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Friday, December 30, 2011
Illini assistants make right decision

By Adam Rittenberg

I have a contract with ESPN.com. It has a start date and an end date. It has a predetermined salary structure. It includes job expectations, company policies and, like any contract, a lot of legalese. But the important things are spelled out clearly.

Before agreeing to the terms, ESPN’s legal department sends me the contract to review. I read it over. Usually several times. And then I sign it and send it in.

It's all right there in print -- no gray area.

Jeff Brohm
Jeff Brohm is among the Illinois assistant coaches who will fulfill their duties during Friday's bowl despite a contract dispute.
Four Illinois assistant coaches are steamed because they put pen to paper before fully studying what was written on the paper. They thought they had two-year rollover contracts and were surprised to learn recently that their deals had been reworked in the summer of 2010 and as a result, they no longer would be paid after Feb. 28. Illinois fired head coach Ron Zook on Nov. 27, and only one assistant (defensive line coach Keith Gilmore) is remaining on staff with new boss Tim Beckman.

The assistants were irate and lashed out. Offensive line coach Joe Gilbert called the situation "very unprofessional." They even threatened to boycott Saturday's Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA, adding even more controversy to a game filled with it.

But the Bizzaro Bowl Boycott won't be taking place.

Zook told ESPN colleague Gene Wojciechowski on Friday night that his former aides will show up Saturday at AT&T Park.
"They're going to coach," said Zook, when contacted by ESPN.com Friday evening. "They're [the assistants] frustrated. But they're going to coach. They know it's about the kids. But they were trying to make a point. They've got careers, family, all of those things. They're class guys. And it's important that everyone knows they're really good people."

More from the story:
The dispute centers around a contract promise that Zook said was made to several of his assistant coaches by him and former Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther. According to Zook, the assistants -- Jeff Brohm, Ron West and Chip Long -- were told they would receive two-year deals which would run through the 2012 regular season. Assistant Joe Gilbert has told SI.com that he also was promised a multiyear contract.
"Somewhere -- I'm not sure how -- a couple of the contracts got changed," said Zook. "I truly believed they had two-year contracts. ... I'm not exactly sure how things got changed. I feel awful about it. They're great people and they did a great job. I don't know where it went wrong. I was under the understanding that they had two-year contracts."

I feel for the Illinois assistants. It's a bad deal for them, but it's because they signed bad deals. As athletic director Mike Thomas told SI.com, "We have a contract that's pretty clear, and we intend to honor that contract. We assume they'll honor it as well."

Boycotting would have been worse for the coaches and for the Illini players than it would have for the administration. If you want to stick it to your bosses, boycotting the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl probably isn't the best move. If you want to stick it to your players, boycotting is the way to go.

Plus, these assistants are looking for jobs. They have good credentials. But no employer wants to see "quitter" on a résumé.

Who knows what to expect Saturday afternoon in San Francisco? But at least the Illini assistants with be with the players they've coached all season.