HONOLULU (KHON2) — The University of Hawaii (UH) is waiving a hefty breakup fee that head football coach Todd Graham had agreed to pay if he quit the program. Always Investigating reports on this and other financial implications from the departure.
Graham’s contract has some big-ticket payoffs outlined if either side breaks it off without cause. Graham is resigning without having to pony up.
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UH announced last week Graham is leaving on his own in the wake of player mistreatment allegations. It was a bit of relief for those worried about the implications and costs of keeping him on or trying to terminate him if there had been cause.
“That was a huge relief,” said Sen. Glenn Wakai, (D) Salt Lake. “It takes a lot off the plate for UH athletics as well as for lawmakers, and as well as for the public. This could have been a very long and tumultuous three years if he wanted to execute his contract to the very end.”
Always Investigating reviewed Graham’s contract signed in 2020. Cutting ties without cause could have cost the university more than $400,000 per year for about three years left on the deal, or an unknown sum in legal fees or settlements if any disagreement arose over a for-cause firing.
But this coach chose to leave on his own. There was a clause for that too. Graham was on the hook to pay UH $1 million if he quit in 2021, or $800,000 for quitting this year.
UH spokesperson Dan Meisenzahl told Always Investigating in a statement: “The university administration waived the coach’s obligation.”
“If UH is going to fight him to say like, no, give us back our $800,000, that would have been kind of a long, convoluted personnel issue. That would not have been good either,” Wakai said. “I just think this is the cleanest way to just break off this entire relationship.”
“The [UH Board of] Regents have to have a hearing,” said Sen. Donovan Delacruz, chair of the Ways and Means Committee. “I’m not sure of the circumstances that led to his direct resignation, and what led the university to forgive that $800,000, or what led him to forgive collecting his $1.2 million.”
UH may be able to make up for the forgone breakup fee if there’s an upside for fundraising.
Athletics fundraising was doing pretty well before the coaching controversy broke out, expanding Ching Field as a stadium replacement in record time, notching UH Foundation donations way up in the middle of a pandemic, and bringing in big money in sponsorships like the SimpliFi Arena naming rights for the Stan Sheriff Center.
Always Investigating asked UH if the Graham dissent registered yet on donation trends?
“I have not heard about any fundraising issues. The situation with the football team became public in December,” Meisenzahl said. “There may have been an impact at some point down the road. We will never know now that the coach has resigned.”
“I think if he were to have been around for another three years, he would have killed sponsorship and ticket sales for the entire football program,” Wakai said. “I think he was that volatile, and that much of a lightning rod of controversy that people would have just stayed away. “
People like players were going away. A mass exodus jumped into transfer portal. Add to that an uphill battle for recruitment amid any coaching controversy, not having a stadium, and new transfer rules making it easier to switch jerseys without sitting out a year.
“If they were leaving because of higher aspirations that’s one thing,” Wakai said. “But it’s evident that they were leaving for reasons that were just toxic here in Hawaii. The stadium didn’t have a have much to do with the exodus of people here. I do think the stadium is hurting on recruiting of future warriors.”
Recruiting for the future will fall squarely on the shoulders of whoever takes Graham’s place.
UH’s pay scale is bottom of the barrel compared not just to the top conferences but even within our own.
“Either take a chance on the keiki or the kupuna, because the person who’s in the middle stage of their career and really growing whatever football program is probably not going to ever land up in Hawaii,” Wakai said. “We’ll have to always take a chance on young up and coming coaches. And then when they see success are going to leave just exactly like Rolo did.”
“I think June Jones was one of the best hires that the university ever made,” Wakai added referring to the more seasoned batch of coaches that included Jones, Graham and Norm Chow. “Todd Graham in that ‘AARP group’ might have been one of the worst decisions.”
Lawmakers want to see more transparency in the hiring process, and more follow-up from the Board of Regents on what just happened.
“We still believe that they should do an investigation to look at the overall program to just to make sure that if any follow up is needed, if any systemic changes are needed, they can bring it up, and they can deal with it,” Delacruz said. “The worst thing to happen is to just quickly deal with this situation as a reaction and the same systemic problems exist.”