UConn president says ‘substantial evidence’ Kevin Ollie, staff violated NCAA rules
UConn president Susan Herbst, in upholding the school’s decision to terminate Kevin Ollie’s employment as head men’s basketball coach, chided him for a pattern of NCAA violations, and dismissed as irrelevant any comparisons to actions taken or not taken regarding other coaches.
“If certain violations were inadvertent rather than deliberate,” Herbst writes, in a letter addressed to Ollie dated June 19, “your failure to identify them as violations and report them after the fact suggests either a knowing disregard for your compliance obligations or a gross inability to satisfy them.”
Ollie and his union representative had a hearing with Herbst in May, one stage in the appeal process, in which, Herbst writes, Ollie “chose to say virtually nothing in response” to questions about the NCAA infractions spelled out by athletic director David Benedict. In upholding Benedict’s decision, Ollie’s dispute with UConn, at which the more than $10 million he would be owed on his contract, goes to arbitration.
In 1,355 pages of documents released last Wednesday per a Freedom of Information Act request, UConn revealed its reason for citing “just cause” in terminating Ollie’s contract. The NCAA infractions citing including shooting baskets with a recruit on an official visit, facilitating a call from Ray Allen to a recruit, and having players work out with an outside trainer, Derrek Hamilton, both on campus and in Atlanta.
Ollie representatives, including Michael Bailey of the American Association of University Professors and attorney Jacques Parenteau, have either refuted these violations or asserted that they are minor and do not rise to the level of misconduct necessary for “just cause.”
However, Ollie’s contract did not specify that violations had to reach a certain level to be considered just cause.
Ollie’s representative also collected information and citing numerous violations, many self-reported, by other coaches at UConn that did not result in firing, including the NCAA violations that led to sanctions against the men’s basketball program during Jim Calhoun’s time as coach. Calhoun sat out a three-game suspension during his final season.
When Ollie was hired to replace the retiring Calhoun in 2012, it was clearly stated that Herbst and then-athletic director Warde Manuel required that he keep the program out of such trouble. “It was precisely because of the circumstances under which you took over the men’s basketball program,” Herbst writes, “that compelled Mr. Manuel and myself to each independently stress to you our expectation of rigorous compliance. . None (of the other coaches) were given the same specific direction upon hire that Mr. Manuel and I gave you.”
Herbst also disputed the claim that the collective bargaining agreement with UConn-AAUP superseded the terms of Ollie’s personal contract, which includes bonuses and other benefits not afforded to other union members.
“I find it disingenuous for you and your union,” Herbst writes, “to negotiate for and accept many addition benefits afforded under the employment agreement and then to deny its applicability when terms are not applied in your favor.”
Herbst’s letter was part of another batch of documents released by UConn on Monday. These included testimony from former director of basketball operations Kevin Freeman, who acknowledged seeing Hamilton on campus.
UConn, in pressing its just-cause case against Ollie, has stuck to evidence of infractions that it has verified. The NCAA launched an inquiry into the program, and many documents, including more than 900 pages of interviews connected with it, were also released. The most damaging allegation came from former associate head coach Glen Miller, who told investigators his wife had heard Ollie arranged for the mother of a player to receive $30,000 to relocate to Connecticut.
Ollie and his lawyers have denied the charge. The NCAA has yet to reveal findings or sanction UConn.
“I concur with Mr. Benedict’s analysis,” Herbst writes, “that just cause may be based on a finding of noncompliance by the university and need not wait for the NCAA to complete its investigation.”
Miller’s attorney, Dado Coric, of New London-based Traystman and Coric, told the Courant his client was a “reluctant witness,” and not a “whistle-blower.” He took exception with Parentau’s characterization of Miller as a “biased witness.”
“There are a lot of people who seem to be accusatory of Glen,” Coric said, “that he did this to somehow get back at Kevin Ollie for the firing. And that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Glen would never and has never done anything to purposely try to hurt the program in any way. . This is something he didn’t voluntarily go into, he was brought into because of Kevin’s actions. It’s really unfair for anybody to blame anybody but Kevin for what’s going on.”
Miller, fired by Ollie in March 2017 and now director of basketball at St. Joseph in West Hartford, was given limited immunity by the NCAA, because he could be sanctioned for not reporting violations that he may have known about, not because of any violations he committed, Coric said.
“People hear about the immunity and the first thing that comes to mind is that ‘Glen did something wrong and was trying to save himself by giving someone else up,’ “ Coric said. “That’s not at all what happened here. As an attorney it would be very reckless of me to let a client who could have some potential exposure that way talk to a sanctioning body without making sure that the discloses he made about somebody else, that he wasn’t sanctioned more than the other person would be because he didn’t report it.”
When the NCAA does release its findings, it could sanction the UConn program, although by firing Ollie and attempting to do it with just cause, the university has essentially applied a remedy. Nevertheless, the terms of new coach Dan Hurley’s agreement with UConn gives him the option of extending his six-year contract for another year if sanctions are applied.
“You will have the right to extend the term of your employment for up to one additional year,” reads the memorandum of understanding between Hurley and UConn dated March 22, “in the event the UConn men’s basketball program receives from the NCAA a penalty resulting in a reduction of scholarships or material limitation on recruiting a player or player visits that is based on activities or conduct that occurred prior to the effective date of your employment at UConn.”