At the end of 2010, Connecticut football was riding the wave: The Huskies were Big East champions for the first time after a five-game win streak to close the regular season, and on their way to the Fiesta Bowl for the biggest game in program history. I hope they got their money's worth, because 2011 has been one slap after another. Two days into the new year, UConn had already been blown out by Oklahoma in Glendale, bid its best player a fond farewell for the draft, and watched its longtime head coach – the same coach who'd overseen the program's transition from I-AA obscurity to BCS upstart over more than a decade – bolt for his "dream job" at another basketball school, Maryland, apparently without even meeting with the team.
But that pales in comparison to the six-page letter athletic director Jeff Hathaway received last week from booster Robert G. Burton, CEO of Greenwich, Conn.-based Burton Capital Management, over the hiring of former Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni to replace Randy Edsall. Burton's son, Michael, was a captain on Edsall's first UConn team in 1999, and his subsequent contributions to the football program come to $7 million, including $2.5 million in 2002 toward construction of the football complex that currently bears his name. And according to The Day of New London, Burton wants at least $3 million of it back – name included:
Burton informed UConn Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway of his intentions via a six-page letter dated Jan. 19, a copy of which was obtained by The Day. […]
"After we get our money back, you can take our name off the complex," wrote Burton, who also has a luxury box at Rentschler Field and who donated more than $1 million to endow two scholarships at the school.
Burton cited philosophical disagreements with Hathaway and his management style as reasons for his decision to end his involvement with UConn.
"The primary reason (former coach) Randy (Edsall) took another job is because he couldn't work with you," Burton wrote in the letter to Hathaway. "You are not qualified to be a Division I AD and I would have fired you a long time ago. You do not have the skills to manage and cultivate new donors."
According to the letter, Burton called Hathaway on Jan. 3 and asked to be "kept in the loop" with the hiring process for the next football coach. It was "the same process that (former Athletic Director) Lew Perkins had with me when Randy was hired."
Burton also wanted to "provide insight" about coaching candidates who he felt "would be a good fit."
Burton wrote that he didn't hear from Hathaway again until Jan. 13, when the process ended.
"I was not looking for veto power," Burton wrote. "Your lack of response on either of these requests tells me that you do not respect my point of view or value my opinion."
Burton reportedly didn't support the Pasqualoni hire, despite – or perhaps as a result of – having another son who played for Pasqualoni during the height of his success at Syracuse from 1997-2001 (aka "the Donovan McNabb Years"). Subsequently, he's threatened not only to revoke his donation, but also to give up his $50,000-per-year luxury suite ("You already have many other empty boxes at Rentschler. My box will just join the list."), cut off an annual $20,000 donation for summer coaching clinics, transfer all remaining scholarship dollars from football to the business school, and begin training "front line managers" for his company at Syracuse's business school instead.
All of that at a moment when donations to the UConn athletic department are reportedly down $9 million from five years ago. At least Burton didn't threaten to drop a bomb on Hathaway's office, although the end result if he follows through may not be all that different.
Let this be a lesson for aspiring athletic directors, and managers in all fields, really: When considering major decisions, always, always value the opinion of the guy whose name is on one of the buildings you go to work in. Otherwise, there won't be any more buildings anytime soon, and even if there are, you're not going to be working in them.
- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.