Coaching shuffles put UT athletic budget in red last year

Tennessee's football coaching shuffle a year ago put Big Orange athletics in the red last year -- at least on paper.

But this year's coaching changes won't be nearly as costly for the University of Tennessee's athletics program, which university officials said is enjoying healthy gains from donors and TV contracts.

UT officials said they still are negotiating contract terms and spending plans for the revamped football coaching program under new head football coach Derek Dooley. But the latest coaching changes won't involve as many expensive buyouts for displaced coaches, they said.

Additionally, departing football coach Lane Kiffin must pay back $800,000 over the next three years to the university for leaving after only one year.

Mr. Kiffin's arrival in Knoxville in December 2008 to replace longtime coach Phil Fulmer required UT to pay a total of $5.85 million to Mr. Fulmer and several of his assistants.

As a result, in fiscal 2008-09 UT's athletics department reported a loss of nearly $3.2 million. The loss was the first for UT's athletic program since 2005, school officials said.

UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said the school's athletic budget still is growing this year because of increased donor support and a richer television contract for the Southeastern Conference. He vowed to keep the Vols football program competitive and said Mr. Dooley is getting the resources to build a successful team.

"Football is the financial engine driving the train," Mr. Hamilton said. "It has a tremendous impact on our ability to be successful in all of our 20 sports."

Mr. Hamilton declined to say what Mr. Dooley is being paid in advance of a final contract being signed, but he said the salary "was agreed to at the very beginning."

Mr. Kiffin was paid $2 million in his first year and Mr. Fulmer was paid $2.8 million in his last year of coaching in 2008, according to associate athletic director Bill Myers.

Under Mr. Kiffin, Tennessee's football program collectively paid assistant coaches $3.3 million last year and was on pace to pay them $3.5 million this year, Mr. Myers said. That was the highest of any school in the country for assistant coaches, according to a survey by USA Today.

Mr. Dooley's coaching budget "is a little bit fluid right now as he's finalizing his staff, but I think we'll get done what we need to get done with the budget he and I talked about," Mr. Hamilton said.

Mr. Myers said last year's financial loss for UT's athletic department was due entirely to how the terminated coaches' contracts had to be expensed in a single year, even though they are being paid out over 48 months.

"We were able to fund those costs (for the contract terminations) out of our reserves, and we were still able to generate a positive cash flow," he said.

Last year, the athletic program at UT still generated cash income of nearly $2.7 million on $86.7 million in expenditures. The athletic program has nearly $9.9 million in reserves, Mr. Myers said.

The University of Tennessee is one of only a dozen or so universities with major athletic programs that do not receive tuition or taxpayer support, according to the NCAA.

Dr. Terry Neal, an accounting professor who heads a panel that helps oversee UT's athletic spending, said the program maintained "a healthy cash flow" despite the bottom-line loss last year.

"That's pretty impressive considering the economic times we are in," said Dr. Neal, who is chairman of the Fiscal Integrity and Long-range Planning Committee.

Coming next Sunday

Gold on Rocky Top -- A look at Tennessee's $100 million athletic program