UConn donor unhappy with AD

Updated: January 26, 2011, 11:00 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

HARTFORD, Conn. -- A major benefactor to the University of Connecticut wants the school to return $3 million in donations and remove his family name from its football complex because he says he was shut out of discussions about the selection of a new football coach.

Robert Burton, chief executive officer of Greenwich, Conn.-based Burton Capital Management, said in a Jan. 19 letter to UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway that his opinions were ignored and he did not support the way Paul Pasqualoni was selected as coach.

Burton called the situation "a slap in the face and embarrassment to my family," and said he planned "to let the correct people know that you did not listen to your number one football donor." He called the search process flawed.

"We want our money and respect back," Burton wrote to Hathaway.

Burton, who played college football at Murray State, said although he was not seeking veto power in the hiring, he "earned my voice on this subject" as the program's top donor. He said he has hired lawyers to enforce his demand to get his donations back.

The Day newspaper of New London first reported news of the letter Tuesday and the response from UConn, which has not said whether it will return the donations or remove the name from the Burton Family Football Complex.

"The primary reason [former UConn coach] Randy [Edsall] took another job is because he couldn't work with you," Burton wrote to Hathaway, according to The Day. "You are not qualified to be a Division I AD and I would have fired you a long time ago. You do not have the skills to manage and cultivate new donors."

In a written statement on behalf of UConn and Hathaway, the athletic department said that Burton was among many interested people who offered input, and that Hathaway "did receive and acknowledge" Burton's advice before Pasqualoni was hired.

"In the end, the decision was appropriately made by the university in the best interests of UConn and our football program," the statement said.

"The Burton family has been exceptionally supportive of the University of Connecticut for many years. The university is grateful to the family, especially for the benefits they have provided to many of our students."

When asked about Burton's unflattering description of Hathaway, Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma told The Hartford Courant: "The letter sounds like someone is trying to make Jeff look bad in the media. It's pretty well-orchestrated, it appears."

Auriemma forcefully denied Burton's claim there is escalating friction between him, men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun and Hathaway.

"His statement that Jeff has a poor working relationship with the basketball coaches really angers me," Auriemma said. "He [Burton] has no clue what my working or personal relationship is with Jeff nor is it any of his business."

Burton and UConn trustees chairman Lawrence McHugh did not immediately return messages Tuesday.

Members of the school's board of trustees as well as the university president have reached out to Burton in the hopes of repairing the relationship, a source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN's Joe Schad.

Burton sent another letter to Connecticut prior to the letter in The Day's report, the source told Schad. The second letter was sent right after Connecticut returned from the Fiesta Bowl and stated that former Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who had been named Temple coach, should be the choice as UConn's next coach. But Connecticut didn't seriously consider Addazio because he had just been hired by Temple.

Burton had marked his Jan. 19 letter as "personal and confidential," but the newspaper obtained it Monday and the university released it Tuesday under state Freedom of Information open-records laws after media requests.

UConn granted Burton an honorary doctorate degree in 2000. He didn't say in his letter whether he plans to relinquish it.

Burton, a printing industry executive, and his family have given more than $7 million in donations for scholarships and other programs, including $2.5 million in 2002 to kick off construction of the football complex.

That's over, according to Burton's letter. And, he blames the athletic director, saying he is "fed up" with Hathaway and would have fired him long ago, if he'd had the authority.

Burton says his family and friends will no longer donate for scholarships and coaching clinics, will pull their advertising from the football program and will transfer current scholarships away from football and into the business school.

It couldn't immediately be determined Tuesday how many football players that would affect and whether other scholarship money would be available.

Burton's company will also start sending its managers to Syracuse University's business school for training instead of UConn, and will no longer pay for its $50,000-per-year luxury suite at Rentschler Field.

"You already have many other empty boxes at Rentschler. My box will just join the list," Burton wrote.

Burton was selected in the 19th round of the 1962 NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He later signed a free-agent contract with the Buffalo Bills.

His son, Joe, played for Paul Pasqualoni at Syracuse from 1997 to 2001 and another son, Michael, played at UConn for former coach Randy Edsall in 1999.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he spoke Monday with Burton about his concerns, but hadn't heard everything from both sides yet.

"Having said that, I think it's important that universities run themselves and do so appropriately," Malloy said. "Having done that, I think communications is always part of that, and I would hope that communications would be improved and perhaps relationships would be improved."

Information from ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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