As Beilein begins at Michigan, WVU buyout lingers

John Beilein got started immediately at his new job at Michigan, but he's still going to have to deal with the lingering buyout issue at West Virginia, Andy Katz writes.

Originally Published: April 11, 2007
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

John Beilein conducted an 80-minute practice within two hours of last week's news conference introducing him as the new coach at Michigan. He didn't bring any assistant coaches with him, choosing to go through the workouts by himself.

Beilein wanted to get started immediately, as Sunday is the last day he'll be able to work out his new players in a full team setting until Sept. 15 under new NCAA rules governing offseason workouts. In between, while school is in session, Beilein will be able to work with his players for two hours a week in groups of up to four.

During the offseason, he'll expect his players to start to grasp his detailed offense, a system that relies on players reading the defense, and being able to pass, catch and shoot. He'll likely have them make a quick study on his 1-3-1 zone defense, too.

But throughout the summer, Beilein will have a bigger issue that will dog him until there is a resolution -- the $2.5 million buyout that he owes West Virginia for leaving the school with five years remaining on a contract he signed after he led the Mountaineers to the Elite Eight in 2005.

Michigan athletic director Bill Martin was clear last Wednesday at Beilein's news conference, saying, "[The buyout] never came up because there is no way Michigan was going to pay it. To John Beilein's credit, he said, 'The buyout is my responsibility.'"

John Beilein
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesJohn Beilein paid his own buyout at West Virginia to take over an underachieving Michigan program.
Tuesday, Beilein reiterated that "Michigan is not paying it. It's between me and [West Virginia]."

At that point, Beilein stopped. When asked how he is going to resolve the issue, if he's going to try to reduce the figure or if he is filing any kind of lawsuit, Beilein said he couldn't say anything and that there are "a lot of legal issues, and my attorneys are handling this."

West Virginia, which hired alumnus Bob Huggins away from Kansas State to replace Beilein, isn't budging. WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong said Tuesday that the buyout was initiated by Beilein's side.

"That was what made him comfortable," Pastilong said. "It was his desire … and we were going to go along with it. Everyone has a unique approach and that's just what he wanted and we were accommodating him."

But was it? Beilein won't go on the record about his intentions in seeking legal counsel, but multiple sources have told ESPN.com that Beilein is trying to get the buyout reduced -- if not wiped out entirely. Pastilong said he wouldn't discuss anything more about the buyout, except that, "We expect the contract to be honored. A contract is a contract. [The buyout is for $2.5 million] and that's what the contract is for."

When asked if there could be a negotiated buyout, Pastilong said, "That would be for the attorneys to work out."

The language in the contract is pretty clear. Beilein signed on to be West Virginia's coach in 2002. In the original contract, which was obtained by USA Today for a story last month, Beilein had a buyout of $550,000. He would also be owed that amount if he were terminated without cause.

The contract was tweaked in both 2003 and '04, but it wasn't until 2005 -- after West Virginia went to the Elite Eight -- that the contract was amended in the termination and buyout section. In Section V.D., Article B, it states that Beilein would receive or pay $500,000 per year, for the remainder of the deal, if he was terminated without cause or left. Beilein's signature is on the bottom of the contract.

The deal ran through 2012, so the five years remaining bring the buyout to the $2.5 million figure.

Dennis Coleman represents a number of high-profile coaches in Division I and negotiated the contract for Beilein, but no longer represents him. Coleman declined to go on the record for the story but other sources familiar with the negotiations said that Beilein wanted the security of knowing he couldn't be terminated without a substantial payment.

At least two other Coleman clients have benefited from similar buyout provisions. Tom Herrion received around $800,000 from a similar "dollar for dollar" deal after he was fired by the College of Charleston last year without cause. Former Virginia coach Pete Gillen received $2 million from Virginia when he was fired.

A number of coaches told ESPN.com they don't understand why Beilein could even question the buyout.

A source told ESPN.com that Beilein actually did approach Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese during the season to discuss the buyout, but Tranghese informed Beilein that West Virginia wasn't going to budge. Since West Virginia is a public university, the contract would be subject to open records, so there was no way West Virginia could privately drop the buyout, even if it wanted to.

"West Virginia doesn't have to budge," said another source close to the current situation. "They are within their legal right. Whether or not the buyout was high, [Beilein] signed it. No one forced him to sign it."

West Virginia was never asked to pay Huggins' buyout, according to the school.

Meanwhile, Beilein, who will receive $1.3 million a year from Michigan, is re-recruiting Tommy Amaker's recruits, waiting to hire a staff and instilling in his new players the work ethic required to run his highly applauded system.

Until his buyout is resolved, though, the distraction will exist. Beilein said there will be a time and place when he can speak on the matter, but that time hasn't arrived. For now, the most talked-about buyout of any recent coaching carousel move hovers above him, still owed by him to West Virginia, which doesn't appear to be backing down one bit.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com