enough to extend his contract in December 2016, doubling Beaty’s annual salary to $1.6 million and creating a $3 million buyout.
If Zenger’s decision to offer extension felt hopeful at the time, it quickly became unnecessary at best and hilarious at worst. KU opened 2018 with a three-point loss to FCS Nicholls, but won FBS games against Central Michigan, Rutgers, and TCU. The 27-26 upset of the Horned Frogs was Kansas’ fourth Big 12 win in six seasons. Two weeks later the Jayhawks lost at home to Iowa State, 27-3, and Beaty was fired by new AD Jeff Long.
OK, here’s some journalism, pay attention:
In documentation obtained by Banner Society, Long specifically stated in correspondence with Beaty that he was being terminated without cause. In football terms: this means he was fired for losing football games, not violating his contract.
Under the terms of that new contract, Beaty was owed a $3 million buyout in the event he was fired without cause. That buyout was just a fraction of the dead money Kansas has piled on failed coaches in the last decade. Over 10 seasons, from 2009-’18, the Jayhawks won six Big 12 games and paid $14.4 million in buyout money to four ousted head coaches.
Beaty’s $3 million, per details from a federal lawsuit filed on his behalf, was to be paid out in six installments of $500,000, from December 2018 to May 2019. That’s seems pretty standard, right?
On November 18, 2018, Kansas hired Les Miles, signing the former LSU head coach to a five-year contract worth $2.775 million a year.
On November 20, Kansas contacted representatives for Beaty with two separate proposals, in an attempt to stretch the $3 million payment from six-month intervals to either one or two years. He declined.
On December 13, Beaty was notified by Kansas that the school could not pay his buyout because of “an ongoing internal investigation.”
To date, Beaty has not seen a penny of his $3 million buyout. How did Kansas manage to hang onto that money, at least to this point? Because that internal investigation found just enough of a something to hand over to NCAA enforcement.
2. Immediately act like you fired your coach for SOMETHING VERY SERIOUS (and not losing football games)
According to multiple sources, Beaty met with an NCAA investigator named James Garland in January 2019, after Kansas froze its first payment of the buyout.
So what was that meeting about? What violation cost Beaty $3 million? What salicious headline was about to emerge about KU? What injustice to the fabric of amateur athletics had yet another win-at-all-costs millionaire football coach committed?
When the NCAA delivered their notice of allegations against Kansas in September 2019, there were two charges against the football progra. The first alleged that a former video coordinator, Jeff Love, “provided on-field instruction to KU quarterbacks on two or three occasions in March of 2018.”
In addition, the NCAA claimed in the NOA that Love met with quarterbacks on Kansas’ roster “six to ten times in a meeting room at the football offices where they went over quarterback reads, defensive front and other concepts, and Love sent quarterbacks text messages containing instructional videos.”
That’s it. In the pantheon of college football coaching crimes, Beaty’s alleged transgressions might weigh heavier than Mark Richt’s butt dial, but just barely.
Also, you should know that when Kansas fired Beaty, Love was an on-field assistant coach, promoted in October 2018 when Beaty fired offensive coordinator Doug Meacham. Before that, Love, a former offensive assistant coach at Houston Baptist, was a video coordinator, a non-coaching position, and not one of the ten on-field coaches allowed to hold those alleged meetings. (Apropos of absolutely nothing, in September the Kansas City Star found the same behavior - instruction of KU football players by non-coaching staff members - on Les Miles’ staff.)
When NCAA enforcement builds a case to be submitted to their Committee on Infractions, they suggest a level for each violation, tiered from I-3 (1 is the most severe). The NCAA’s NOA alleged Love’s meetings were worth a Level II and charged Beaty with violating the NCAA’s head coaching responsibility bylaw. The NCAA suggested a Level II violation and a potential show-cause penalty for Beaty.
In correspondence obtained by Banner Society, Kansas claimed it didn’t have to pay a dime of the buyout, if ever, until the NCAA’s committee on infractions met at a later date to rule on the proposed violations. (For the unfamiliar, the COI is the weirdo private court where different departments of the NCAA act as a combination of prosecutor and judge in front of a jury they’ve selected, all in secret. Totally normal.)
3. Check your coach’s contract carefully
This brings us back to Beaty’s legal grounds against his former school. In March 2019, Beaty filed suit against Kansas in federal court.
Beaty’s lawyers claim he was fired without cause and is entitled to his buyout. Kansas claims it can’t pay him $3 million because of the alleged Level II violation discovered in its internal investigation, of which they notified Beaty after dismissing him, according to his own athletic director, without cause.
The specific language of Beaty’s contract with Kansas is what both sides will end up arguing in court:
Head Coach further agrees that if he is found by KU, Athletics, the Big 12 Conference or the NCAA to be involved in significant, or repetitive or intentional violations (or a pattern of conduct which may constitute or lead to a major NCAA violation) of NCAA regulations, whether while employed at KU or during prior employment at another NCAA member institution, Head Coach may be suspended without pay for a period of time and/or the employment of Head Coach maybe terminated for cause.
Kansas will likely argue that language qualifies them to withhold the payment. Beaty’s team will likely argue “significant, or repetitive or intentional violations” don’t apply to a single Level II violation.
And if the court rules in favor of Kansas, coaches across the country with similar language in their contracts could have buyouts voided in the exact same manner, if their schools conduct thorough enough searches after their firings. Which really means: If schools are desperate enough to invite always unpredictable NCAA enforcement into their henhouse, it could save them money.
4. Assess if this “NCAA deep system cleanse” strategy is right for your program by asking one question: How broke are we?
If haven’t found yourself stricken with sympathy for an already-rich football coach who did not win many football games, that’s fine and understandable. You can certainly argue whether Beaty deserved a $3 million buyout after winning six games in four years. But regardless of merit, that figure feels like a pittance in the scope of modern college football finance, especially in the Power 5. So why would Kansas go to these lengths to save a relatively small amount of cash?
A 2018 report by the Lawrence Journal-World found KU was in a deep hole financially, with football to thank:
The Journal-World spent months gathering and reviewing financial documents of Kansas Athletics Inc. as the program hopes to make the biggest bet in its history: $350 million of facility upgrades. The projects — about $300 million would be used to improve facilities for the school’s struggling football program — would add to Kansas Athletics’ debt totals and put more pressure on donors, who already are called upon to cover basic day-to-day operating expenses of the department.
The review found that Kansas Athletics lost money in 2017, and donors had to cover a more than $19 million operating deficit the department posted for the year.
Annnnd with some simple math, now it looks like Beaty’s $3 million might’ve felt impossible for KU to cover. Both the school and Long wanted badly to make a splash hire with Miles. The former LSU head coach’s $2.775 million annually is a steal relative to his peers in the SEC West, but that money still had to come from somewhere.
Beaty’s suit further alleges that Long and “at least one other senior Kansas Athletics official” openly discussed needing to “find something” to void Beaty’s buyout, such as, in the suit’s words, “a dead hooker ... in [Coach Beaty’s] closet.” (A statement released by Kansas said the “filing is full of false claims and factual misstatements.”)
5. Even if you can’t find a violation, just fake it
Here’s the good news for all of you message board megaboosters aspiring to mount your own coaching staff coups d’état: The idea Kansas and Jeff Long have hatched here might be strong enough to work even if it fails in court.
While the lawsuit has yet to go to trial -- the most recent development was a failed motion to dismiss by Kansas’ counsel in September -- its impact could be massive. If Kansas wins, and a jury finds that the discovered violation is enough to satisfy firing Beaty for cause, schools could enact similar “internal investigations” following their own staff dismissals to scrape for anything that could be submitted to NCAA enforcement as a potential violation.
Doing so might temporarily ding the program, but in the case of Kansas’ NOA, the suggested penalties for both proposed Level II violations against the football team fall on Love and Beaty, not KU football itself. If universities believe they can offer up minor violations under the guise of self-policing their own institutions and dodge even a minor punishment, this methodology is all of a sudden even more attractive.
Or … why not just bluff? If a school terminates a staffer with a substantial buyout, why not threaten a similar “internal investigation” in an effort to encourage the fired coach to negotiate a reduced buyout?
With the sheer volume of alleged Level II and III violations, most self-reported, leveled against Power 5 football programs on an annual basis, how hard would it be to find one rule bent? Like, say, a video coordinator leading a quarterbacks meeting ahead of becoming an actual assistant coach?
6. For added difficulty, use The NCAA Buyout Trick on the NCAA itself
Kansas has yet to submit their formal response to the NCAA’s notice. By rule, schools have 90 days to do so (the NCAA delivered the NOA on September 24), but it’s common to see schools file extensions.
A school’s formal response details whether or not they agree with or want to argue each particular charge. If they don’t want to fight a charge, they’ll “accept” it and state that they agree with NCAA enforcement. And because Kansas is now defending itself in an ongoing lawsuit vs. Beaty, it seems impossible that they can dispute both Level II charges.
Kansas is now in the position of having to root for the COI to agree that their own former coach committed the violations. Otherwise, Beaty’s lawsuit would gain more validity.
That’s OK, though, because Kansas is playing the long game. The school not only self-reported its program to the NCAA via its “internal investigation” after Beaty’s termination (an investigation which just so happened to enable them to freeze his buyout), but is also using that action as a defense to the NCAA against the much more severe allegations to its basketball program.
Because in the same notice of allegations against Beaty and Jayhawk football, Kansas basketball and Bill Self are currently facing multiple Level I violations - that’s the most serious level! - tied in large part to the ongoing federal case against several Adidas executives.
Essentially, they’re offering up their discovered violation by Beaty’s staff to the NCAA as an example of good citizenship, while likely arguing against every single accusation related to their basketball program’s involvement in the Adidas scandal.
To be clear: Kansas is vehemently disputing allegations of lack of institutional control against their athletic department as a whole … by pointing to the fact they submitted Love’s illicit quarterback meetings to the NCAA.
“Regarding the self-reported football violations, the University’s monitoring systems worked to identify the issues, and KU self-reported violations to the NCAA related to the conduct of two members of the previous coaching staff. Those involved in the football violations are no longer associated with the University.”
Don’t you see, NCAA? All of those allegations against the basketball program can’t hold water, because the same internal dragnet KU put on its football program for totally above-board, normal and even noble reasons would’ve caught all that (allegedly) wanton, brazen Adidas tomfoolery.
Wins and losses don’t really matter. It stands that if a federal court can’t get Beaty his $3 million for winning just six games, a lot of more successful head coaches have a major reason to worry. Too bad he didn’t coach basketball.