Monday, October 24, 2022

Oklahoma’s Brent Venables owed full contract amount if fired without cause


By Stewart Mandel

Oct 21, 2022

Should Oklahoma fire head coach Brent Venables without cause over the course of his six-year, $43.5 million contract, it would owe him the full amount, according to a copy of the fully executed agreement obtained by The Athletic.

Venables is set to make $7 million his first year, with his annual compensation increasing by $100,000 each year through the contract’s conclusion on January 31, 2028. He can earn additional bonuses on top of that, including $400,000 for winning a national championship.

Coaches’ contracts have normally included a “liquidated damages” clause that puts in writing a reduced percentage the university would owe the coach should it choose to fire him prior to the end of the contract. However, several high-profile coaches recently have been given fully guaranteed deals, including Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, Michigan State’s Mel Tucker and Penn State’s James Franklin.

Unlike those three, Venables, most recently Clemson’s defensive coordinator, is a first-time head coach. He was represented by CAA’s Jimmy Sexton, the sport’s most prominent coaching agent, who also negotiated Fisher and Franklin’s deals. Tucker was represented by Neil Cornrich at NC Sports.

Venables’ first season at Oklahoma got off to a rocky start, as the Sooners lost three straight games for the first time since 1998. They included a 55-24 blowout by TCU and a 49-0 blanking by Red River rival Texas, OU’s most lopsided defeat in the series. The Sooners beat Kansas 52-42 last week to improve to 4-3.

While extremely unlikely the school would fire him after one season, regardless of financial terms, it would cost OU around $36 million to do so. A mitigation clause requires Venables to make “reasonable, continued and diligent efforts” to find a new job in coaching or broadcasting, or other sports-related professions that would reduce the remaining amount owed on a “dollar-for-dollar” basis relative to his new salary.

Venables himself is required to pay a buyout should he voluntarily leave for another coaching job. That number starts at $7 million this year, dropping by $2 million a year for the following two years, down to $2 million by 2025.

Schools have been paying increasingly exorbitant buyouts recently to fire coaches still early in their deals. Auburn owed Gus Malzahn $21.45 million when it fired him just two years after giving him a new seven-year contract, and that was with a reduced payout of 75 percent. Florida State paid Willie Taggart $18 million when it fired him after two seasons in 2019. LSU last year paid Ed Orgeron $16.9 million.

Earlier this season, Nebraska paid Scott Frost $15 million, even though the number would have dropped in half had it waited a few more weeks. Wisconsin contractually owed Paul Chryst around $20 million but the coach agreed to an up-front buyout of $11 million.

With the trend of fully-guaranteed contracts now applying to first-time head coaches, it might finally become prohibitively expensive for schools to fire an underperforming coach.

(Photo: Kevin Jairaj / USA Today)

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