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

Published: Feb. 3, 2015 at 8:15 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 4, 2015 at 12:27 PM HST
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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.

After over a years worth of investigation and numerous interviews with players and coaches the NCAA has finally come out with 7 allegations. I reiterate that these are allegations and allegations only. The majority of these allegations are level 2. The two Level 1 "unethical conduct, failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance" I will most fiercely defend. I have truthfully and fully complied with this investigation. I have never deliberately violated any rule, or knowingly concealed any violation of a rule or made any statement that I did not believe to be true.

As I have said all along, the NCAA has a designated process. Under the process, the coaching staff and the University now have a mandated 90 days to look at all information, collect new information to support our claims, cross-examine all testimonies, find common ground in any differing testimonies and supply the NCAA with our facts about the 7 allegations. I look forward to this process, which is only just beginning and won't end until late Summer.

I will therefore have to rely on my own financial resources to fight these charges. Witnesses to these events of past years are scattered around the country and it takes money to gather evidence and have lawyers present it. Fortunately, the University agreed under my contract to pay me more over $1.4 million as my termination payment, so I will have the resources to fight the NCAA's allegations against me.

It is important for everyone to know that the University sat through the investigation and heard all the witnesses along with the NCAA when they had a choice between firing me "with cause" and "without cause" last fall. UH decided they would rather pay me the contract price -- three and half years' salary and bonuses totaling over $1.4 million -- to terminate me "without cause" rather than fire me "with cause" and pay nothing. 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.

I will continue to fully comply with the NCAA and have no desire to fight the NCAA or The University in the media. However, early reports from some media sources and "leaks" from UH have already vastly misinterpreted the facts based on limited knowledge of the situation. One media source reported that "Arnold and Akana provided an impermissible benefit in the form of a hotel stay for a player and three recruits. They reportedly provided rooms for them at the Sheraton Waikiki hotel." This couldn't be further from the truth. The actual Allegation is that rather than paying 100's of dollars to take 3 recruits and a mother to breakfast we took them to a free continental breakfast in their hotel concierge lounge; consisting of scrambled eggs, corn flakes, and guava juice. Unknowingly by eating in the hotel concierge lounge we broke an NCAA rule. Ironically, we could have taken them to a beach front restaurant or the restaurant on the top floor of the hotel and spent 100's of dollars and not been in violation of any rule. By trying to save money on a limited budget we unknowingly committed as defined in the allegations by the NCAA a Level 2 violation. These are the facts and undisputed by me or the NCAA.

If there has been anything positive that has come out of this it has been the overwhelming outpouring of love and aloha we have felt from the people of Hawaii. During this very tough time this amazing show of support has forever entrenched the love my family and I have for these islands and, most of all, its people. I sincerely apologize for any negative light this may have shed on Hawaii. We ask all fans to be patient, understand the complexity of the matter, reserve judgment and allow the process to take its full due course. Kulia Pono, Finish Strong!"

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