After sitting in Superior Court in Hartford for more than an hour, listening to arguments in an ethics case that never should have gotten this far, my eyes wandered to the UConn football coach. A question creased my mind.
Would Randy Edsall quit over this?
There is no way of knowing, of course, because Edsall may not know himself today. Yet on the spectrum from “entirely expected” to “absolutely shocked,” I would offer I’d be somewhat surprised at this point. Yes, only somewhat.
When Edsall accepted the job last December, so much was made of his apology for his distasteful departure in January 2011 and what his return would do to restore the program — that we may have overlooked some of his more personal motivation.
Edsall held a major college coaching job since the turn of the century, was earning $2.1 million his last season at Maryland and made $2.673 million in 2016 not to coach the Terps. At 59, he isn’t hurting financially.
Getting a chance to coach with his son Corey at UConn obviously meant something. And as this ethics case drags on, it is growing clearer that it means much more than many of us might have thought.
There was no resolution Tuesday to Edsall’s appeal to strike down the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board ruling that found his son’s hiring as tight ends coach in violation of state nepotism laws.
What did happen was Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher granted a stay that permits UConn to retain Corey Edsall through the conclusion of the appeals process. Corey Edsall’s one-year, $95,000 contract is set to expire Jan. 14.
What did happen was the ethics board agreed not to pursue Randy Edsall for what it believes is a violation of ethics to this point, yet still did not make clear if Corey could sign another deal without Randy or the school being pursued for what it deemed any future violation.
When the ethics board ruled last summer, it allowed Corey Edsall to coach for one season because of the disruption his immediate departure may cause the program.
Would his immediate departure now cause “irreparable harm” to UConn, as the Edsall camp has asserted? Those are hyperbolic words. Just as ethics board attorney Barbara Housen calling a management plan of Corey Edsall by the UConn hierarchy a “sham” is hyperbolic. Colleges are down to their final few days of recruiting before the early signing period and potentially losing relationships Corey has forged could hurt the school.
Nepotism isn’t one of those gray words. Nobody is going to support powerful people using their influence to hire unqualified family members for big money to do little work. So if you put “Edsall” and “nepotism” in the same sentence, without considering the facts, there’s no way the casual observer is going to support Corey Edsall’s hiring.
We also recognize that if Edsall was 9-3 in his first year back, not 3-9, a lot more people would be clamoring in support of him. W’s and L’s help legislate morality.
Look, if Corey Edsall had been hired at age 24 to become his father’s offensive coordinator at $400,000 a year, there probably would have been no need for an ethics board ruling. Fifteen consecutive nepotism diatribes in this space might have sparked a march on the state capitol.
Corey had been on the staff at Colorado for two seasons. He had been a backup quarterback at Syracuse. He studied his dad from a young age. He is a smart guy and a hard worker. He was qualified for his assistant shot. He’s also among the lowest-paid FCS coaches in the nation.
In its ruling last summer, the ethics board recognized that family members dot college football staffs. What the board also needed to digest is the entire coaching profession is based on non-DNA family. Coaches build staffs based on long-time friendships. Yes, it’s glorified cronyism and, in a cutthroat business, trust is seen as essential.
If Corey Edsall doesn’t get to stay at UConn, you know where he’ll probably end up? On a staff that is linked to the Edsall coaching tree.
This is important and I have tried to stress this since last summer: The state code of ethics does not forbid family members from working in the same departments. What the code does forbid is state employees using their positions for the financial gain of a family member. If that’s going to change, the state legislature has to write new laws. The ethics board only enforces the laws yet in this case seems intent on pushing boundaries to rid Corey Edsall.
From the start, the sides quibbled over exactly when Edsall became a state employee. Dec. 28, 2016? Or Jan. 3, 2017? During that six-day span, UConn sought information from Edsall about Corey’s hiring. Is the starting date the acceptance of the job? Or beginning the job? Edsall had set hiring Corey as a condition for taking his job, so clearly the wheels were set in motion before Dec. 28. Regardless, chasing such intense minutiae as an important piece of the board’s ruling does point to an agenda.
Was the board angered because UConn had only asked hypothetically to make sure a job candidate isn't prohibited from negotiating employment for a family member as a condition of their own employment? And that it didn’t find out it was a big fish like Edsall until after he was hired? Maybe.
The supervision part of the board’s decision, as Judge Moukawsher said, needs his further scrutiny. Again hyperbole from both sides didn’t lend itself toward a solution, only courtroom drama. The head coach obviously is in a supervisory position. Only a fool would deny it.
Yet the important legal part was to make sure Randy Edsall did not directly put Corey in a position of financial gain. The ethics board and school should have worked toward a supervisory solution that was workable. I submit 25 years ago this would have happened.
Athletic director David Benedict said his office would supervise Corey Edsall. He said Corey would not be promoted to a higher position at UConn, nor would he receive a raise not negotiated by the union. The board countered that even moving him to a different position would diversify Corey’s resume and help him earn more elsewhere.
“It is not fixable,” Housen said back in July "The fix is there has to be separation.”
There never appeared to be room for the ethics board to guide UConn.
There was only a board bent on screaming nepotism. Period.
Not sure if Judge Moukawsher is going to agree with the board in his ruling.
Not sure if Randy Edsall won’t quit within a year if the judge does agree with the board.