Will Lavin Resign?

In the aftermath of the loss to St. John's, it's time to share some of the information concerning a potential early resignation by basketball coach Steve Lavin, and some speculation...

It's a moot point to analyze the St. John's game. It's even too much to discuss how ugly it was at Pauley Pavilion Saturday.


The hottest topic is whether coach Steve Lavin will resign before the end of the season. But the only other thing right now of immediate concern, besides potential coaching candidates, is UCLA's NCAA record of 54 consecutive winning seasons is in serious jeopardy. This year's team will have to go 11-5 for the rest of the regular season. They could go 10-6 the rest of the way and maintain the streak, but then would need to win two games in the Pac-10 tournament.


But the biggest issue on the collective mind of UCLA basketball fans is: Will Steve Lavin resign before the end of the season?


Yesterday, in the post-game press conference, athletic director Dan Guerrero was asked about Lavin's status. He said, "I'm concerned, but I've never advocated replacing a coach in the middle of the year. I've been consistent on letting coaches do their job, then I evaluate at the end of the season."


We have it from sources that Guerrero is sincere in his words here – that he doesn't intend to fire Lavin before the end of the season. As an athletic director, Guerrero needs to give his coaches enough time to prove themselves, either earning their job or losing it, on their own. Being a first-year AD, being on the job just seven months, having already fired the football coach and having said that his policy was to give every coach a season and evaluate their performance at the end of that season, Guerrero can't fire Lavin before the end of the season.


But that isn't taking into consideration whether Lavin will resign before the end of the season. Many close to the situation are split over the idea. Some cite that Lavin has been close to resigning at two times in recent years, and the situation is by far bleaker now.  There are some unsubstantiated reports that he's indicated he could resign soon if the season didn't improve drastically, and that he's had some preliminary discussions within the athletic department concerning it. Others insist that Lavin won't resign and will stick out the remainder of the season.  It will, almost certainly, come down to, in Lavin's mind, what would behoove him the most.


Pros for Lavin if he resigned mid-season: 


-- He can always say he "resigned" instead of being fired.


-- He avoids having a potentially disastrous season record added to his resume.  He'll avoid more losses on his win/loss record. 


-- He can say he resigned under the overwhelming pressure, but if it had really been up to him, he would have stayed.  He'd blame it on the "pathology of UCLA basketball."


-- He can then say he always salvaged every season when he was coach.  


-- If he knows that Guerrero is going to fire him at the end of the season anyway, why go through the hell of the next couple of months?  He's been affected by the pressure, as anyone would, and it very well could get uglier.  


-- If it involves a renegotiated buyout, he could throw in an early resignation as a bargaining chip in renegotiating his buyout.  He will probably want to renegotiate the buyout to make it a lumpsum anyway, so he could throw in an early resignation as another concession rather than cutting the negotiated lumpsum buyout further.


Pros for Lavin if he decided to stay on for the remainder of the season:


-- He might think there is a chance that he could salvage his job with a run at the end of the season. 


-- It never looks good to "give up." 


-- He could want to defy what he knows is the mounting desire of the UCLA community.


-- It would give the interim coach a chance to turn around the team and make him look worse.


The Money Issue


Probably the biggest issue as to whether Lavin would resign early is money. And there are many issues to consider in the money issue.


The primary one is the buyout amount and the terms.  Loosely, the buyout's terms are that Lavin would get approximately $550,000 for one year, and then $150,000 a year for the next four years. But the terms dictate that if Lavin earns any other money, it goes against the amount UCLA has to pay him. So, if Lavin earns $200,000 in broadcasting next year, UCLA would only have to pay him $350,000. 


So, the question would be whether Lavin would intend to  1) do nothing for five years and just accept  his buyout money with these terms 2) earn  as much as he can over the next five years and not concern himself with how much he'd be losing in the buyout money 3) renegotiate the buyout as a one-time, up-front buyout, so that he'd get that money, plus anything else he is going to earn in the next five years.  


It might seem like a no-brainer to re-negotiate a lumpsum buyout, but it might not be for UCLA. Whether a lumpsum buyout would be agreed upon is completely dependent on the amount of that buyout.  It would have to be something that Lavin perceives as good for him, and something UCLA perceives as saving them money. 


Right now, UCLA is in a strong negotiating position.  If you're UCLA, you would have to assume that, over the next five years, Lavin will earn money through some kind of employment and it could possibly cost UCLA very little in buyout money over that span. Plus, 2007 dollars are worth considerably less than 2003 dollars. If Lavin came to Guerrero with an early resignation as a bargaining chip in trying to retain a good amount of the buyout in a lumpsum payment, Guerrero might be thinking differently. Guerrero might not feel he has to get Lavin out now – that he knows he's going to fire him regardless.  So, the offer by Lavin to resign early might not have any weight with Guerrero in terms of the buyout. In fact, knowing it might not cost UCLA much in buyout money over the next five years, Guerrero might even respond with a position that if Lavin resigns Guerrero would demand a considerably huge cut in any lumpsum buyout.  Lavin, then, might want to retain the current buyout terms. In other words, it could be an early-resignation deal killer.


What could determine Lavin's approach to the buyout could be what believes are his career possibilities. If he feels that he has some immediate opportunities in broadcasting, an early resignation could facilitate those oppportunities. 


Many close to Lavin believe there's a good chance he could go into broadcasting.  The prevailing sentiment among those close to the situation is that Lavin has a brighter future in broadcasting than in coaching. He's telegenic, personable and has a very good sense of humor.  He wouldn't have to deal with the pressure of being a coach, and more than likely, the amount of money he could conceivably make as a coach wouldn't be significantly different than what he could make as a broadcaster. In fact, he might have a better future financially as a broadcaster.


If he did go into broadcasting, if he sticks to the terms of the buyout, he would only want to get a job soon merely to establish himself in the profession, not for financial reasons. If he sticks to the buyout's terms, it's very unlikely he would make any more money being employed as a broadcaster anytime before the spring of 2004. He'd have to make over approximately $550,000 as a broadcaster to make any more money than he would doing absolutely nothing and just accepting his buyout terms for the next year. 


But here's where it might become a motivating factor, though, to want to negotiate a lumpsum buyout and/or resign early. Lavin could feel that he has a good chance to make some good money as a broadcaster at the end of this season, possibly being a television analyst for the year-ending tournaments and the NCAA tournament.  If it's signficant enough money, he wouldn't want it offset by the buyout terms.  He could conceivably make considerably more with a small lumpsum buyout and a good broadcasting deal. And in order to do that, he and his representatives might think they need to get him removed from the ugliness of his firing/resignation as much as possible. It could be difficult for him to be fired in March and, in the wake of that, get picked up by CBS as an analyst for the NCAA tournament.  But, if he resigned in January, there could be two months of healing, enough so that CBS, Fox or ESPN feels it's far enough removed from the ugliness of the UCLA firing.  You have to admit, Steve Lavin doing analysis on Fox Television about the Pac-10 tournament would be considerably compelling for viewers.


The prospects of Lavin getting another coaching job wouldn't more than likely affect the possibilty of an early resignation.  Not only because it wouldn't happen, obviously, until the end of the season even if he did resign from UCLA early,  good sources indicate that it might be difficult for Lavin to find another coaching job.  Lavin has sent out feelers about other potential coaching jobs, testing the waters. The opinions of many highly-placed individuals around the college basketballw orld believe there would likely not be any high-major programs that would pursue him.  He has indicated in the past that he'd be interested in coaching at the University of San Francisco, but he could demand more money than that program is willing to pay.  If it's not much more than $150,000 a year, Lavin would make that through his buyout annually between 2005-2008.  The thinking might be: Why go into a tough situation to succeed, having to try to resurrect a floundering program in a pretty tough league (WCC), for no more money than he'd make from his buyout and doing nothing? Lavin's chances at getting another coaching job would have to hinge on some random factors. It would probably have to be a program that would pay him substantially more than what he'd get in his buyout over the next five years if he stuck to the terms, and it would take an athletic director who was either not aware of some of Lavin's UCLA history or willing to overlook it, which there might not be many.  


Whether Lavin decides he wants to further pursue a career in coaching, or pursue broadcasting, or does a little bit of both, the potential of a lumpsum buyout is key.  Again, it would have to be a signficant cut from the money terms of the buyout for UCLA to agree since UCLA is in a strong negotiating position.  But it would have to be substantial enough that Lavin believes, given how much he could earn over the next five years, that he'd make more money agreeing to it.  That difference might be considerably enough to nix any agreement.  And, as stated above, the two different viewpoints – that Lavin might believe an early resignation is a bargaining chip in keeping the buyout substantial while UCLA might perceive an early resignation as a way to reduce the buyout – could further keep the deal from happening.

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