marek-warszawski

Fresno State shouldn’t be willing to let an asset like Rodney Terry get away for nothing

Fresno State men’s basketball coach Rodney Terry complains about a call during a February game at Save Mart Center.
Fresno State men’s basketball coach Rodney Terry complains about a call during a February game at Save Mart Center. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

As college basketball season marches into March, once again Fresno State is the team no one in the Mountain West Conference wants to face.

The Bulldogs, coming off two impressive road triumphs, have won four straight with a good chance to make it five in Saturday’s regular-season finale against last-place UNLV at Save Mart Center.

If Fresno State carries that momentum into next week’s MW tournament and winds up cutting down the nets in Las Vegas, no one would be the least bit surprised.

Memories from last year are still fresh. Some of the faces may have changed – Marvelle Harris’ most notably – but this new batch of Bulldogs are following the exact same recipe.

The constant is sixth-year coach Rodney Terry, who once again has his guys rowing like an eight-man crew. A second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, especially after losing the conference Player of the Year and the program’s all-time leading scorer, would make him an extremely hot property.

Whether it happens this year or next, it’s only a matter of time until a Power Five conference school with vaults of cash and a floundering basketball program decides Terry is its Mr. Fix It.

Whether it happens this year or next, it’s only a matter of time until a Power Five conference school with vaults of cash and a floundering basketball program decides Rodney Terry is their Mr. Fix It.

That’s the reality smaller schools have to accept. Regardless of how many years are left on coaches’ contracts, there’s no way to prevent them from taking higher-paying jobs someplace else.

But what’s strange, and telling, is how Fresno State is prepared to allow a valuable commodity like Terry to get away for nothing.

Yes, nothing. Like, zilch.

In December, Fresno State announced it had finalized a five-year contract extension with Terry through 2021.

The new contract bumped Terry’s annual base salary from $411,216 to $550,000 in 2016-17, $600,000 in 2017-18, $625,000 in 2018-19 and $650,000 in 2019-20 and 2020-21, and contains an assortment of performance bonuses.

What the 12-page document does not contain is any mention of a buyout. Meaning that when a bigger school comes along and scoops up its men’s basketball coach, Fresno State won’t get a penny. For a financially strapped athletic department with declining football revenues that very soon will have two additional mouths to feed, that doesn’t seem like a smart way to do business.

While Fresno State can’t prevent Terry from accepting a seven-figure job elsewhere, it can protect itself financially in the event that happens. That’s the purpose of a buyout.

Six years ago the university took a chance on a promising assistant coach from Texas, and that investment worked out for both parties. Think of the buyout as Fresno State’s payoff, and there isn’t a Power Five athletic director who would blink at handing over a reasonable sum ($500,000 or so) to get his guy.

Think Jim Bartko couldn’t use an extra $500K?

$3.075 million total value, in base salary, of the five-year contract extension Rodney Terry signed with Fresno State in December

I asked Fresno State’s athletic director to explain why Terry’s contract doesn’t contain a buyout. However, Bartko did not respond to several texts. Which is strange, since he doesn’t normally avoid tough subjects.

So it’s left to me to try to explain Bartko’s thinking on this, and to add a little context.

First of all, the negotiations between Fresno State and Terry’s agent were protracted. The two sides were close to a deal in May, but getting everything buttoned down took eight additional months.

The long holdup (according to multiple sources including Bartko, who used to return my texts) had nothing to do with money and everything to do with the reassignment clause. Terry’s side wanted it removed. Fresno State insisted it remained.

What’s a reassignment clause? Essentially, it’s wording that allows the university to reassign any employee to another job during the term of the contract. It’s the clause the university invoked in 2011 when it reassigned Terry’s predecessor, Steve Cleveland, to “special assistant to the director of athletics.” And in 2014,when it reassigned Bartko’s predecessor, Thomas Boeh, to “special assistant to the president.”

The reason reassignment clauses exist is for universities to gain leverage in future talks over how to settle the remaining terms of a contract. (They’re also becoming “dinosaurs” in college athletics, according to the title of a 2014 article published in the Marquette Sports Law Review.) Typically, a buyout is negotiated with both parties quietly going their separate ways. Which is exactly what happened with Cleveland and Boeh.

Reassignment clauses are standard CSU policy, but the policy isn’t always adhered to. Cal State Bakersfield coach Rod Barnes doesn’t have one in his contract, and neither did Tim DeRuyter.

Unlike with Steve Cleveland and Thomas Boeh, there’s very little chance Rodney Terry will have to be shuttled to the side. The man has proven to be pretty good at his job. There’s a much better chance he’ll be hired away. Why not profit from that?

Unlike Cleveland and Boeh, there’s very little chance Terry will have to be shuttled to the side. The man has proven to be pretty good at his job. There’s a much better chance he’ll be hired away. Why not profit from that?

My understanding is that Fresno State wanted to include a buyout in Terry’s new contract, but Terry’s side would only agree on the condition the reassignment clause was removed. Since the final version contains a reassignment clause but no buyout, conclude for yourself which the university valued more.

It’s as if Fresno State is more concerned with maintaining its leverage over Terry in case he fails than to benefit from his success.

Puzzling, indeed.

In the event Terry leaves, I’m sure Bartko thinks he can replace him with someone just as good. Someone who would be his guy. And he’d be choosing from a deeper applicant pool based on the program’s recent success.

Fair enough. But just because Fresno State can’t prevent a successful coach from getting away doesn’t mean it should let him get away for nothing.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee

Up next

FRESNO STATE VS. UNLV

  • Saturday: 4 p.m. at Save Mart Center
  • Records: Bulldogs 18-11, 10-7 Mountain West; Rebels 11-19, 4-13
  • TV/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
  • Notable: The Rebels, under first-year coach Marvin Menzies, are tied for last place in the Mountain West with Air Force but are coming off a 66-59 home victory over Utah State that snapped a nine-game losing streak. … The Bulldogs have clinched the No. 4 seed in next week’s MW tournament and could move up to No. 3 if they beat UNLV and Boise State loses at Air Force. … Parking is free in the SMC lots.
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