Coaching Contracts and Buyout Clauses

The lost concept of contract in college coaching, especially in high-profile Division I sports, has been bemoaned by many a sports commentator.  It seems that each year a prominent coach signs a lucrative multi-year contract and pledges eternal allegiance to that school.  A year to two later, that same coach leaves for an even higher paying job.  While a student-athlete must gain the consent of his coach and school to transfer elsewhere, a coach is seemingly a free agent every year.

Why don’t schools sue these mercenary coaches for breach of contract?  After all, many coaching contracts contain buyout clauses.  The rational is often simple - the school does not want an unhappy, disinterested coach running a revenue-producing sports team.  However, West Virginia University (WVU) has recently provided some interesting news on this front.  First, WVU demanded that its former basketball coach, John Beilein, pay $1.5 million to the WVU Foundation (his buyout clause called for a $2.5 million payment) when Beilein left WVU to become head coach at Michigan.  Now, in a nasty, well-publicized dispute, West Virginia is seeking to enforce a $4 million buyout clause against former football coach Rich Rodriguez, who also left for greener pastures at Michigan.  This case is so rife with legal issues it has spawned its own blog, West Virginia University v. Richard Rodriguez, The Legal Perspective.

The Rodriguez case is interesting due to the fact that Rodriguez accepted the Michigan position without a resolution as to his buyout clause, apparently failing to recall the Beilein case.  One would think a coach, or his agent, would seek private financing of such a buyout, similar to the golden parachute provided to Kelvin Sampson by Indiana University boosters.  The Rodriguez case is also intriguing, as should the case proceed to trial and verdict, the balance of power between coaches and universities may be significantly altered.

This issue should be a concern to UConn football fans.  Despite signing a new contract in February, Randy Edsall is on many schools’ short lists, and was even mentioned in conenction with the Michigan job.  Edsall’s contract contains the following buyout provisions, triggered if Edsall accepts a position during the term of this agreement as a head coach at a NCAA Division I institution, or as a head coach in any professional league:

  • $1.5 million if Edsall leaves in 2008;
  • $1.25 million in 2009;
  • $500,000 in 2010;
  • $400,000 in 2011; and
  • $250,000 in 2012.

Whether UConn could, or would actually enforce this buyout clause in the event Edsall left UConn for a better job is impossible to predict.  However, the actual dollar figures do not appear to provide a great disincentive for Edsall leaving UConn.



  1. I have know what you mean. good advice, wish I had read this a month ago. ha 🙂


  1. […] and scrutiny.  The virtual free agency in the coaching profession has made popular the buyout clause, as demonstrated by the case of West Virginia vs. Rich […]

  2. […] desire of universities for a top-flight coach has perpetuated a system of free agency in the coaching industry.  Perhaps no coach better represents this trend than Michigan’s Rich […]

  3. […] and Brady’s new employer, James Madison University.  The story details a familiar topic, the virtual free agency system that has developed with respect to collegiate coaches: In recent years, the college sports landscape […]

  4. […] Edsall has coached UConn for 1o transformative seasons.  He has a contract to coach at UConn until 2012, with penalty provisions should he leave early.  Hopefully Edsall will remain […]

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