- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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This week, Paul Hewitt -- former owner of the worst buyout clause ever -- finally got off the hook.
How? Because this week the world learned the details of the buyout UCLA added to newly minted coach Steve Alford's contract. In essence, UCLA and Alford agreed that if the coach leaves the school or is fired before April 30, 2016, whichever party initiates the termination will owe the other a cool $10.4 million. Why? "We wanted the commitment to be strong on both sides," UCLA senior associate athletic director Mark Harlan told the Los Angeles Times. "We didn't want him going anywhere."
On its face, that makes sense. Alford left New Mexico having just signed a 10-year extension, and an embattled UCLA athletics program no doubt wanted to make sure that if things went south in the first couple of years of his tenure, Alford couldn't embarrass a proud school by leaving. Alford, like all coaches, wanted some insurance, hefty though it may be, against a hasty dismissal. Fair enough, right?
For Alford, sure. For UCLA, not so much. Actually not at all.
He's scheduled to make $2.6 million per year -- that's more than Roy Williams makes at North Carolina and more than Jim Boeheim makes at Syracuse -- over the next seven years, and that number will surely increase if he wins because that's just how college athletics work. Successful coaches get raises, almost automatically. So Alford is making a ton of money now, and he'll make even more if he wins. And so why would a man making a ton of money and enjoying success voluntarily leave UCLA? Where would he go?
Alford, a coach whose last power-six conference job (at Iowa) ended in relative disgrace, who has won exactly one NCAA tournament game since taking over in Iowa City, whom UCLA has already twisted itself into knots pre-emptively defending, is about to be wildly well-compensated by one of the most storied and most attractive programs in all of college sports.
Imagine if you went to Ambergris Caye for a 10-day vacation, and Belizean authorities told you couldn't leave before the fifth day without paying them a $5,000 penalty. The penalty would be reduced by $1,000 for each day after the five-day mark, with no penalty for leaving on Day 10. But hold on: The flip side of the deal is that you can basically be as ugly a tourist as you want to be for up to five days, and Belize can't kick you out without paying you $5,000 for your trouble.
Got all that? It doesn't matter if you got all that, because you would say "Um, OK, guess I won't leave this awesome place earlier than I had planned," and then you'd go back to being in Ambergris Caye.
If Belize's tourism minister ever made a deal like that, he'd be sacked on the spot.
There may come a time before April 30, 2016, when UCLA decides Alford isn't the right coach for the school. I tend to doubt it, particularly because Alford is likely to be successful right away, given the talent Ben Howland left behind. But it could happen. Things happen. And if they do, UCLA will have almost zero power to make a change.
Belize would never do that deal with you, the tourist, because Belize knows how beautiful it is. Maybe someone should remind UCLA that it's UCLA.