As Oregon's football coach, Mike Bellotti, led the Oregon Ducks to the "Golden Era" of Oregon football. In 2001, he led Oregon to be the Number 2 team in the nation with a win over Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl. He beat Michigan at Ann Arbor and dominated Oregon State and Washington. I will always be grateful for his skill as a coach and his character as a person. He shaved off his mustache at one point to show empathy for a friend who was undergoing cancer therapy. He stepped down as football coach to become Oregon Athletic Director at the height of his career so that his offensive coordinator could become head coach and not be lost to another school. If he had stayed on as football coach he would have earned a lot more than the 2.3 million and if he had been fired he also would have been given more than that amount under his contract.
As Oregon President, Richard Lariviere, said at his press conference on Tuesday, Mike Bellotti is an "iconic" figure at Oregon.
That is why my overwhelming feeling in watching the Larivier/Bellotti press conference was one of great sadness.I have now watched it at least three times and I can't get over that feeling of sadness each time I watch it. Mike looked so sad and hurt during President Larivier's prepared statement ( reproduced below ) and as one reporter described it.... he looked like a "statue" sitting there next to the U of O President. Mike deserved better, and he deserves the 2.3 million dollars in severance pay.
As much as it hurt to watch the press conference it was absolutely necessary to clear things up and attempt to stop the bleeding that has occurred to Oregon athletics since the buyout was announced. On April 1, 2010 I listed 6 questions that needed to be answered. The Larivier/Bellotti press conference answered most of them as follows:
1.Was Mike Bellotti fired at AD or at least pushed out the door ?
He was probably "pushed out the door." President Larivier said in his prepared statement:
Mike Bellotti and I have discussed these challenges. He is a great Oregonian, and a very good man who has served the university with integrity.
It was clear, however, that while he had tremendous success coaching he did not find as much satisfaction being athletic director. It was also clear to me, despite sound fiscal management and the highest football season revenue production ever, that the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics would increasingly need an individual with experience handling the financial and business aspects of a complex program in order to fulfill its obligation to be a self-sustaining program, a point of significant importance to me and the University of Oregon.
Mike told me about the opportunity to take a position with ESPN, and the possibility of a broadcasting career and returning to college football. I told him I believed it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with a very short window
If we are to believe Larivier he wanted a new AD with financial and business experience and was going to make a chance at AD sooner or later and the ESPN job offer to Mike Bellotti was an easy way to make the change now. He hinted at the press conference that he told Mike that he should take the ESPN offer because he may not be AD in the long run.
On question that skeptics could ask.... is did Lariviere come up with the idea that he wanted a change at AD after the fact to justify the 2.3 million buyout which would not be legally justified if, in fact, Mike was leaving voluntarily ? However, I take the man at his word.
2. Why no written contract..... as an attorney I find this inexcusable ?
It is inexcusable and as a result Mike Bellotti has been hurt. It is still unclear who is at fault but I am more interested in seeing that it not happen in the future. Mike is a proud man and deserved better. I do applaud President Larivier for finding a way to get Mike what he deserved.
3. The 3.2 million dollar "golden parachute" as originally explained was an agreed payoff whenever Bellotti left the AD regardless of how long he was AD and was negotiated to get him to step down as head football coach. This is never mentioned in this letter and apparently there was no clause as there was no written contract. Did Pat Kilkenny negotiate such a provision in an oral agreement ?
In President Lariviere's statement he states:
I cannot speak to Mike’s transition from coach to athletic director because I wasn’t here, but I can say that he was promised greater financial guarantees than I had been made aware of until that moment. I determined it was in the university’s best interest to expedite the transition and negotiations commenced to develop a separation agreement.
Translation: since I, the President of the University wanted a chance at AD, I felt obligated to pay Mike Bellotti the balance of his contract which works out to 2.3 million dollars. Thus, we don't need to go into what other terms may or may not have been in the oral contract.
4. If an employee voluntarily terminates their employment before there employment ends they normally don't get the rest of the contract unless they are fired or there is a provision in a contract guaranteeing it.
If we are to believe Lariviere, and I take him at his word, Mike Bellotti did not "voluntarily" terminate his employment.
5. What donor(s) are paying the 2.3 million dollars and do they know it and have they agreed to it. I am a very small donor to the Duck Athletic Fund.
Will my donation and other similar donations be the ones used or will it come from a donor(s) who agreed to be responsible for this specific expense?
The answer to this question was somewhat ambiguous, but in the question and answer portion of the press conference, President Lariviere seemed to say it was coming from specific donors who knew where their donation was going and not from general donations to the Athletic Department such as the donations required of season ticket holders for "donor seats."
6. Will this deprive the Athletic Department of of donations for other projects or uses ?
President Lariviere in his written statement:
Questions have been raised about the fund source for this separation agreement and how it affects other athletic department priorities like ensuring a self-supporting athletics program, repayment of bonds for the arena, and hiring of a men’s basketball coach. Those obligations will not be affected by this payment. No student tuition or state funds are or will be used to pay for this separation agreement.
He also said the funding would not come from the 200 million dollar endowment fund set up from Phil Knight's donation to allow the University to build "Matt Court."
In conclusion, it is time to move on and wish Mike Bellotti success on ESPN. Mike will always be a Duck ! Thanks Mike for the memories of many great football seasons.