Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
The decision to terminate Bob Davie’s contract with two years remaining as UNM’s football coach will come with a price.
That’s not news.
Exactly how much will be paid out and who is actually footing the bill at a university that has covered about $2 million in athletic department buyouts over the past eight years, is expected to be revealed at a UNM Board of Regents meeting Tuesday morning.
The buyout is expected to be north of $800,000 for Davie, who was the state of New Mexico’s highest paid public employee with an annual base salary and compensation package of about $823,690 – $422,690 in base salary, $200,000 for media rights agreements, $100,000 related to the university’s apparel deal with Nike and $100,000 for “program promotion” in the community.
While the UNM regents haven’t formally voted, university policy mandates they approve any personnel buyouts of more than $400,000 and it seems apparent Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez was already given a green light when he went forward with ending the Davie era on Nov. 25.
“We had to reach out to certain board members to find out their feel, find out what their expectations were because to get into this kind of communication (with Davie), we had to make sure they understood where we were going,” Nuñez said on Nov. 26. “… so over the last 24 to 48 hours we’ve had those discussions.”
The firing of four high-profile UNM Athletic Department employees and coaches has cost the university about $2 million since 2011 when Davie’s predecessor, Mike Locksley, was fired and more recently highlighted by the $1 million buyout of former men’s basketball coach Craig Neal.
The vast majority of those costs were covered by main campus funds, not the athletics department itself.
The rising cost of doing college athletics business, and the growing market demand for multi-year, guaranteed contracts for coaches, isn’t something that has snuck up on UNM.
In a July 20, 2014, Journal article under the headline: “UNM athletics struggles to balance budget,” former UNM President Robert G. Frank expressed concerns.
“It’s a value judgment,” Frank said. “I personally think we pay too much for many head coaches, and I think this nuclear race for coaches’ salaries is way out of line. … It’s creating real problems on the national scene and, as a microcosm, I see that here at the University of New Mexico. When our faculty is struggling with the kinds of salaries we have there, and we have some of these big salaries for coaches, it’s a real issue for us.”
A year and a half later, UNM announced a Davie contract extension through 2021, adding the two years that the university is now on the hook for.
In a June 2017 article posted on AthleticDirectorU.com by Jason Belzer, a sports attorney who represents coaches, Belzer spells out the details of the modern coaching contract and why so many are structured the way they are, including the risk of the profession itself.
“The coaching business is not for the faint of heart,” Belzer writes. “There is no other industry in the world where almost 20% of top-level leadership gets terminated on a yearly basis.”
Monday, Belzer noted to the Journal that the “market dictates pay rate” and that five years is an industry standard for contracts for coaches because that is the time frame a college student can cycle through a program (the NCAA allows athletes five years to participate in four seasons with a college team).
He added, “It’s pretty much universally proven in business and organizational behavior that it takes 4-7 years for an effective strategy to take root.”
Looking at recent Lobo coaching contracts, it’s a philosophy UNM has bought into for the high-profile sports, often leaving the financially strapped university in a tough spot.
When Locksley was fired, former Athletic Director Paul Krebs said the $750,000 owed to Locksley – $300,000 in the form of a contractual buyout and $450,000 owed as salary for the remainder of the contract year he was fired in – would be covered by local boosters.
UNM confirmed on Monday that the $300,000 buyout portion for Locksley was covered by both athletics and main campus funds. The rest of his salary owed was covered by athletics.
In March 2016, one year into a four-year contract extension she signed the previous summer, former Lobo women’s basketball coach Yvonne Sanchez was fired and paid a buyout of $150,000 over 12 months.
A UNM spokesperson on Monday said it was unclear whether Sanchez’s 12 monthly buyout installments of $12,500 were covered by athletics or a main campus department.
When Neal was fired March 31, 2017, Krebs told the Journal, “The expectation is the buyout will be covered by athletics.”
Instead, the Journal discovered and reported in April 2018 that the buyout was actually being covered by funds from a main campus reserve account.
Neal collected his final check from UNM in March and is now an assistant coach at Nevada under former Lobos head coach Steve Alford.
In December 2018, former Deputy Athletic Director Brad Hutchins was let go and paid a $175,000 buyout. Monday, UNM confirmed that was not money paid by athletics.