It goes without saying that colleges and universities are spending outlandish amounts of money on athletic coaches.
You may have read in April, for instance, that the University of Akron is paying a $350,000 salary to new men’s basketball coach John Groce — plus incentives — for the first two years. What you may not know is that in the third year of his six-year contract, his salary will almost double, to $650,000.
And each year his incentives clauses — such things as winning the conference tournament — could add as much as 40 percent.
Unfortunately, when it comes to Division 1 basketball coaches these days, those figures aren’t completely shocking. But get this: the university spent $60,000 just to get him here.
Seriously. Despite battling to trim a daunting $30 million deficit, UA paid a private search firm called DHR International 60 grand to do some “initial vetting” of coaching candidates.
This information was uncovered via a public records request filed by the Beacon Journal. The request revealed two other eye-openers in connection with the coaching search:
•?St. Vincent-St. Mary coach Dru Joyce was among those who threw their hats into the ring, and his candidacy was backed by LeBron James, who wrote a 335-word email to the UA president and the athletic director.
•?A group of UA players wrote an impassioned letter urging the university to promote assistant coach Charles Thomas to the top job.
More on those topics in a moment.
DHR International, based in Chicago, has more than 60 offices in 22 countries. Its contract with UA called for a “partial search,” defined as “limited to the initial vetting and background checks” of candidates.
The search itself — partial though it may have been — cost $50,000. Another $10,000 went toward “indirect out-of-pocket expenses,” enumerated in such vague terms as “database management” and “computer services.”
To be fair, UA is not alone in hiring outside companies to conduct coaching researches. DHL claims credit for the recent hiring of basketball coaches at two other Mid-America Conference schools, Ball State and Central Michigan, as well as at Georgia Tech, Cal, Tulsa, UC Davis and a few others.
But it’s not as if Groce weren’t an obvious candidate. Before being dumped by Illinois after five years, he had had great success at another MAC school, Ohio U, where in four years he went 85-56 and reached two NCAA tournaments.
And the chief findings of DHR’s “vetting” included in the UA’s records could have been discovered through a basic Google search. The firm essentially regurgitated stories in mainstream publications — and most of those were not exactly glowing.
A column in the Chicago Tribune called Groce “oblivious,” and “a likeable guy whose program lacks an obvious direction on the court and discipline off it.”
“Whatever Groce is stressing to players after four years on the job isn’t taking hold.”
That column was written after a news conference in March 2016 that Illinois staged to try to assuage public disgust after four of Groce’s players had been arrested within eight months. One pulled a knife on a bouncer. One vandalized cars during a drunken rampage. Two were charged with domestic battery (although one of those charges was dropped).
A year later, Groce was sacked after his Big Ten team missed the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year.
Meanwhile, some surprising names popped up on the list of coaches who wanted the job, including Dru Joyce’s.
LeBron’s email, addressed to President Matthew Wilson and Athletic Director Larry Williams, said he believed that Joyce, his former coach at St. V-M, could fill the “big shoes” left by the departure of Keith Dambrot, who quit to take the head job at Duquesne.
“I believe [Dambrot] was able to have so much success because of his ability to relate to his players, his staff and the entire Akron community because he is Akron,” LeBron wrote.
“The pride he feels for Akron came through in everything he did — especially in his expectations of his players and his program ... . I also believe there is only one person who can step into the head coaching role with that same sense of Akron pride, and that is Coach Dru Joyce.”
UA’s president responded to LeBron with an email that praised the superstar’s “encouragement and continuing engagement” with the school but was noncommittal.
“As you might imagine,” Wilson wrote, “we have experienced a great degree of interest from coaching candidates across the country.... Regardless of our coaching selection, please know that we have taken your suggestion ... into full consideration.”
Dambrot’s players also weighed in during the search.
“We the players ... were all shocked and extremely hurt when we received the news of Coach Dambrot leaving us. ... Many of us are still attempting to process what implications his decision has on us.”
Although we don’t know which players signed the letter because the university redacted all of the names, the cover letter said “all of the current players” did.
In their email, the players acknowledged that the administration faced a tough decision that would have impact far beyond the gymnasium, and that they “respect your process,” but strongly urged the hiring of Dambrot assistant Charles Thomas.
“Coach Thomas has the best relationship with us players of any of the coaches and truly cares about us all on an individual level. The majority of us were directly recruited by Coach Thomas and he was an integral part of us choosing Akron. ...
“We believe it best to not disrupt the continuity of the team’s success and what Coach Dambrot built over the past 13 years by hiring from within his coaching staff.”
But Thomas was among four assistants who followed Dambrot to Duquesne.
More than 50 people applied or were recommended for the job, including assistant coaches at basketball powerhouses like UCLA and Wisconsin and nationally known folks such as former Indiana head coaches Tom Crean and Mike Davis; Chris Jent, a former Cavs assistant now at Ohio State; and former Cav Jimmy Cleamons.
Not sure how many of them were vetting during the “partial search,” but we do know DHL got its $60,000.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31