Fired UH basketball coach says school owes more than $1 million

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Just days after being accused by the NCAA of covering up violations, former University of Hawaii Basketball Coach Gib Arnold broke his silence, saying the university owes more than $1 million in severance.

Arnold was terminated in October in a move seen by many as an attempt to blunt the severity of potential NCAA sanctions. But the firing was publicly described as being without cause, implying Arnold had done nothing wrong.

"That decision, made when the athletic department was already millions of dollars in the red, tells you the university did not have confidence that the allegations will stand up to the evidence when all the evidence comes to light," Arnold said.

Arnold said he never deliberately violated an NCAA rule and that he will "fiercely defend" himself against the allegations that he tried to cover up the alleged infractions.

The university offered to pay Arnold about $340,000 for the remainder of his contract. But the language in his contract implies that he could be owed much more.

Hawaii News Now obtained a copy of Arnold's contract, which was signed in November 2011 by former Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw and former Athletic Director Jim Donovan.

Here's what it says on what's owed to Arnold if he is fired without cause:

"The university will pay … a lump sum amount equal to the total amount of compensation earned under the terms of this agreement as of the date of the termination."

Arnold's interpretation is that the "amount of compensation earned" means he's owed four years of severance, at about $340,000 a year. James Bickerton, Arnold's Hawaii attorney, said he expects the university to honor its obligations.

The university, however, disputes that interpretation.

"We believe we have paid Gib everything he is owed under his contract," said UH-Manoa Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman. After UH fired the coach in October, it paid him for the remainder of his contract -- about $340,000.

"There was no special agreement about ending the contract early. It was the standard ending agreement on contracts."

To be sure, the language in Arnold's contract differs from that used in former UH football Coach Greg McMackin's contract.

McMackin resigned in December 2011, accepting a $600,000 buyout. McMackin's contract says termination without cause means requires the university to pay "the total amount remaining under the terms of this agreement."

The difference is that Arnold's contract provides for the "total amount of compensation earned."

Contract law experts say the language makes a huge difference.

"Read literally, this agreement entitles Coach Arnold to compensation earned during the term of this agreement going all the way back to 2011," said attorney Bruce Voss.

"The Gib Arnold contract is not a well-drafted contract. Potentially it leaves state taxpayers on the hook."

But William McCorriston, who recently was retained by the UH, said that argument makes no sense.

"A wise man once said that if you have two lawyers interpret a contract you'll get three opinions and I think that's the case here," McCorriston said.

"Under their construct of the contractual language, if a coach was fired on the first day he'd only be entitled to one day's pay. It's not an interpretation that makes sense to me but that's why they have men and women in black muumuus to make decision."

Full Statement from Gib Arnold: 

"I first would like to say how proud I am of the guys and how hard they have played. I also think Benjy and the coaching staff are doing a great job. I always felt this was not only my best team but a very special group of high major players and high character young men; a team I built over the course of 4 years and would have loved to have coached.

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