HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Legislators grilled University of Hawaii officials Tuesday for how they handled the firing of former head basketball coach Gib Arnold, saying Arnold's $700,000 settlement with UH was the latest in a string of bad deals that have cost the institutions millions.
"If there's an issue and a problem, we need to get to the problem so it doesn't happen again," State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim told Board of Regents Chairman Randy Moore. "Had the regents done that in previous contracts, we may not be here today. But we consistently make the same mistakes."
Arnold was fired "without cause" last year amid an NCAA investigation into the men's basketball program. The NCAA had cited the program for several violations, including giving gifts to player recruits.
Arnold claimed that the university had violated his 2011 contract by firing him without cause. The former coach filed a grievance against the school, saying he was entitled to $1.4 million in damages.
Earlier this month, the Board of Regents approved a settlement package that includes a $500,000 payout for Arnold and $200,000 for his attorneys.
Kim said the episode shouldn't have happened.
"How do you assure going forward it doesn't happen again if you don't know what happened? Did you do an investigation? Did you look into the issues what role legal counsel had?" she said.
UH President David Lassner assured the committee that changes have been made to avoid similar problems in the future.
For one, he said, the school now requires two attorneys and the vice president for legal affairs to review every head coach contract going forward. UH is also standardizing contracts to avoid loopholes, he said.
U.S. Rep. Isaac Choy, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, said after the briefing that lawmakers have sent a strong message to UH officials. Now, he added, it's up to them to deliver moving forward.
"I think the administration is now aware that we're aware, that we're looking," he said. "I just want to make sure, if possible, we can prevent this type of loss of assets."
Arnold's $700,000 settlement is one of several costly contract disputes for the university over the last decade.
Since 2004, the university has paid $2.5 million to seven other departing coaches or executives.
The most recent payout was for $100,000 to Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple when he was terminated last year.
The two highest amounts were $600,000 to fired head football Coach Greg McMackin in 2011, and $1.05 million to UH President Evan Dobelle, who agreed to step down in 2004.
Former head basketball Coach Bob Nash received $240,000 in 2010. Ousted Athletics Director Herman Frazier was paid $312,000 in 2008, and in 2007, UH paid fired head basketball Coach Riley Wallace $200,000.
The UH has said it settled with Arnold because of the coach's contract had a rarely-used clause that said if UH fired him without cause, it would owe him whatever money it had paid him so far in the contract. That meant UH could have been on the hook for about $1.3 million, since Arnold had been basketball coach for about four years before being let go last fall.