The University of Tennessee athletic department often prides itself on its business model. It's one of a few in the country that is not only self-sufficient, but can afford to give back to the institution.
Since 2005, and after a flurry of prominent dismissals that started with baseball coach Rod Delmonico's in June 2007 and reached its fourth casualty Monday with the firing of Delmonico's successor, Todd Raleigh, that model has required a fund reserved to make the department's hiring mistakes go away with money.
By December 2012, when former football coach Phillip Fulmer receives his final paycheck from a $6 million buyout, UT will have paid $9,100,385.53 in buyout money to the five high-profile coaches UT athletic director Mike Hamilton has fired. Tack on the $873,014 UT paid to the coaches' respective staffs, and the figure is close to $10 million.
Large buyouts for high-profile coaches, of course, aren't unique to just UT. University of Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino recently signed a contract that included a buyout of $18 million. According to the Chicago Tribune, Notre Dame paid former coach Charlie Weis $6,638,403 after his 2009 firing. Even SEC baseball coaches such as Louisiana State's Paul Mainieri have buyout clauses that could potentially reach into the millions.
What makes the Vols a notable case is how their buyouts have piled up and overlapped during the past six years.
Fulmer's buyout, the product of a contract extension he received one year before his dismissal, makes up for the lion's share of the total, but it hasn't burdened the department as much as the one UT owed former basketball coach Buzz Peterson in 2005.
UT was forced to take out a loan to pay Peterson the $1.39 million he was owed within 30 days of his firing. Because it was so late in the fiscal year and Peterson's predecessor, Jerry Green, was still owed $200,000, UT had no other choice, Hamilton said at the time. Subsequently, UT paid nearly $80,000 in interest on the short-notice loan.
Future Hamilton-drafted contracts have allowed UT to string out buyout payments, but that hasn't stopped the tabs from piling up.
Delmonico, who logged 18 years with the Vols, and Raleigh, who failed to make the postseason in his four years at UT, received similar buyouts that will combine for $763,657.53 by the time Raleigh's contract expires June 30, 2012. Both coaches received their final year of base salary plus whatever they were owed in broadcast and shoe/apparel payments over a 13-month period.
Tracking the buyouts
University of Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton has fired five high-profile coaches since 2005. Here’s how much he paid them off, and how long it took to do so.
* BUZZ PETERSON, men’s basketball
Fired: March 2005; Owed: $1.39 million; Time allotted: 30 days
* ROD DELMONICO, baseball
Fired: June 2007; Owed: $430,000; Time allotted: One year
* PHILLIP FULMER, football
Fired: November 2008; Owed: $6 million; Time allotted: Four years
* BRUCE PEARL, men’s basketball
Fired: March 2011; Owed: $948,728; Time allotted: 15 months
* TODD RALEIGH, baseball
Fired: Monday; Owed: $331,657.53l; Time allotted: 13 months
Source: University of Tennessee
There was nothing in writing when UT opted to fire men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl, whose contract was torn up after his involvement with numerous NCAA violations came to light. Ultimately, UT and Pearl negotiated a settlement that will amount to $948,728 over a 15-month period.
Until June 30, Pearl will receive the same paychecks he received throughout his final season with the Vols, stemming from an annual salary of $1.45 million, which is 25 percent less than his original salary of $1.9 million because of self-imposed sanctions. Starting in July and ending June 30, 2012, Pearl will receive monthly payments of $50,000 and will also have his health insurance covered.
UT hasn't just been paying buyouts to the coaches it's fired. When it hired football coach Derek Dooley last year, it covered the $500,000 Dooley owed to his former employer, Louisiana Tech. It did the same with new men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin, who owed Missouri State $200,000.
Some money, though, has been recouped, as former football coach Lane Kiffin's abrupt departure to Southern Cal netted UT $800,000. Former Kiffin assistant Frank Wilson, who left for a job at Louisiana State before Kiffin's departure, owed UT $75,000 to escape from his contract.
Both Dooley's and Martin's contracts include hefty buyouts if UT opts to part ways before the end of their respective deals, but the department also has protected itself more than it did with Kiffin.
Dooley would be owed $5 million if UT fired him before Feb. 15, 2013, $4 million into 2014 and 2015 and $2.5 million after Feb. 15, 2015. If Dooley resigned before Feb. 15, 2012, he would owe UT $4 million; $3 million if he resigned the following year and $1 million after February 2014.
If Martin is fired without cause, he will receive 60 percent ($780,000) of his base salary for however many years remain on the contract. If Martin left for another job during the first three years of his contract, he would owe UT two times his base salary ($2.6 million). If he leaves during the fourth year and beyond, he would owe $1.3 million.
If Martin is fired with cause, UT does not owe him anything.