Recession not stopping coaching buyouts

March, 17, 2009
The recession was supposed to curtail coaching moves this offseason.

Boosters may not have the money to help offset buyouts, with various scandals playing out from bank failures to Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme to overall stock portfolios dwindling.

But so far at Boston University and Virginia that hasn't been a factor.

BU coach Dennis Wolff was forced out after 15 seasons. He is negotiating his buyout with four seasons left on his deal. He is ultimately owed $1.4 million.

Virginia will pay Dave Leitao $2.1 million not to coach the Cavs. This is the same school that paid $2 million to get rid of Pete Gillen. The Cavaliers have hardly been an NCAA tournament regular, going to seven NCAA tournaments since 1990.

Yet, the move to get rid of Leitao was made over the weekend after Virginia lost to Boston College in the first round of the ACC tournament. Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage indicated Leitao was safe when asked about his job status Thursday in Atlanta. When rumors circulated that Leitao would be out Saturday, Littlepage sent a text response saying there had been no change. So, something changed.

Littlepage also got rid of Gillen. At the time, Littlepage was quoted as saying, "We're going to seek and hire the top coach available," at a news conference in March 2005. "I'm confident that we're going to attract a coach that will help bring national prominence to our program," he said. Littlepage then hired Leitao away from DePaul after three seasons and one NCAA tournament with the Blue Demons. Leitao went to Virginia after an NIT season in 2005.

Leitao said Monday night that he was called and told that a change would be made. He said he didn't challenge the decision. He said he was given a choice of being fired or resigning.

Two seasons ago, Leitao was named the ACC coach of the year when Virginia tied for the regular-season championship with a conference record of 11-5 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. Virginia was picked eighth in the preseason. The Cavs were 16-1 at home that season, the most home wins in the history of the Virginia program.

Neither Leitao's 2007 ACC coach of the year award nor tying for the ACC title was mentioned in the release on his resignation on the Web site.

Littlepage mentioned the youth of the Cavs and the prospects for the future with ACC rookie of the year Sylven Landesberg. Two of the other four top scorers -- Sammy Zeglinski and Mike Scott -- are underclassmen.

"It's part of the business, they're making a change," said Leitao of his four-year tenure.

Leitao went to the NIT in his first year, the NCAA in his second, the CBI semifinals his third season and then finished 10-18 this season, 4-12 (11th) in the ACC.

What the Cavs do next will be interesting. Will money not be an issue? Will they try to lure Minnesota's Tubby Smith as they once attempted when he was at Kentucky? Or pursue Oklahoma's Jeff Capel or Xavier's Sean Miller or VCU's Anthony Grant? They all might be more successful than Leitao if any of them arrive. They have more proven track records. But Virginia hasn't shown consistently that it can be an elite ACC job. It's a good job with plenty of players in the state, but the standards are high academically and the Cavs have always searched to find that balance.

The economy was supposed to save some coaches. It still might. It didn't at BU and Virginia.

• Thanks to all of the 65 schools invited to the NCAA tournament for your help on our ESPNU Coaches Spotlight Monday. We talked to 64 of 65 schools over a five-hour period with Cal State Northridge being the one exception due to coach Bobby Braswell dealing with his son's legal issues. Most of these interviews will be on in some form this week.

Here are some of the highlights:

• North Dakota State's Saul Phillips said he should coach in a gorilla suit because he heard Kansas' Bill Self say the Jayhawks don't play well when they're distracted.

• When asked how Syracuse's legs are after playing in seven overtimes, coach Jim Boeheim said they're so good they could pose for pictures.

• Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon said that once he saw BYU pop up on the line he knew the Aggies weren't playing the Cougars because they played them last year in the first round. Not quite. But he and BYU coach Dave Rose said playing each other has cut down the prep time this week.

• North Carolina coach Roy Williams said guard Ty Lawson has to go through a walk-through Tuesday and a practice Wednesday before he can play in the first round Thursday in Greensboro with his jammed right toe.

• Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said he's concerned about Levance Fields' back and groin injury so much that he wouldn't rule out holding him back from playing Friday in the first-round 1-16 matchup with East Tennessee State in Dayton to give him a few more days of rest.

• Stephen F. Austin coach Danny Kaspar said North Dakota State's Ben Woodside was the best guard the Lumberjacks played this season.

• Michigan coach John Beilein said he was nervous after seeing Mississippi State win the SEC tournament. He said once Michigan's name popped on the board, he didn't even see whom the Wolverines were playing or where because he was so excited.

• Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said the guards have to be more consistent if the Sooners are going to win.

• Louisville's Rick Pitino mentioned that he wasn't concerned about possibly playing Ohio State in Dayton in the second round because the last time the Buckeyes played in the NCAAs in Dayton they lost. He also said he thought Dayton people, not Ohio State fans, bought the majority of tickets. He did anticipate Buckeyes fans would gobble up extras. He also said he had no issue with a road game since the Cardinals played a "road" game against Syracuse in the Garden for the Big East tournament title.

• Alabama State's Lewis Jackson and Morehead State's Donnie Tyndall: Both said they packed for the whole week in Dayton, anticipating that they would stay after winning the opening-round game. Tyndall liked that the first game of the NCAAs was alone on the air Tuesday, while Jackson wasn't a huge fan of a separate game.

• Ohio State's Thad Matta said the Buckeyes had to start over once David Lighty got hurt this season.

• Siena's Fran McCaffery wasn't surprised that the Saints got a 9-seed. In fact he said they deserved it and he believed they would have received a bid without winning the MAAC.

• Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said Jeff Teague has to be a big-time scorer for the Demon Deacons to advance.

• USC coach Tim Floyd said the Trojans are 8-0 with a healthy team this season.

• Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said no one is giving his team a chance against Wake Forest.

• Binghamton coach Kevin Broadus was realistic and said it would be extremely difficult to beat Duke.

• Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said it was great to see this group of Blue Devils win a championship (the ACC tournament).

• UConn coach Jim Calhoun admitted that his core group still needed to win a postseason game. Only Jeff Adrien and Craig Austrie have ever done so -- in 2006.

• Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said he would be lying if he tried to claim that the Spartans weren't thinking about playing at "home" in Detroit in the Final Four.

• Utah State coach Stew Morrill expects the Aggies, as an 11-seed, to have a great crowd in Boise.

• Cornell coach Steve Donahue said the Big Red can fly direct -- on a charter -- from Ithaca to Boise. Who knew?

• Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury sounded like Calhoun when talking about Jarvis Varnado. He said Varnado is becoming an offensive presence like a shot-blocker, just like what Calhoun has said about Hasheem Thabeet.

• Villanova coach Jay Wright said the Wildcats were savvy to playing at the Wachovia Center. He said the building folks wanted them to play four games in the building, but the Wildcats knew that would eliminate them from playing there since under NCAA rules you can't play more than three games in a building and play in that arena. So the Wildcats played a fourth game outside the Pavilion at the Spectrum -- the last college game at that arena (which was a win over Pitt). But Wright admitted that the Wildcats had to be at least a No. 3 seed to host.

• Akron coach Keith Dambrot said he received a text message from LeBron James as soon as the bids were announced. Dambrot coached James early in high school, and while James didn't go to Akron, he's a huge supporter of his hometown school.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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