Final deal gives Bielema $11.9M over three years
The nonprofit Razorback Foundation has agreed to pay former head football coach Bret Bielema up to $11.9 million over three years, or roughly twice what the terms of his public employment contract prescribed, the foundation announced Tuesday.
Bielema’s buyout agreement, finalized two months after he was fired, settles a disparity between the coach’s contract with the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and a separate agreement with the foundation. Based on when he was fired, the two agreements set his severance pay at $5.9 million and $15.4 million, respectively.
“The original agreements were drafted by two different parties, and any discrepancy between the two was ultimately negotiated by the Foundation,” University of Arkansas System spokesman Nate Hinkel said. “Ultimately
you’d like to have matching documents when the terms of their content are being executed, but in this case there was a question about which one was in play and it was negotiated by the appropriate party.”
The booster-funded Razorback Foundation, which supports university athletics, is responsible for up to $18.6 million in buyouts related to recent athletic department turnover. Aside from Bielema’s agreement, the nonprofit also has committed to pay up to $4.6 million to buy out former Athletic Director Jeff Long’s contract and up to $2 million to Southern Methodist University to secure Bielema’s replacement, Chad Morris.
The nonprofit also helps the UA pay some athletic department salaries and has pledged tens of millions in donations toward the expansion and renovation of Razorback Stadium.
Razorback Foundation Executive Director Scott Varady said in a printed statement that Bielema’s representatives “cooperated in developing the necessary mechanisms” to calculate Bielema’s buyout, which will be paid in monthly installments. The two sides also worked together on the language to lessen the sum based on the coach’s future earnings.
Varady, citing a busy schedule, said he was not immediately available Tuesday evening to answer questions. Bielema and his agent, Neil Cornrich, did not respond to phone messages.
The UA fired Bielema on Nov. 24 after the Razorbacks lost their season finale to the University of Missouri, sealing a 4-8 season and a 29-34 record over his five-year tenure at UA.
Bielema’s dismissal came nine days after UA severed ties with Long. The university replaced Long with Hunter Yurachek from the University of Houston.
Under Bielema’s “release and waiver agreement,” he must “diligently” seek to find another job and give the foundation a written report of his attempts to do so every six
months through the end of 2020.
His buyout payments from the foundation will be reduced should he find other employment athletics-related or not, including consulting fees, fees received as an independent contractor or any other income or compensation “of any kind whatsoever.”
The nonprofit has guaranteed Bielema $525,000 in varying annual sums through Dec. 31, 2020, regardless of whether he gets another job.
After each calendar year, the parties will meet within 60 days for a “reconciliation” of any outstanding amounts owed to either Bielema or the foundation.
Long is due $4.6 million in total severance pay through June 2022, according to a release agreement he signed Nov. 24 with the UA. That sum would be offset by wages Long earns as an administrator or consultant for a university or professional sports team, according to the deal.
Similar to Long’s release agreement, the former head coach’s agreement states that neither party will make disparaging remarks about Bielema; the foundation; its directors, officers and employees; or the University of Arkansas; or its governing board, its officers, representatives and employees. If asked, both parties are to say “that any differences between or among them were resolved on an amicable basis.”
Bielema’s original contract in 2012 with UA listed a chart with buyout amounts and included language that the figures in the chart should be plugged into a formula. His contract extension in 2015 laid out a new chart with higher figures but maintained that “all other text, terms and conditions … shall remain the same.”
The formula says to take the amount listed as the guaranty payment identified in the chart and to divide that by “the number of months of the Term of the Employment Agreement.” The formula then says to take that amount and multiply it by the number of months remaining on the contract.
Under that formula, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette took the $15.4 million listed in the chart and divided it by 97 — the span of Bielema’s employment from Dec. 4, 2012, through the end of his most recent contract, Dec. 31, 2020, which is what his amended contract describes as the employment-agreement term.
The newspaper then took that value and multiplied by 37 — a rough figure that included the month of December 2017 and the remaining three years of Bielema’s contract. It totaled $5.87 million.
Bielema entered into a “personal services and guaranty agreement” with the Razorback Foundation on Feb. 6, 2015, just more than a month after the Razorbacks beat the University of Texas 31-7 in the Texas Bowl and the same day Bielema’s contract extension went into effect with UA.
The personal services agreement made no reference to a formula.
Instead, that agreement has a chart listing that the coach is owed $15.4 million if he is fired for convenience in 2017. It also states, “the amount specified in this paragraph shall be the total amount that will be paid by the Foundation to Bielema.”
Former Razorback Foundation Executive Director Sean Rochelle signed Bielema’s 2015 agreement with the foundation. University of Arkansas System President Donald Bobbitt, UA-Fayetteville interim Chancellor Daniel Ferritor and Long signed his contract extension.
Repeated attempts to reach Rochelle over the past month have been unsuccessful. Long, through his attorney, has declined interview requests.
Bielema’s “release and waiver agreement,” which finalizes his buyout terms with the foundation, relied on a formula to determine his severance pay. A news release says it “represents the combined value” of what the UA and the Razorback Foundation would have paid Bielema from the date of his dismissal through Dec. 31, 2020.
Foundation officials and Bielema’s representatives took the total amount of the guaranty payment at the time of Bielema’s termination — $15.4 million, as listed in both his public employment agreement and his personal services agreement — and divided that amount by “the total number of months covered by that sum,” which they listed as 48 beginning Jan. 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2020.
They then took that product — $320,833.33 — and multiplied it by the remaining number of months on the term of his amended contract, 37 months and a week. The parties came up with a total of $11.935 million.
The value Bielema and the foundation placed into the formula — the total number of months covered by the guaranty payment — differed from the language in Bielema’s university contract, which said to use the number of months in the term of employment.
Bret Bielema works during the second half of the Arkansas-Missouri game at Fayetteville on Nov. 24, the day he was fired as the Razorbacks’ head coach.