The I’s have been dotted and the contract is now official: five years and $16 million, including an annual retention clause, for Kevin Ollie.
Two I’s in his signature. No I’s in UConn.
As he said last week, two ears on the head coach.
Kevin Ollie heard the NBA rumors, and he listened to any team interested in speaking with him. It was widely reported that the Cleveland Cavaliers pursued Ollie. This new contract won’t forever prevent NBA franchises from whispering in those ears, so don’t cross off the league quite yet, but don’t expect Ollie to bolt any time soon.
My initial impressions from Ollie’s new deal:
**The contract lists separate buyout clauses: One in the event that Ollie leaves for the NBA, the other for a different NCAA job. I’m not even going to address the latter because I find it almost impossible to believe Ollie would coach at any other college.
As for the NBA, Ollie would owe UConn $5 million if he left between June 1, 2014 and May 31, 2015. He’d owe $4 million the following year. Beginning in 2016, it drops to $1 million each year.
Though there are no guarantees, it’s more than likely Ollie sticks around until at least 2016. If he paid UConn $4 million, he’d essentially be coaching for free in his first NBA season. That would have to be one hell of a job.
**If you want to read into the Kevin Ollie-Kevin Durant friendship/free agent thing, know that Durant comes off the books in the summer of 2016, the year Ollie’s buyout drops to $1 million. That could purely be a coincidence. Or not. Check back in two years for an answer.
*I’ve written quite a bit about Ollie and the NBA, and Ollie and the Oklahoma City Thunder, but I’ve omitted one crucial point: In college, a coach can impact the lives of young men, and Ollie’s players will certainly testify to that.
So two questions: A). Is that what Ollie loves most about coaching? and B). Can someone — even Ollie — do the same with millionaire adults in the pros?
Those are two very important questions, and if the answers are “yes” and “no,” it leads us to Question C: Is Ollie willing to sacrifice that element of the job for the chance to coach at the absolute highest level?
He’ll have a few years to decide.
Kevin Ollie is so interesting because he has a burning passion for molding young adults and a burning passion for winning. I believe he’s sincere when he speaks about the off-the-court aspect, a spiel that I rarely buy when it’s delivered by other coaches.
And I believe there are few coaches who get as genuinely pissed off as he does following a loss. Some guys can lose, sit at the podium for 10 minutes and at least fake that they’re O.K. Ollie isn’t one of them. You can tell when UConn was defeated. All you have to do is look at its coach.
The competitor in Kevin Ollie probably wants a crack at the NBA eventually. Who wouldn’t want to coach the best basketball players in the world?
And maybe Ollie can impact professionals off-the-court; Kevin Durant famously credited Ollie with “changing the whole culture” in Oklahoma City. It’s safe to assume, though, that the greater impact can be made in college athletics. And if that’s what he cares about most, that might be hard to walk away from.
**How does Ollie’s buyout clause stack up against other well-paid college coaches?
According to ASeaOfBlue.com, John Calipari had a $1 million buyout in 2012, 2013 and 2014. It expires next year, and Cal can walk away without owing Kentucky a cent.
Bill Self’s $52 million deal through 2022 does not contain a buyout clause, nor does Rick Pitino’s contract with Louisville, per a 2013 ESPN report. The story also mentions Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, who owes $2 million to Iowa State if he leaves for another college program (unlikely), but only $500,000 if he leaves for the pros (more likely).
Shaka Smart’s buyout is currently $500,000, and Billy Donovan’s most recent contract included the same provision.
All that considered, this was a nice job by UConn athletic director Warde Manuel. He essentially locked Ollie up for two years and kept a fairly substantial buyout ($1 million) in place for the remainder of the contract. He couldn’t have done much better.