Some Board of Governor members and donors are surprised and angry to find that the six-year contract recently awarded to new West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart included not only an extra year over the original terms, but also a previously off-the-table buyout clause, sources said. The deal could entail more money than was included in Rich Rodriguez's infamously litigated deal.
If Stewart were to be fired before Jan. 3, 2009, the university would have to pay him $4.125 million. The Mountaineers, ranked No. 8 before the season began, have started 1-2, without a victory against a major college opponent, and dropped out of the Top 25 for the first time since October 2005.
"People are livid," said one person in a position of responsibility with the university, though requesting anonymity. "It's malfeasance, whoever did it. 'Cause it didn't have to be done. The coach didn't want it. And that wasn't Mike Garrison, he was gone."
The original offer sheet contained a $1 million flat-fee termination clause that was scratched out and initialed by athletic director Ed Pastilong before Stewart, 56, signed it early Jan. 3, the morning of his post-Fiesta Bowl hiring.
"We invest a great deal of resources in our coaches and their visions for their programs," Pastilong said through a spokesperson last night. "We worked with coach Stewart this summer to include a liquidated damages clause into his contract. Philosophically, we stand behind the principles of including liquidated damages in head coach's employment agreements and will continue to look at those agreements on a case-by-case basis."
Interim president C. Peter Magrath, while expressing his support for Stewart in particular and Mountaineers athletics in general, said through a spokesperson last night that he wasn't involved in the Stewart negotiations, though, he added, "the provisions in the contract are among standards that exist in Division I programs."
Former president Mike Garrison said yesterday such a buyout was a dead issue, at least by the time of his August departure.
"First of all, Bill Stewart is a good man and a friend of mine. I think he's a very, very good person," said Garrison, who resigned under pressure over the fraudulent masters degree given to Heather Bresch and currently practices law in Morgantown, W.Va. "My position on those [liquidated-damages clauses] has been clear, even under oath in the Rodriguez matter ...: [I] really wanted to get away from those. And, in fact, took one out of a contract because it was a sticking point with one of our coaches [who] was heading out the door. I think they cause problems and philosophically was not supportive of them.
"If coaches were comfortable with it, I thought down the road --particularly being in litigation surrounding a liquidated-damages clause -- it would be better to proceed without them. And we were [proceeding], for the most part."
True, Garrison's office negotiated the lifetime contract for men's basketball coach Bob Huggins, one that included a $4 million buyout clause for each side though Huggins could retire temporarily, as he did at Cincinnati, and take another job after paying only $1 million in liquidated damages. But on Garrison's watch two such clauses were removed from arguably the two next-highest profile coaches in the Mountaineers' athletic department: women's basketball coach Mike Carey and women's soccer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, who was being courted by the same Michigan that wooed Rodriguez -- the ex-coach who settled in July, agreeing to pay West Virginia the contracted $4 million buyout amount.
Garrison added of the Stewart buyout clause, "This one was resolved after my departure."
The contract was signed by Stewart and Pastilong Sept. 10. It was announced at a Board of Governors meeting two days later. The Charleston Daily Mail posted a copy of the contract on its Web site yesterday. The Post-Gazette also obtained a copy of the contract.
"It's just not right," said the source with the university. "It's not good for the university, whoever did it." The contract was announced after West Virginia lost at East Carolina, 24-3, and before Thursday, when the Mountaineers fell in overtime at Colorado, 17-14, in a game where ESPN announcers referred to "mass confusion" on the visitors' sideline.
"They're furious," a university donor, who also requested anonymity, said of acquaintances on the Board of Governors and other top donors.
Under the contract, which contains a records and materials clause first installed in Carey's new contract in February as a result of the shredding allegations against Rodriguez, Stewart will earn at least $800,000 this season in a salary that escalates by $50,000 per year -- not counting incentives that could easily add between $35,000 to as much as $250,000 short of making the national championship game ($100,000) or winning the national title ($150,000).
Stewart went 8-25 in his only previous stint as a head coach, 1994-96 at the Division I-AA Virginia Military Institute.
The way Stewart has talked, though, a buyout could be moot.
A New Martinsville native and onetime freshman Mountaineers football player, he talks about "bleeding Old Gold and Blue." At his introductory news conference after steering West Virginia to a 48-28 upset of then-No. 3 Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, he said, "This is my last job. I won't leave here. And they won't have to tell me when I'm not doing the job -- I will tell them."
Chuck Finder can be reached at email@example.com .