Some time in the next 60 days, Jay Graham — or his new employers at Florida State — are required to send the University of Tennessee a check for about $85,000.
The payment for poaching the running backs coach, who left UT earlier this week, is a rare occasion in which the Tennessee athletic department has profited from the buyout provisions written into a coach’s contract.
Firing former coach Derek Dooley and eight of the nine assistants on his staff last season was considerably more costly.
Even though virtually all of Dooley’s staff members found new jobs — often, quite good jobs — UT will still owe the ex-coaches $7.5 million over the next three years, according to an analysis of contracts by the News Sentinel.
Former special teams coordinator Charlie Coiner, the only Dooley staff member yet to find a new job, received his last check from Tennessee in February. Graham, by virtue of breaking his new contract, owes money to UT.
But every other member of the 2012 staff will receive a check from UT this month — ranging from an estimated $6,250 for cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley, who now has the same job at Kentucky, to $102,040 for Dooley, who is wide receivers coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
The bulk of the buyout money will go to Dooley, who will receive that generous monthly check through December 2016, adding up to a cool $5 million. Former offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, now at Arkansas, will receive $50,000 monthly through December 2013 from UT on top of the $550,000 annually he makes at Arkansas.
Unlike Dooley and Chaney, every other coach was contractually required to attempt to find new employment to defray the cost of their UT buyout payments.
But even though every coach under contract found a new job, some were able to offer their new employer a discount funded by UT.
For example, Ansley will make $125,000 this year at Kentucky. Because he was scheduled to make $200,000 with the Vols, UT will owe Ansley the $75,000 difference.
In 2014, when Ansley’s UT buyout is no longer a factor, he will make $250,000 at Kentucky.
Former safeties coach Josh Conklin will make $100,000 as defensive coordinator at Florida International in 2013, but his salary will jump to $200,000 in 2014. Conklin will get an estimated $10,417 monthly from UT this year.
Of course, that money is pocket change compared to Dooley and the second-most expensive fired coach, former defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri.
Sunseri landed a new job as defensive ends coach at Florida State, where he’s paid $199,233 annually. That still leaves $1.4 million left for UT to pay from Sunseri’s monster three-year contract he signed before the 2012 season. That’s more than every other assistant combined.
There are some caveats to the News Sentinel’s data:
Sunseri could get a raise or a new job in 2014 or 2015, chipping away at the money owed by UT
Other coaches could earn bonuses at their new jobs, wages that they are contractually required to report to UT.
In one instance, UT’s financial obligation is estimated. Former UT defensive line coach John Palermo took a new job at Pittsburgh, which does not release contracts as a matter of policy and is not required to do so by Pennsylvania’s public records law. For the purposes of the calculation, Palermo was assigned an estimated salary of $150,000 at Pitt.
Those exceptions aside, every figure in the News Sentinel’s analysis comes from contracts requested through open records laws, published reports, or both. When the costs are tallied up three years from now, the price tag should be in the neighborhood of $7.5 million.
UT spokesperson Jimmy Stanton said he did not know of any discussions with Dooley about settling the buyout with a lump-sum payment, as Ole Miss recently did for former coach Houston Nutt.
Stanton also said all the buyout expenses will be accounted for in the 2012-13 fiscal year rather than spread out through 2016.
Contractual buyout costs are nothing new in the rarefied air of big-time college athletics, and many athletic directors simply see them as a cost of doing business.
Former Auburn coach Gene Chizik, only two years removed from a national championship when he was fired after last season, is due $7.5 million. His assistants could be paid as much as $3.5 million on top of that.
Other coaching casualties from 2012 also were well-compensated, including Joker Phillips at Kentucky ($2.55 million), Skip Holtz at South Florida ($2.5 million) and Ellis Johnson at Southern Mississippi ($2.1 million).
Assistant coaches also can be costly. Multiyear contracts for football assistants were rare not long ago; now they’re routine. All of the assistants hired by new Tennessee coach Butch Jones are on two-year deals.
If one of the new assistants leaves the staff while under contract, he owes UT 33 percent of his pay for the time remaining in the current contract year — hence, the requirement that Graham compensate Tennessee to the tune of about $85,000.
If fired by UT, the assistant would be paid his salary in monthly installments for the remainder of the contract. However, the fired coach would be required to make a good-faith effort to find other employment to defray UT’s expenses. An identical provision was in the contract of every Dooley staff member except Chaney.
What about Jones’ buyout? His agreement with Tennessee runs for six years, through Feb. 28, 2019.
If Jones leaves for another job, he would owe UT damages of $4 million after the 2013 season, $3 million after the 2014 or 2015 seasons and $2 million after the 2016, 2017 or 2018 seasons.
And if UT fires him?
Tennessee would owe Jones $2 million for each year remaining on the contract, although the amount would be defrayed by Jones’ future employment.
So, in the unfortunate event that Jones’ has a three-year tenure that follows Dooley’s trajectory and the Vols make another change after the 2015 season, Jones would leave UT with a $6 million gift — one million more than his predecessor.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.