Anthem Insider: Board of Trustees meeting

The USC Board of Trustees met on Thursday to discuss a few key topics, including approving the contract extension and raise of Coach Ellis Johnson. Read inside for detailed insider notes on the meeting and what it means for the future of Gamecock athletics.


Ellis Johnson's defenses have been at or near the top of the SEC since he arrived in Columbia, and it seems every time a defensive coordinator position opens up in the conference, his name comes up, including openings at the three programs in the SEC East traditionally at the top – Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. USC Athletic director Eric Hyman called the raise Johnson received yesterday as being a counteroffer in response to a potential job offer, which The State reports was from new Vol head coach Derek Dooley.

The new contract that was approved by the USC Board of Trustees Thursday is a nice deal if you can get it – take a $350,000 paycheck, and double it, and then guarantee it for four years, through the 2013 season. The new contract extends his contract from an original three year guarantee to the four years now in place. His current salary of $200,000 and supplemental income of $150,000 that make up the $350,000 remains unchanged. The new $350,000 is labeled as "personal services compensation" and will come from the monies paid to USC in its contract with ISP for broadcasting rights. This is common practice now. A coach's actual salary from a school is often just a small part of his overall package. Coach Spurrier's package contains income from camps, his TV show, the Under Armor contract, and the ISP deal.

"Coach Johnson has done a terrific job here both recruiting and coaching and we respect that," Hyman said.

Johnson said in a press release that "I'm pleased Coach Spurrier, Eric Hyman, Dr. Pastides and the University has extended that vote of confidence. The most exciting part for me is the length of the contract because I want to be here at South Carolina and we have some great times ahead of us."

But the rest of the story on the contract is also interesting. If Johnson leaves for a head coaching job elsewhere, he doesn't owe USC anything. If he leaves for any other coaching position, he owes the University for the balance of his contract. For example, if Johnson was hired away by Florida or Clemson as a coordinator for one of those programs within this next year, then he would owe the three plus year balance of his contract to USC – somewhere between 2.1 and 2.8 million dollars, depending on exactly when it took place. Hyman does not like automatic rollovers, so the contract does not contain one. One trustee made it very clear that if Johnson did leave USC, he would not vote in favor of another similar contract for his replacement, potentially blocking the Gamecocks from hiring the best coach available, who would expect a comparable package, of course.

Speaking of Florida, Clemson et al, and the board attorney was asked to research what would be needed to add a clause to future contracts that would either prevent or carry heavy penalties for a coach leaving USC and going to a school that they compete directly with, like the other SEC schools or the Tigers. The list might also include schools the Gamecocks regularly compete with recruiting wise, like North Carolina. If USC removes Johnson from coaching without cause, there are three ways that can play out: 1) He is offered another job within the university at his current package; 2) He is subsequently hired by another school, and USC would then pay him the difference between his new package at that school and his current package at USC. 3) The third option weighs heavily in USC's favor – if he is not offered option one, and is unable after three months to find another coaching position, then his package will be reduced to the original $350,000 a year at that point.

The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees unanimously approved the deal Wednesday afternoon.

USC had never had a "running game coordinator" prior to hiring Eric Wolford a little over a year ago, but new offensive line coach Shawn Elliott was also given that title, as well as a two year contract through the 2011 season that pays him $150,000 the first year, and $165,000 the second year. It also does not contain any rollover clause, and if Elliott left for another coaching position, he would only owe USC $25,000. That first year compensation is $90,000 less than what Wolford was paid. He will also be reimbursed for moving expenses and given one vehicle for his personal use. The Executive Committee unanimously approved Elliott's contract as well.

The Executive Committee was one loud vote short of unanimous in its other major vote of the day – approving an additional $71 million of potential bond debt if needed for the next phase of the athletic village and the conversion of the current state farmers' market property. As I've reported in the Daily Anthem before, the current economy / recession works in USC's favor to an extent in a couple of areas regarding the pending construction projects on tap. One source has repeatedly told me that USC can expect to save between 20 and 30% of what the projects would otherwise cost, as construction firms are sharpening their pencils to get jobs like USC's when jobs are hard to find. The other benefit is USC can borrow the money at nearly all-time low rates. Hyman confirmed both on Thursday, saying "You can't get a better time (to borrow money). Old timers that have been in the business for a long time have said you're getting 20 to 30 percent off on your projects."

Long time trustee Eddie Floyd was that voice crying in the wilderness against yesterday's debt level increase, stating he thought that USC should put the current projects on hold until the economy improves, and also complained the projects were costing too much, in particular the $5.3 million price tag for the new tennis complex. Those trustees voting in favor stated that when South Carolina joined the SEC, they agreed to upgrade their facilities to be comparable to the facilities at the other member institutions, and the current projects are part of keeping that pledge. Anyone who has visited the Roundhouse in the last 25 years can state without hesitation that it should have been replaced long ago. When the new coaches support building is completed in 2011, the Roundhouse will be demolished to make room for the new track and field area.

Hyman said that USC will not rely on revenue bonds beyond the currently approved ceiling of $136.7 million to fund future projects such as Phase III of the Athletic Village, which would include a new basketball practice facility in the same area where the athletes spend most of their time on campus, as well as a new training complex and further non-revenue sports facilities upgrades.

Should USC use all the monies currently approved as well as already committed to, Hyman estimates annual payments would be more than $9 million, funded by the new seat licenses as well as the Gamecocks' share of the SEC broadcast contracts with ESPN and CBS.

A parking garage next to "The Dodie" is the next immediate project, and Hyman said Thursday that they hope to break ground on the new coaches support (administration) building in April. An architectural committee will begin hearing proposals from four competing architectural firms for the conversion of the farmers' market property to add 3300 parking spaces and "The Garnet Way" entrance to the stadium from there that would be similar to Ole Miss's famous grove area. Hyman called it the "Garnet Brick Road" on Thursday, and spoke of the football team walking down it to the cheers of fans on their way to the stadium on game day. The farmers' market project would also replace the "proving grounds" practice fields currently leased from the SC National Guard with two football practice fields and an indoor practice facility towards the rear of the property.

Gamecock fans should be excited about the improvements made yesterday to both their coaches' contracts and the athletic facilities. Both are needed in this day and time if USC truly wants to compete for championships.

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