Final Score at CCU: Bennett $925,000, DeCenzo 0

Coastal Carolina University President David DeCenzo and former CCU football coach David Bennett are forbidden from talking about the ex-coaches contract buyout agreement that was announced Monday.

But I’m not. So to put it in terms pigskin fans can understand, if this was a football game Bennett and his lawyer beat the pants off DeCenzo and his suits by a final score of 925,000 to zero.

Coastal will pay Bennett a grand total of $925,000 for the remaining five years on his 10-year deal. Given his $185,000 annual base salary, he basically got it all. Not a bad payday to go away and not say anything bad. I would do it for a lot less.

That wasn’t the game plan when DeCenzo decided to “reassign” Bennett within the athletic program. The “reassignment” trick is an old one in the playbook, basically banking on the fact that a coach will not stick around and, by quitting to take a football job elsewhere, will forfeit the buyout money.

But Bennett played it smart, holding his cards close to the vest while DeCenzo laid his out on the table – or at least in a series of e-mails, as first reported by the Carolina Forest Chronicle. By admitting he alone made the decision to get rid of Bennett back in late October, DeCenzo set himself up for a near-million dollar donation to the Bennett family household fund.

At the Dec. 9 press conference announcing Bennett’s involuntary career change, DeCenzo, flanked by CCU board chairman D. Wyatt Henderson and AD Hunter Yurachek, broke the news by saying “After many discussions and after much deliberation …” and he called it “the hardest decision I have had to make as president of this institution.”

That’s funny, because his communications via e-mail with millionaire Joe Moglia, who was officially introduced as Bennett’s replacement on Dec. 20, paint a different picture. After having breakfast with Moglia on Nov. 23 he wrote “I’d like to get this moving quickly,” and “I do hope we can make this work for all of us – and have you leading Coastal football.”

No mention of that at the presser, but DeCenzo did make some statements that conflict with his e-mails. He mentioned a laundry list of people he has spoken to about the state of the football program and brings up the post-season review that he asked Yurachek compile and says “Upon reviewing all the information…”

Sounds like he was covering all his bases, but he was really covering something else. A statement released by DeCenzo on March 1 said he made the decision to fire Bennett back in late October, and he first contacted Moglia on Nov. 14 – weeks before he says he instructed Yurachek to begin a search for the next head coach.

If it was the hardest decision DeCenzo has had to make at Coastal, he certainly hid it well. And it must have been the easiest post-season review and coaching search Yurachek has conducted. It appears Yurachek was either in the dark about the whole Chicken Coop coup, or he did a great job of trying to take the heat off DeCenzo.

“At the end of the season, at the request of Dr. DeCenzo, I completed a thorough review of every facet of our football program, both on and off the field,” Yurachek said at the press conference. “… Upon completion of the review it was evident that the success of our program was not reflective of the investments.”

When the question was asked about Bennett being blindsided by the move, Yurachek toed the party line: “I think the fact that it’s taken three weeks since the conclusion of our season that we didn’t enter into this decision in a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “We took our time to really think this thing through.”

“We” might have, but not DeCenzo. Six weeks after he admits to making the decision to fire Bennett, he nods in agreement and says “Yes” when Yurachek claims the decision to fire Bennett was made “in the last 48 hours.” He even dodged a question about early candidates for the job by saying “I’ll let you know at the press conference when we introduce him.”

So it’s safe to say that DeCenzo¬† made the call to fire Bennett back in October, to hire Moglia in November and to tap dance around the details in December. So what? He’s the president and he has the right. But why put up a facade to make it look like part of some standard procedure? Just say, “I’m firing this guy and going with this guy”?

There are 925,001 reasons, the odd one being to not to ruffle the feathers of the Chanticleer faithful. So how’s that working out? The good people who support the football program might not have as many degrees hanging on their walls, but they’re not stupid. They know when someone is peeing on their parade and telling them it is raining cats and dogs (“We need more dawgs!”).

By laying out his intentions in e-mails, DeCenzo had no loophole to slip through to avoid paying Bennett in full. This was clearly a premeditating firing, not the result of some postseason study of the program, and the reassignment was a sham that any lawyer would be licking their chops to take to court.

That’s why Bennett walks away the big winner, ironically, for not winning enough, and DeCenzo is the loser for costing the school almost $1 million for the mishandling of the situation. Only time will tell how the CCU football program fares from the one expensive experiment.

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