This is a good deal for Kevin Ollie. This is a good deal for UConn.
Beyond that, this is a wise deal struck by Warde Manuel. I would argue that the UConn athletic director might be the biggest winner of all in this.
If we are to fixate on a number, 16 would be it. If Ollie remains as coach in Storrs for the five-year life of his new contract announced Thursday, he will receive a minimum of $16 million. That's not including performance bonuses.
If Ollie wants to leave, really is dying to leave, in all likelihood it would not happen until '16. That's when his buyout, his escape clause, drops to $1 million if he wants to go to the NBA. The buyout is a whopping $5 million in Year One and $4 million in Year Two.
Hey, there are crazy owners out there in the NBA — that's no secret — but they'd have to be insane about Ollie if they were to jump at him before the spring of 2016. Forget those buyout numbers that drop in order from $5 million, $4 million, $3 million, $2 million, $1 million if he were to leave for another college job. That's not happening. No way. No how. He's not going to Oklahoma or UCLA. Now, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers or Cleveland Cavaliers could be another story in 2016.
If you look at the big names in college basketball, if you look at the hot commodities, if you look at who has won national titles, Ollie got what the market demanded. His deal is worth $3.2 million a year, which puts him ninth on the list of college coaches. What the sports market demands and what society feels are owed a coach with a whistle, of course, is not one and the same. Still, that train left the station a long, long time ago. When it stops taking 2,200 U.S. teachers to equal Madonna's earthly take in 2013, we'll volunteer to carry the banner for the good of mankind.
"It's a humbling experience to be around the UConn fans and the UConn family and to know that I am their basketball coach for the foreseeable future," Ollie said in a statement. "I'm very proud of that. UConn is a place that I love and as I've told everyone throughout the season and through all the recent speculation, this is where my heart is. This is where I wanted to be."
As a coach, Ollie is always committed to his team, to his athletes. Ten toes in, as he loves to say. As a career choice, however, he appears to be 100 percent committed to being a college coach until 2016. After a lifetime in the NBA, after winning a national championship in his first shot at it, that's all anybody can ask of him at this point. That's all anybody really should expect of Ollie to ask of himself.
"We had some great discussions," Manuel said. "It's a happy day for Kevin and his family. It's a happy day for UConn, President [Susan] Herbst and me.
"The time it took was more a reflection of travel, recruiting and different accolades received. The length of time wasn't because we were butting heads."
When Herbst hired Manuel in February 2012, she called him a rock star. When UConn didn't get into the ACC in November 2012, there were critics who wanted to throw rocks at both of them for failing to outmaneuver Louisville. Watching Rutgers, the Sgt. Schultz of state universities, get into the Big Ten has made UConn fans stew even more.
In the end, of course, a school can't invite itself to the Power Five party and if one has watched closely, UConn has built more and more momentum in the right direction during Manuel's tenure.
Former athletic directors made it sound as if hell would freeze over before UConn could go big time in hockey. Boom. Just like that it was done and Manuel hired Mike Cavanaugh, from a premier program in America.
Manuel inherited the disaster that was Paul Pasqualoni. And although some wanted him gone immediately, Manuel pulled the trigger in midseason of Year 3. Pat Narduzzi might have been splashed as the Big Fish, but Bob Diaco was one of Manuel's handful of targeted coaches and he got him. We will see how the W's and L's fall, but nobody can deny that the energy level around the football program has increased tenfold.
Some wanted Kevin Ollie, Jim Calhoun's heir apparent, to get a five-year deal immediately and those same people will cry, "I told you so!" today. Fine. Fine. Fine. I was probably in the minority in supporting Manuel's decision in September 2012 to initially give Ollie a one-year deal. He didn't know Ollie well. He wanted time to find out more. Well, Manuel found out plenty and Ollie had his five-year deal within three months.
The 2012-13 team had no tournament, essentially nothing to play for except themselves. The unintended consequences proved fruitful. Fans and players rallying around Ollie turned out to help make something special of a season that otherwise might not have been. The forever underdog proved 'em wrong again.
Manuel got in front of the Ollie situation this time. He knew that NBA teams would be dive-bombing in and he announced publicly after the regionals that he would reopen contract negotiations. Manuel was proactive. Ollie had to appreciate it.
Although the new practice facility seemed forever stalled under former AD Jeff Hathaway, Manuel moved that along, too. The big guy has answered some big questions in a big way. If he gets UConn into the Big Ten, case closed, he'll be the greatest AD in history.
The Cavaliers reportedly gave Ollie a serious chase. Others snooped. For his part, Manuel was never approached by NBA teams about Ollie. Ollie's camp, to its credit, didn't try to hold Manuel hostage with direct threats of the NBA.
If Ollie stays, there's an annual retention clause worth $200,000 each May. So although it was widely reported that his deal was for $15 million, it's for $16 million. And this tells us something of how much Ollie is tied to Herbst and Manuel: If either leaves their position, Ollie, after one year, has the right to terminate the contract without paying the buyout fees.
Ollie wants to make sure his staff and players are taken care of and both sides, Manuel said, got to a "happy place." There are matters like pay for assistants, housing and travel concerns for players. From food to places to practice, study and chill, the new practice facility helps.
"Whenever you have anybody who is very successful and they have other options, that's a good problem to have," Manuel said. "The reverse is a bad problem: A coach who's not successful."
Ollie has spent more time in the NBA than he has spent total in college as a player, assistant and head coach. He knows the NBA. He knows the lifestyle. Players and management like and respect him. Guys like Kevin Durant and LeBron James undoubtedly would love to play for him. Durant, in fact, becomes a free agent in 2016, the same year Ollie's buyout drops to $1 million.
It would be wrong to hold any of that against Ollie. It would be wrong and contentious to try to tell him no way you are going to leave. If a guy's dream is to coach in the NBA, what kind of man would try to kill a dream? What Manuel has done is lock Ollie in without making him feel like he's locked up.
Ollie has a profound effect on young guys. They respect him as a father and enjoy him as an older brother. A lot of that disappears in the NBA. I know Ollie loves UConn. I don't know if Ollie wants to be a college coach the rest of his career. I will argue today that I don't think Kevin Ollie knows. Forever is a very long time. What matters today is that Ollie wants to be at UConn and that $16 million and huge buyouts the first two years certainly make it look like he's going nowhere before 2016. From there, he will find out each day how much he loves the college game as a forever pursuit.