College: Documents detail Bellotti’s departure from Oregon
EUGENE, Ore. — A letter from the University of Oregon's general counsel to state education officials confirms there was no contract in writing with departing athletic director Mike Bellotti and suggests his resignation may have been hastened by university president Richard Lariviere.
Bellotti abruptly announced on March 19 that he was stepping down after nine months in office to take a job as a college football analyst for ESPN.
In the letter which details circumstances surrounding Bellotti's $2.3 million severance, general counsel Melinda Grier wrote that when Bellotti told Lariviere in early winter that ESPN had approached him about possible employment, Lariviere "determined that it was in the university's best interest to expedite this transition and find new leadership for the athletic department."
The letter was dated Wednesday and released that night. University officials could not immediately be contacted after hours for comment.
The letter came two days after the Oregon Department of Justice said it would conduct a review of Bellotti's deal because of concerns raised by the media. The University of Oregon is a public university.
Grier's letter was addressed to George Pernstein, chancellor of the Oregon University System, and Paul Kelly Jr., president of the State Board of Higher Education.
Oregon had no signed agreement when Bellotti, who was the Ducks' football coach for 14 seasons, took over as athletic director last July. Although previously the university said that terms with Bellotti were negotiated orally with Lariviere, Grier's letter said that was untrue.
Outgoing athletic director Pay Kilkenny negotiated Bellotti's salary, but details about the length of Bellotti's contract were unclear, Grier's letter said.
As for the "separation agreement" with the university, Grier said that Lariviere, acting on the assumption that Bellotti's contract was for three years, and providing for compensation for a cut in pay he took when he went from being the coach to the AD, arrived at the $2.3 million figure.
"Although the sum paid to Bellotti is large, it represents an amount that is consistent with President Lariviere's best assessment of what would be due Bellotti. This is especially true for a longtime employee such as Bellotti who has served with such distinction and who is held in high regard," Grier wrote.
"Some have raised concerns that taxpayer funds will be used to pay this settlement. That is not the case, nor will Athletic Department operating funds be used," she added. "The UO will rely solely on donor funds for the payments to Bellotti."
Lariviere was traveling abroad on Wednesday. Bellotti could not immediately be reached for comment. His first broadcast in his new position will be the Auburn spring football game on ESPNU.
Bellotti went 116-55 as coach of the Ducks and took the team to 12 bowl games. In 2001, Oregon won 11 games, including a 38-16 victory over Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl to finish ranked No. 2.
Offensive coordinator Chip Kelly took over as coach when Bellotti was named AD.
Oregon has named Lorraine Davis, the university's former vice president for student affairs, as interim athletic director while the university searches for Bellotti's replacement.