Gwozdecky's Contract Impasse Has Long History

(above) DU has scheduled a Press Conference for 11 AM today to announce the contract buyout of head hockey coach George Gwozdecky
University of Denver head hockey coach George Gwozdecky was fired yesterday, when the university bought out the final year of his contract.  Gwozdecky had a 10-year contract signed [mid-season] 2002 when DU was the #1 team in the polls and Michigan State and the University of Wisconsin were conducting informal coaching searches. A provision in the contract was a rumored $1 million dollar balloon payout, to be paid at the conclusion of the contract, designed to keep the Gwozdecky at DU for the duration of the contract.

After the 2004 National Championship, DU and Gwozdecky extended the contract to expire after 2013-14 season.  The extension included raises and bonuses that would make him among the highest paid coaches in college hockey at the time [base $250,000-$300,000].

In June 2009 DU signed lacrosse legend Bill Tierney for significantly less than market value and less than Tierney made at Princeton. Suddenly DU is on the map in lacrosse, and the hockey program, for the first time in its history has to share the limelight on campus.

In February 2010 Gwozdecky wanted to extend his current contract to carry him to retirement. Around the same time DU re-upped basketball coach Joe Scott, to become the highest paid employee at the university. At the time, the hoops program was struggling to draw 1,000 fans most games. Someone ran to the Denver Post with all the juicy contract numbers, the basketball attendance numbers and DU's dirty laundry was splashed all over town.

In April 2010, the Ohio State ice hockey job became available and Gwozdecky went from consultant to candidate in the blink of an eye. But to hire Gwozdecky, OSU would have to pay the annuity, give Gwozdecky his money and purchase all the bells and whistles Gwozdecky would need to build a winner. Ohio State, with all the money in the world says, "No thank you."

Throughout the Gwozdecky contract negotiations the Athletic Department remained confident they could re-sign Gwozdecky & Tierney to deals, but there was no hurry with Gwozdecky because of the balloon payment.

Gwozdecky wanted at least to receive rolling four-year extensions so his contract couldn't be used against DU on the recruiting trail. Once it became obvious that DU was not going to agree to an extension, Gwozdecky decided to be the good soldier and fulfill his contract confident that everything would work out.

Between 2010 and today, the University of Denver has been knocked around like a beachball because of conference affiliation issues [WCHA->NCHC, Sunbelt->WAC->Summit League]. DU spent millions trying to find a home for hoops only to discover that hockey, skiing, lacrosse and gymnastics success isn't worth much in the "new world order." Not fielding a football program has made finding a conference home almost impossible.

So the decision was made a few weeks ago to buy out the final year of Gwozdecky's contract and employ the same formula to find a coach they used back in 1994 when hiring Gwozdecky.

If DU gets the candidate they are targeting, you'll find similarities to Gwozdecky hiring in 1996.


Anonymous said...

This became a very complicated problem that developed over time. As much as i am a fan of george,both as a coach and as a person, i have to admit that he contributed to this mess. Everybody ,on both sides of the issue, has some of this on their hands. It gradually developed into the final mess that blew up yesterday, even George.

dggoddard said...

When you sign 10-year contracts in sports you can guarantee two things.

1). You will be underpaid when the contract expires

2). Unless you have career years an the end of the contract you will not be re-signed

3). Gwozdecky did the smart thing and tried to negotiate in 2010 when DU was #1 in the country with Colborne, Rakhshani, Chevy and Wiercioch.

DU sat chilly and its pretty obvious Dan Ritchie made the call to buy out the contract.

Its either the ballsiest coaching move in the history of college hockey or the stupidest.

Anonymous said...

What does Dan Ritchie have to do with the buy out?

dggoddard said...

Buying out contracts is clearly a Board of Trustees decision at DU.

Since Dan Richie is the point man on looking for the new head coach, you connect the dots.

Rushmore said...

So who's the target?

Anonymous said...

DG, what is your basis for saying that Dan Ritchie is the point man on looking for a new coach? I mean, I know he is the man and all. But why would you say that Ritchie, instead of Peg, is the point person on this?

Twister said...

I'm curious about this rumored "annuity." First off, the term annuity implies fixed payments over time. It sounds as though Gwoz and DU agreed to some type of balloon payment to be paid at the conclusion of the contract. Makes sense for both sides, I guess. Gwoz gets a hefty prize for honoring the contract and DU knows it has an elite coach locked in for that time period. Second, are we to assume that the payment is voided now that his contract is bought out?

Let's all be frank here on the new coach: if DU ends up in the FF next year, everyone lives happily ever after. If DU is treading water next year and underachieves, this is worst move in NCAA hockey history. Everything comes down to performance on the ice.

Anonymous said...

I think it would be unreasonable to expect DU to pull off anything awesome next year. We might lose a player or two that we wouldn't have lost with Gwoz at the helm. We didn't exactly kick butt this year, so I don't think anyone should expect a big year next year. Consequently, I don't think that the wisdom of this coaching move depends much on what we do on the ice next year.

Jordan said...

Twister, interesting thoughts about the annuity.

If you're not going to re-sign him, why not wait until the contract is up so you're not switching conferences AND coaches at the same time? And then you can really make it look like the contract fell apart, without having to say you fired a coach who got you 2 championships.

Anonymous said...

DU cut the cord becuase they knew Gwoz was a lame duck with a year keft and they were just not going to renew him. He pissed off too many people internally to get his big reward.

George had been angling for his big ticket extension for the last 5 years or so. Couple that with his flirting with other programs for contract leverage ober those 5 years, and you can see why the board got tired of him.

George would have been better served by waiting until 2012 or 2013 to seek his extension. His flirtations and early NCAA exits made it easier to cut the cord.

Anonymous said...

Coaches don't dictate their own contract terms anymore.

Boards of Trustees do.

Anonymous said...

George rightly left out Ritchie, Peg and Coombs from his thank yous

Anonymous said...

George calciulated anddecided on a course of action. in hind sight he blew it but in situations like this you never know the outcome until the end.
You are playing serious money poker. You have three aces, look around at only one player left and say-ok i'm all in .reasonable decision but sorry.other player turns over a full house.
george was playing this high stakes poker with D.U. for about the last three years.i wish he won but that's life

dggoddard said...

A better analogy would be Gwozdecky's playing poker and DU keeps saying they don't have any chips and keeps folding before the flop.

Then when DU draws the full house they go all-in with millions of chips. George looks down at his hand and for the first time all night he's holding rags.

George folds and DU starts dancing around the room like they've won the world series.

Unknown said...

Gwoz emphasized his thanks to Dan Ritchie. What I found very interesting was the absence of Ron Grahame from the thank-you list.

Timothy Wurtz
Los Angeles, CA

Anonymous said...

Gwoz wil come out of this just fine. He'll end up making more money than he does now. The real losers in all of this will be the players and fans of the DU hockey team.

Anonymous said...

I hope they go get Dallas Guame.

Anonymous said...

Dallas Gaume is an interesting option.

Greg Drechsel is another.

B said...

Uknown: he did thank Ron Grahme too.

Anonymous said...

Here's my prediction on his participation at the hockey banquet. There will be a heartfelt sincere video of George speaking that will bring tears and a long standing applause from the attendees.

old pio said...

So many of you guys are so much closer to the program than I. But one thing that strikes me about this situation is the customary difference between hockey and other "revenue" sports when it comes to coaches. Just off the top of my head I remember Dana Kirk, who coached basketball at Memphis State yet never had even one black kid graduate. There was a mysterious FedEx pouch full of counterfeit money addressed to a University of Houston assistant. The SMU swamp. Hell, the whole Southwest Conference (except for Rice). And on and on. Hockey seemed to be largely immune to all of that. A different ethic. And different kids.

And former players and alumni or fans who throw money at a program are a decidedly mixed blessing. How many examples of wealthy guys corrupting players while the coaches look the other way have we seen? Cars, women, drugs, tattoos, etc. I mean, you want these guys to give, but it needs to be in socially acceptable ways.

In our case, the Board of Trustees made this decision and it's up to them to find and hire the right replacement. At least they aren't in a position of having to placate a bunch of wealthy powerhouse alumns who contribute to the program and think because they do, they call the shots.

As I said on the "All Things DU" thread: DU may be able to find a coach who will have more post-season success than Gwoz. But will be hard pressed to find one as classy.

Anonymous said...

The real loser is Peg. What a stupid decision.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you can put this all on Peg.

This was a Board of Trustees decision.

Anonymous said...

Peg was probably just the trigger man, err, woman and was charged with handing down a decision that came from above her.

Anonymous said...

This was all about money/leverage and ego. Gwoz was seeking a long-term, big dollar contract to finish his career at DU and was asking more than DU was apparently willing to pay.

Ironically the success that the hockey program has achieved has also led to its stagnation. We used to recruit a variety of players - muckers, bangers, etc. and that is what won championships. Many of those players would not have a chance of making the roster today.

No, now we exclusively recruit only the top USHL, US National team players who, while very highly skilled, are like robots out on the ice having spent their entire lives since they were 5 years old playing hockey and nothing else.

While I will miss Gwoz and appreciate all that he did for the program, there are plenty of capable candidates out there to lead the program into the future.