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Coker, UTSA Reach Settlement; But At What Real Cost?

After a week of contract disputes, former head coach Larry Coker and UTSA have reached a buyout agreement; but did the university lose more than just dollars?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

On January 5, UTSA made the announcement that head football coach Larry Coker decided to "step down" from his duties with three years still remaining on his contract.  The founding head coach built the university's football team from scratch in 2009, compiling a 26-32 overall record through five seasons of play.

About a month later, in an interview with Jerry Briggs of the San Antonio Express-News, Coker was asked directly if he felt like he was fired, and hinted strongly that he did not in fact step down but was rather let go.

"I will tell you this," Coker said. "I had not reached all my goals. My goal was to have a winning program here. My goal was to see these kids go to a bowl game, those type of things, and we didn't do that. I didn't want to leave before that was done. But again, I'm out now. I'll just kind of leave it at that."

- mysa.com

Briggs continued to be the foreman in covering the developing story, and just last week he broke the news that the coach was without a doubt fired by the university; Coker specifically stating, "they let me go."

In late January, The Express-News made an open-records request to the university in order to receive a copy of the contract.

Coker signed a five-year, $2.25 million contract in August 2014 after leading the team to a 19-15 record through the first three seasons of play.  Under the terms of said contract, Coker had a "termination by the university without cause" clause, guaranteeing him a buyout if released under such circumstances.

Now here's where things start to get hairy:  As Briggs began to uncover the details of the contract and the real facts behind Coker's departure, the university began to have some serious issues with what was being reported.

Coker's annual salary was set at $425,000 through August 2019.  The total amount owed to the coach would then be $1,559,000, according to language regarding the clause stating that the university would pay "liquidated damages equal to the remaining years (on the contract)" at an annual base salary.

Following that report, university spokesman Joe Izbrand personally contacted the Express-News to dispute their figures.

Izbrand: "What you're reporting is not accurate."

E-N: "What specifically is wrong with it?"

Izbrand: "The numbers that you are quoting as a payout to coach Coker."

At this point, Izbrand side-stepped a question about what the payout numbers (actually) are. He suggested that the newspaper file (another) open records request to get the information.

- mysa.com

"I had a buyout," Coker said. "They had to pay me to make a change. Just whatever my contract said, that's what they had to pay me. It was only fair. They knew that when they let me go... You know what? Lynn never did give me a reason, and I didn't ask. If they don't want you, they don't have to give you a reason."

A settlement was reached on Friday afternoon for a buyout of $650,000 to be received in a lump sum $550,000 due in April and the remaining $100,000 to be paid "on or before" October 15.  Less than half of what was remaining on his contract, Coker said he was "pleased" with the amount and holds "no animosity" towards the university.

The former coach will also retain access to a suite at the Alamodome for UTSA home games as part of his previous contract with the university.

A few things here:  One, I think it's completely bogus how the university acted throughout this entire situation.  Some nerve the athletics program has to blatantly lie to their fans by saying that Coker stepped down when he was in fact fired.  Also, that's completely unfair to Larry Coker as a man.

There were obvious indications from the beginning that it went down differently than what was reported, and for Hickey to dodge questions behind spurious tears during the press conference and purposely deceive the Roadrunner Faithful is downright awful.

Two, Coker was completely sold short on the settlement.  The university had an apparent contractual obligation but for some unknown reason did not uphold it.  For UTSA to withhold information from the Express-News and require the publication to request documents not once, but twice, is bad practice and bad publicity.  People have a right to know the facts but the university instead regarded the circumstance as "a personal matter."  Again, bogus.

Lastly, UTSA just hired a very exciting successor and filled out an entirely new staff.  How on earth can Frank Wilson and company trust the university with this mess as their first impression?  The way UTSA handled this situation has portrayed the athletics program in a very bad light.

"I didn't want to leave like that," Coker said. "I didn't want to blame UTSA. It didn't come out the way I would want it to come out."

I'm sorry it happened like that, Coach.

Special thanks to Jerry Briggs of the San Antonio Express-News for his coverage on this matter.