viewpoint Edsall chipping in for Dunn is odd, but understandable
Among the various scoops, financial reports and responses to NCAA allegations this past week, only one matter had this longtime observer of UConn athletics go “Whoa!” and spit up in his Cocoa Krispies.
It was this, in Hartford Courant columnist Mike Anthony’s generous narrative about Randy Edsall’s generosity in paying one-third of offensive coordinator John Dunn’s new two-year contract: “There’s no coach-in-waiting language in Dunn’s contract but several sources say Edsall’s vision includes the following: coach a few more years, maybe three, get the program headed in the right direction and hand it over to Dunn.”
Randy Edsall has a 4-20 record in the two years since returning to UConn, including two wins against FBS schools.
Edsall bolted UConn in the middle of the Arizona night in January 2011. Yes, he has issued his mea culpa. Yes, he said it was a decision he regrets. Nevertheless, his desertion in the desert planted the seed that flowered into the UConn football disaster that, in turn, plays a significant role in the difficult financial straits of the school’s athletic program.
At this point, Edsall should be the last person to pick his successor. His eyes should be on the 2019 schedule, where there certainly are games to be won in the third year of his long-term vision of program building.
The news that the UConn athletic ran a deficit of $40 million in 2108 — $40 million revenue, $80 million in spending — wasn’t surprising at all. That’s where it has stood in recent years, largely the result of losing out in conference realignment. UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz called the continuing losses unsustainable.
Eventually, the future of football and other sports will be on the table. In speaking with reporters, athletic director David Benedict said as much on Saturday. So Edsall has done what he needed to do to sustain his vision. And Benedict accepted what he had to accept to keep the boat afloat. I value the pragmatism.
It is as pragmatic, in the end, as the decision to fire basketball coach Kevin Ollie was in a move to pay none of the roughly $11 million remaining on his contract. Ollie deserved to get fired. It absolutely would have been fair to split the remaining money on the contract. Didn’t happen. An arbitrator will decide all or nothing now. On Friday, UConn publicly accepted the NCAA allegations that Ollie lied about a professional trainer/personal friend working out his players and about recruiting phone calls by Ray Allen and Rudy Gay to Hamidou Diallo. Those alleged lies rise to a Level I violation.
Don’t believe it will happen now, but could you imagine if UConn gets hammered with an $11 million Ollie buyout on top of a $40 million annual deficit?
Dunn is 35. He has completed one year as an offensive coordinator, a year when the Huskies finished 87th in total offense and 111th in scoring offense among 129 FBS schools. His best player, freelancing quarterback David Pindell, is gone. Dunn is bright. Let’s see more. Good grief, let’s see a helluva lot more from Dunn and REII.
Edsall is giving up $150,000 from his contract the next two years to make that money available to raise Dunn’s salary from $300,000 to $450,000. Among the seven public universities required to disclose information, this will rank Dunn second in pay among AAC assistants. He is adding an associate head coach title, too — all this to negate a potential move to a Power Five school.
“It is unusual,” Benedict told Hearst Connecticut Media. “And also in the world of college athletics, especially in football and basketball, I think it’s in some ways inspirational that somebody that is charged with the responsibility of running a football program, which there’s a lot invested in, is willing to sacrifice their own situation in what’s best for the program.
“Randy said this is what I want to do, this is why I want to do it. There wasn’t a whole lot of conversation about it. I wish we were in a position where we had a bunch of money and I could say, ‘Hey Randy, I appreciate that, but you don’t need to do that.’ But the reality is that’s not the situation we’re in right now.”
The reality is that Benedict, hopeful that a new AAC media deal will put a nice dent in the losses, said the athletic department must examine how it’s structured. Football, with all its possibilities, is responsible for nearly $9 million in 2018 losses.
“It’s probably one of the most difficult things you can do as an athletic director and an athletic department,” Benedict said of cutting sports. “We’re going to look at all opportunities to try to deal with this prior to that, but sometimes there’s inevitabilities.”
Edsall, whose five-year deal expires after the 2021 season, has made roughly $20 million since the turn of the century coaching football. He’s OK. His $1.1 million was listed 80th among 129 FBS coaches in salary in 2018. Take the 65 Power 5 schools and the AAC teams that finished ahead of UConn in 2018. Take a few other Group of Five institutions like Boise State and BYU. Add in the $5 million a financially strapped UConn had to pay Bob Diaco to mercifully leave. Consider that Edsall wasn’t in line to coach any Power 5 school in December 2016. While it may appear he is a bargain, the truth is Edsall is getting paid about what he should.
Narratives are always evolving. Edsall spent all season talking about the necessary pains of investment in playing young players too young to handle the FBS competition. And then he fired defensive coordinator Billy Crocker, defensive backs coach Curome Cox and the strength coaches anyway. After setting records for defensive incompetence, changes were in order. The hiring of Lou Spanos as the new DC — along with a $1 million donation to football by Chris Fraser and Edsall paying for Dunn’s raise — certainly fit into some good spin for a football program that desperately needs it.
There has been no continuity at the OC position over the last several years and Dunn gives UConn some quality reassurance. Props on the football front. Edsall has been mocked nationally for all those in-game bonuses that bolstered his 2018 deal by $56,000. “There’s another two grand for scoring first!” It went on weekly and had to sting.
So the $300,000 over two years and matching 10 percent of donations toward $1 million in football building renovations is well-thought-out on the PR front. Edsall, it should be noted, will receive a $300,000 retention bonus in December. So it also is kind of a wash.
“It’s clear by demonstrations and his latest gestures that Randy is all in,” Benedict said. “Randy is here for the right reasons.”
I’ll buy that. What I’m not buying is any over-the-top narrative that this is some saintly stroke of philanthropy, or that Edsall’s return was never about the money … good grief, he has made more than $2 million to go 2-20 against FBS schools.
A coach paying out of his pocket for another coach isn’t a great look for a school. It makes a major university look incredibly vulnerable. You wonder how opponents across the board will use that in recruiting.
Here’s something else to consider: While a judge ruled in favor of UConn in the Corey Edsall nepotism case with the state ethics board, it is under appeal. Benedict confirmed that Corey, the tight ends coach, reports to Dunn on a day-to-day football basis.
“But any decision that is made relative to Corey financially, as with all the position coaches, I have to sign off on,” Benedict said. “John Dunn can’t give Corey a raise.”
Still, it is interesting. Corey Edsall now answers to a man who is receiving $150,000 a year out of his dad’s pocket. I say this without a hint of cynicism and with all pragmatism: When money is tight, you do what you have to do.