USC shouldn’t pay Spurrier for work he’s not doing

Former USC head football coach Steve Spurrier reflects on his resignation.
Former USC head football coach Steve Spurrier reflects on his resignation.

Steve Spurrier might or might not have been right to resign as the University of South Carolina’s head football coach in the middle of the season; we’ll leave that to the sports analysts and fans to sort out.

But South Carolina’s flagship university was wrong to pay him the rest of his annual salary when he won’t be working during these critical final two and a half months of the year.

We don’t want to take anything away from the achievements of Mr. Spurrier, who did great things for the Gamecocks, including, as USC President Harris Pastides likes to say, giving the school its swagger. But Mr. Spurrier has already been compensated handsomely for his contributions, and we are confident that if he did not feel adequately compensated, he would have let the university know — and the university would have increased his compensation.

The fact that he might serve as a goodwill ambassador for the university — as he sees fit — does not justify paying him the head coach’s salary. That’s what you pay the head coach. Not the former head coach.

If the university wants to compensate him for making appearances, it should enter into a new contract, one that spells out what he will do and what he will be paid for it.

The only time it’s acceptable for a public institution to pay someone who is no longer working is when a contract requires it. And such a requirement usually goes along with firing. We don’t think contracts ought to be written like that — how many people get paid after they are told to leave because they’re not performing up to par? — but we understand that such stipulations are necessary in order to compete for top-tier coaches.

It has become routine in the corporate world to pay bonuses to departing CEOs, and frankly it’s none of our business that uniform supplier Under Armour and radio broadcaster IMG decided to pay Mr. Spurrier directly the remaining $1 million in coach’s stipends even though he’s no longer coaching. But there’s simply no justification for such practices in the public sector. It’s worth noting that at the time the university made its decision, The State’s Andy Shain was unable to find other instances where a university kept paying a coach who left on his own; two others have resigned since, but their contracts mandated continued payments. (While USC boasts that the football program doesn’t receive tax money, the fact is that any money that flows into an athletic department is, by state law, public money.)

USC officials have hardly provided a justification for this decision, with Athletics Director Ray Tanner saying merely that “All circumstances are different, especially in collegiate athletics with major college coaches,” and President Pastides saying that Mr. Tanner had acted as a “fiscally prudent administrator.” A spokesman told us that Dr. Pastides believed the decision was particularly prudent “when compared to the costs incurred at many institutions when a coaching change occurs.”

Well, yes, if you compare this to situations where schools are forced to pay off multi-year contracts to make coaches go away. Fortunately, that’s not what happened here. And we’ve seen no good reason to act as though it was.

Besides responsible spending, there is this practical objection to the exit bonus: USC’s athletic department could use the money. It lost around $2 million when it moved its Oct. 10 home game to LSU after the floods, and it has to increase the salaries of two coaches who have had to take on new duties in the wake of Mr. Spurrier’s departure. The $225,000 in public funds Mr. Spurrier will receive wouldn’t make up the LSU deficit, but it would go a long way — perhaps the entire way — toward paying the coaches’ salaries.

If USC hasn’t gotten itself into a legal box, it should apologetically inform Mr. Spurrier that a public university simply cannot spend public money this way. If it has made itself obligated to follow through on the ill-advised payout promise, then at the very least we need some better explanations as to why this occurred. And we need assurances that, in the unfortunate event that the school finds itself having to say goodbye to another coach at midseason, this sort of thing won’t happen again.