by Max Brantley
Since Arkansas State University has hired a former Razorback assistant, Gus Malzahn, as new head football coach, it appears they're going to adopt Hog-style press tactics.
The "press conference" yesterday to introduce Malzahn was more like a pep rally, with one of the assembled even giving Malzahn a cap before asking a question. Details about Malzahn's pay? Non-existent.
The Democrat-Gazette story this morning said Malzahn "signed his contract" about 8:30 p.m. last night. If that was so, I wondered, how come a copy wasn't demanded and supplied? I sent an FOI early this morning to ASU PR offices. No response. I followed up with an e-mail to the sports PR office. No response. So then I sent an e-mail to ASU President Chuck Welch.
Call me a jerk, but when a college that lives off public money for most of its athletic expenses offers a reported $600,000 increase in annual pay to its football coach, I think the public has a fair interest in the amount and the expected source of that revenue. Plus, I think the occasion of such a big expenditure is a good time to recap what the program spends, where it gets its money and what its real attendance and gate receipts have been in the last year. I asked for all these things.
Welch responded to my first note about non-response from ASU and said he'd look into it promptly and, of course, honor the law. He wrote shortly after:
"My understanding of the FOI is that it applies to public records in final form and not working drafts. When it is in final form it will be provided to you. Coach Malzahn did sign a general letter of agreement. I have asked our university counsel to provide you with that document."
The FOI provides no exception for "final forms." It says "all records" maintained in public offices are public records.
I'm still waiting for the letter of agreement. And a copy of the draft contract, which I specifically requested initially expecting this runaround. And everything else. I still haven't received a response from the fellow who supposedly handles public relations for the athletic department. Head must have really swollen in J'boro. At UA, even Kevin Trainor responds to my questions.
UPDATE: ASU has begun releasing copies of documents. They indicate a base annual pay of $156,000 for Malzahn's five-year contract, but with a list of bonuses, a house and other perks without assigned value and camps, a radio and TV show and other features that could produce significant additional income. No value is assigned to these and no sources of payment are identified. Should Malzahn be forced to leave in his first year,
he'd owe ASU would owe him almost $2.5 million for the five-year deal. I did get the Sports Information Director, Jerry Scott, on the phone. Scott, who makes $56,000 as SID, said he had none of the other sports information I requested, but he'd call the university attorney and see what he could do. The counsel, Lucinda McDaniel, is "in a meeting."
The extra money is coming from private sources, of that there's no doubt. Gov. Mike Beebe told people in Jonesboro yesterday that several wealthy backers had "stepped up." Wallace Fowler, the Jonesboro banker, is everybody's first prime suspect. Fowler lives out in RidgePointe, the country club neighborhood where Malzahn will be housed.
UPDATE II: The seas part. The letter of agreement with Malzahn has arrived. You may read it here. Other information is being gathered, Counsel McDaniel promises. I'm still interested in the draft contract and any internal documents about guarantees on outside income, plus the state of the school revenue base.
PS — Birmingham newspaper muses on Gus and Kristi Malzahn's move from SEC to Jonesboro. Alabama sports commentator Paul Finebaum is roughing up Kristi Malzahn this afternoon, contending that her disastrous video appearance cost Gus a big-time coaching job and sent him looking for a landing spot at Jonesboro (about which Finebaum had little nice to say). I don't know, of course. Stranger things have happened. A college football spouse is part of the package, perhaps, just like in the upper ranks of the military. If ASU was a bailout for the Malzahns, I think it will benefit the school by making the Malzahns both deeply grateful and even more intent on rewarding their benefactors. The video has taken on a life of its own, that's for sure, here on Deadspin.