The Florida Gators may pay just $4 million of the nearly $13 million that would be contractually due to Jim McElwain as a buyout, according to a report from Brett McMurphy — and if they do, it will likely be at least partly because of McElwain’s missteps with making claims of death threats last week.
Expect former Florida coach Jim McElwain to receive substantially less than his $12.9 million buyout – perhaps only $4 million – because McElwain kept his death threats from university officials and also his agent’s reluctance to fight Florida for the full buyout, sources told me.
Florida officials believe it could fire McElwain with cause, nullifying the buyout completely. UF believes it shouldn’t have to pay McElwain "anything" because he withheld claims about death threats from university officials.
After McElwain mentioned his death threats to the media, the university asked McElwain for more details, but he didn’t provide any additional information. So, UF believes, either: (1) McElwain made the university potentially liable by not disclosing death threats made to himself, his family, other coaches or players or (2) he lied about the death threats.
In either case, Florida believes, it’s a violation of the standards clause in McElwain's contract. McElwain’s ability to dispute Florida over the buyout is hindered because of his agent Jimmy Sexton’s ties with potential candidates. Sexton doesn’t want to battle Florida over collecting the entire $12.9 million buyout because he also represents Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, a top candidate to replace McElwain, or could be involved in other future Florida hirings.
“Sexton won’t fight it because it’s not in his best long-term interest,” the source said.
Both Florida and McElwain, who came to UF from Colorado State, each still owe CSU $1.5 million. One source said UF will likely give McElwain at least $4 million - $3 million to pay off what’s owed to CSU by UF and McElwain, with the other $1 million going to McElwain.
Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin mentioned in a press conference on Sunday night that the University Athletic Association and McElwain — and Sexton, by extension — had reached a settlement in principle, but had not formalized it.
Stricklin also addressed the idea of paying a buyout in installments with concision.
Stricklin on $$: "You like paying money to people who are currently working for you. What's done is done, what's in past is in the past."— Ryan Young (@RyanYoungSEC) October 29, 2017
Florida is still on the hook for some of Will Muschamp’s buyout, and will also likely be responsible for buying out some of McElwain’s assistants, should they not be retained. But getting its responsibility to McElwain cut to a fraction of what it could be might allow Florida to pay out less than $10 million from this point forward despite firing two coaches in a span of three years, a substantial development from a financial standpoint.
If that was helped by the fact that Sexton, one of college football’s most powerful agents, will almost assuredly have future business with Florida, then that’s an unexpected boon. He represents not just McElwain and Muschamp, but Mullen, and Memphis head coach Mike Norvell — whose name was conspicuously put forth by former sports agent Darren Heitner, the person whose tweets suggesting that Florida had begun working on McElwain’s buyout on Saturday morning sparked a firestorm, as a “lead” candidate for the Florida job over the weekend — and likely several other coaches Florida will target or research.
But it seems more likely that Florida will be saving money because McElwain may find — or may have found — it difficult to prove that he did not make Florida liable by not disclosing real threats or that he did not violate a clause of his contract by fabricating threats.
McMurphy quotes the relevant portion of McElwain’s contract:
The standards clause Florida believes McElwain violated is Item No. 9. It says in part: McElwain must act “in the Association’s and University’s highest standards of professionalism, competence … personal and professional conduct, ethics, integrity and morals, as such highest standards are determined by the President or Chairman in consultation with the Athletic Director.”
The contract also states Florida’s standards: “are at least equivalent to the highest standards (but may be higher than the standards) of the NCAA, SEC and other institutions of higher education with premier national athletics programs.”
Whether McElwain failed to disclose real threats or lied about threats that did not exist, that language would seem to create some leverage for Florida. (Last Monday, a source told Alligator Army that a family member of a Florida coach had “no idea” about any threats.)
If Florida can use that leverage to reduce its obligation to McElwain to just a few million dollars — effectively firing him with cause while throwing in a year’s salary — then the Gators will have performed some enviable boardroom wizardry.