Even before Will Muschamp was fired, University of Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley was getting ready for the inevitable. Foley keeps a working list of coaches that would be suitable replacements if need be.
On Tuesday afternoon, Foley made a move on one of those coaches; flying to Fort Collins, Colorado to meet with Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain.
The 52-year old head coach became the apple of Foley’s eye over the past three days as Foley narrowed in his search on one coach to bring the Gators back to prominence in the SEC.
Foley, along with Executive Associate AD for Internal Affairs Chip Howard, Senior Associate AD Steve McClain, Executive Associate AD for External Affairs Mike Hill and Executive Associate AD for Administration Lynda Tealer (who deals with coaching contracts) made the trip from Gainesville to Fort Collins to meet with McElwain and, presumably, offer him the head-coaching job at Florida.
There is a sticking point. When Colorado State snatched McElwain away from Alabama — where he served as offensive coordinator for two national champion teams — they made a huge commitment. CSU gave McElwain an initial five year contract that could be extended all the way out through 2023, a 10 year commitment that could pay a coach who was taking on his first head coaching gig up to $15 million.
In return, they wanted to protect that investment and did so by tacking on a $7.5 million dollar buyout to the contract. Kelly Lyell of the Coloradoan wrote on Tuesday night that the buyout was meant to be a “deterrent to other schools who might want to hire McElwain away.”
From Lyell’s story, where he speaks with former CSU athletic director Jack Graham, advised that the initial contract was not to have any language or loop holes to get out of what Graham called a “breakup fee”.
“Unfortunately in the meeting back in June during which Mac, Tony Frank and I were to sign Mac’s employment agreement, Tony agreed to reduce if not eliminate the breakup fee if a ‘dream job’ were to come along,” Graham told the Coloradoan.
The official language in the contract reads:
“If such termination [McElwain terminating his contract] occurs on or before December 31, 2018, the liquidated Damages shall be the great of: (1) $7,500,000; or (2) An amount equal to McElwain’s total remaining Base Salary for all years and months remaining from the termination date until the Contract Ending Date.”
McElwain’s contract will pay him $7,806,060 over the course of the deal through 2018.
However, the aforementioned agreement was written in to the contract:
“Notwithstanding the above, the parties acknowledge, understand and agree that in the case or event of extenuating circumstances the University’s President shall have the discretion, but not the obligation, to reduce in whole or in part McElwain’s obligation to play Liquidated Damages to the University. McElwain shall have the right to request that the parties engage in good faith discussion of Liquidated Damages amount prior to McElwain providing formal notice to the University of his decision to terminate this agreement without cause and in such event the University agrees to engage in such discussion, although the University has no obligation to reduce in part or in whole McElwain’s obligation to pay Liquidated Damages, with an understanding and acknowledgement that time will be of the essence in coming to a final decision.”
That was a lot to take in but the layman summary is that CSU president Tony Frank did leave a loophole in the contract but the specific language does protect CSU and will force Jeremy Foley to play ball with them in he wants to avoid paying the full price of the buyout or “Liquidated Damages”.
One option could be to offer up a future trip to Gainesville. CSU traveled to Alabama and received a reported $1.5 million for their game with the Crimson Tide. Another option would be making a donation to the school as part of an agreement to drop the Liquidated Damages.
One this is certain.
Jeremy Foley played this entire coaching search close to the vest. He did not leave from Jacksonville on Tuesday and expect to go unnoticed across the country. This was a show of force and a gesture of sincerity to McElwain.
Foley brought the UAA brass with him to Colorado and he won’t be coming back to Gainesville without a head coach.