ATHENS — Georgia football coach Mark Richt, under fire for his team’s performance this season, has yet to sign a new contract drafted more than nine months ago. As a result, he has already foregone $600,000 of the $800,000-a-year raise called for in the deal approved by the athletic association’s board.
Nevertheless, UGA has vowed to honor the terms of the proposed agreement retroactively. That’s particularly beneficial to Richt in the event that he gets fired this year. It means he will be paid $2.5 million more than he would under his existing contract, for a total payout of $4.1 million. According to the current contract on file with the athletic association, he would be owed $1.6 million, or $800,000 per year remaining in the term.
“To me a handshake is an agreement and the board approved it. Everybody approved it,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said Friday. “Just because somebody hasn’t signed it doesn’t mean we’re not going to honor it, if it ever reached that point.”
Neither the proposed contract nor a memorandum of understanding was available, according UGA’s response to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s requests for documentation. However, the proposed contract calls for Richt to receive 25 percent of his total compensation for each year remaining on his contract. He agreed in January to a four-year extension through Dec. 31 of 2019. That would leave four years remaining on the new deal.
The news comes at a time the school is wooing donors to give more money to the program, including helping to fund a planned $30.2 million indoor football practice facility.
Many fans have becoming increasingly frustrated with the team and, specifically, Richt, after three embarrassing losses. The Bulldogs (5-3, 3-3 SEC) play host to Kentucky on Saturday at noon. The team has four games remaining in the regular season.
While Richt has stalled for more than nine months to agree to the new contract, his agent, Mark Carmony from Career Sports and Entertainment of Atlanta, says the coach now expects to sign it “very soon.”
Carmony said he could not be more specific with regard to a timeline.
The dispute has nothing to do with the financial terms or buyout conditions, according to UGA.
Instead, Richt appears to be taking issue with conduct and ethics clauses in the new contract, according to the school. From that outside, at least, that’s an unexpected twist. Richt, who is outspoken in his Christian faith, is known for running the football program in a way that has kept UGA in line with NCAA rules and regulations.
The university has not released a copy of Richt’s proposed new contract or a memo of understanding.
“The issue is on language that has changed from his original contract to this new contract, which adds new language that deals basically with conduct,” McGarity said. “It has nothing to do with buyouts. Even if the contract doesn’t get signed, we’d honor that. It has absolutely nothing to do with money or term or annual salary or compensation. It all has to deal with the terminology that has changed from his original contract.”
Carmony wouldn’t go into specifics but acknowledged the dispute is not over money.
“This document represents a new contract with a lot of new language in it,” Carmony said. “It’s very typical in that situation for the process to take a while until you get a finished product that actually gets signed.”
Georgia’s football program is especially lucrative compared to the overall college football landscape. The program generated nearly $87 million in revenue in the 2014-2015 fiscal year. That’s far above its $26 million in expenses, according to the school’s public filings. Most of the remaining money goes into other UGA athletic programs.
After a January 21 meeting of the athletic association board, UGA officials announced they would extend Richt’s contract another two years to the end of the 2019 season and be rewarding him with an $800,000 annual pay raise.
With the extension, Richt’s pay would be about $4 million, with the potential for another $1 million in performance bonuses, though most of those are no longer possible given the team’s record so far this year.
Georgia was undefeated and ranked No. 7 in the nation before losing three of its four games in the month of October. And those games were lost in particularly deflating fashion. That has initiated a groundswell of discontent within the Bulldogs’ fan base. Georgia, which was predicted to win the SEC’s Eastern Division this season, can longer reach the SEC Championship game. That means it will have been 10 years since the school’s last SEC championship.
McGarity was careful to say the ongoing contract dispute should not be considered an indication that UGA is seriously considering a head coaching change at this point.
“People can’t assume anything,” he said. “We’re focused on the game Saturday and we have a lot of things going on. I don’t want people to think stuff’s already done. It’s not.”
This isn’t the first time recently that a top UGA coach stalled on signing a new contract.
Basketball coach Mark Fox waited nearly a year before signing a new contract earlier this year. Ostensibly both sides had agreed to in the spring of 2014. The deal added two years to Fox’s contract, but it slashed three-fourths of what UGA would pay out if it fired him.