That Kevin Ollie was fired after guiding the Huskies through consecutive losing seasons was not especially surprising. That he was fired as part of “disciplinary procedures” and “for just cause” registered as, well, interesting, especially without any explicit link to a reported NCAA investigation into recruiting violations at UConn. But Ollie is apparently not prepared to accept the “for cause” firing, according to this ESPN report:
With the assistance of his union, Kevin Ollie will fight to retain his job and contest UConn’s decision to fire him for what the school said Saturday is “just cause.”
The program is the subject of an ongoing NCAA inquiry.
Ollie said he intends to dispute the university’s decision, which athletic director David Benedict called “unfortunate” but “necessary” in a Saturday release.
Dan Wolken of USA Today described Ollie’s “for cause” firing as part of a broader trend of NCAA institutions drumming up essentially phony contract violations as pretense for “for cause” firings, in order to avoid paying expensive buyout clauses. Kevin Stallings was reportedly offered half of his negotiated buyout by Pittsburgh in order to avoid a dubious “for cause” firing—the suggestion here is that Ollie’s termination has a similar reek:
[Pittsburgh’s “for cause” stance towards Stallings is] only slightly less credible than UConn, a school that once stood by Jim Calhoun even though a former team manager-turned-agent was funneling benefits to a recruit, dismissing Ollie for any reason other than his inability to keep the Huskies viable and relevant as a national power.
And yet that’s what UConn will attempt to prove, as its announcement Saturday morning indicated it had “initiated disciplinary procedures” to avoid paying Ollie more than $11.3 million in scheduled basic annual compensation remaining on his contract pending the results of an investigation into alleged NCAA misconduct.
Probably it isn’t hard for a school to spin various acts and events up into fireable offenses, if the contract is sufficiently vague; certainly that is something they are more likely to do in the case of a coach whose performance is below expectations. It’s a lousy, dishonest, and unfair practice, of course: schools benefit enormously when a coach’s ethical transgressions yield, say, four straight Sweet-16s at Memphis, but stand ready to use recruiting violations as a pretense for “for cause” firings if the results don’t measure up. Whatever has been learned of recruiting violations during the investigation at UConn, probably the school would not be firing Ollie if his team were, say, headed for a high seed in the NCAA tournament.
Kevin Ollie, for his part, insists that his program was on the up-and-up, per a statement he gave to ESPN:
“The University of Connecticut, which has been my home and my family since I was 18 years of age, has decided to initiate the procedures to terminate my employment for cause, which I am contesting,” Ollie said in a statement to ESPN. “As the head coach of the University of Connecticut Huskies, which is one of the greatest honors and privileges of my life, I have always diligently promoted an atmosphere of compliance for all involved in the program, directly or indirectly. It has always been my creed to conduct myself in a manner that reflects positively on the university, my program and my family. My objective throughout my eight-year tenure has been to nurture and develop young men to be productive citizens, positive role models and active community leaders. I am confident that I have strived to model behaviors which are consistent with this objective. This process has just begun, and I intend to work vigorously to defend my honor and my integrity, and to defend my good name to the fullest extent provided under the law, the university grievance procedures and the NCAA compliance process.”
No one has said for sure what the actual “cause” is for Ollie’s “for cause” firing, only that it is disciplinary in nature. Per Ollie’s contract, he is entitled to a hearing to challenge the university’s justification for his termination, to be held within 15 days of his firing. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes.