Todd Graham’s sudden resignation as the University of Hawaii’s football coach ended weeks of speculation on the program’s future, and what it would cost UH to oust him.

But his contract with the university included a resignation clause with an $800,000 termination fee. Instead of sticking him with the bill on the way out, UH decided to waive that fee. Now, officials won’t explain why.

Graham had been under intense scrutiny from spectators and state lawmakers after several football players accused the former coach of creating a hostile environment.

Graham, UH Athletic Director Dave Matlin, and Derek Inouchi, a department spokesman, declined to talk about why the former coach was let off the hook for the termination fee.

UH Football Coach Todd Graham.
Officials have yet to explain why UH waived a $800,000 resignation fee for former football coach Todd Graham. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Inouchi only referred to a statement from the department that did not address the fee but said that “aside from normal reimbursements and compensation earned, no additional monies will be owed to the coach.”

In another statement, Graham said he was leaving the program for his family and his health.

Firing Graham instead could have cost the university more than $400,000 per year, for a total of about $1.2 million to cover the remaining three years of his term.

The UH Board of Regents also brought up the football program during a meeting on Jan. 20. They discussed the issues of athlete mental health and communication channels for student-athletes but never brought up who decided to waive Graham’s breakup fee and how that decision was made. 

Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, who has been a critic of the university, said she was unaware that UH waived the termination fee. 

“I didn’t realize that if he left that he would owe us money. But the fact that he did leave, and we didn’t have to take it to court or pay him to leave his contract, I think it’s a win-win situation for everybody,” she said.

Mercado Kim said she feels it would have caused more harm than good if Graham served the rest of his term.

“Having forced him to pay us, I think that was a trade-off and a small amount for what might have been if he had stayed on,” she said. 

The Senate Ways and Means and Higher Education Committees conducted an informational briefing with Matlin and UH President David Lassner on Jan. 7 to address public concerns and hear the player and public testimonies.

“I was really troubled when, you know, the president, after hearing the families and the athletes raise these concerns, the main thing he said was ‘you cherry-picked,’” said Mercado Kim.

At the same hearing, Matlin characterized the players’ public testimonies as a small group of malcontents. 

“This is a subset of players, and there are issues, but there is more to the story,” Matlin said during the hearing. “There’s more testimony out there. There’s more people that see another side of this.” 

Kim said that this is an opportunity for the university to find a coach that will meet specific needs for the university, the athletic department, the athletes and the state.

“I think the coach needs to be a coach that understands our culture, understands Hawaii and is able to be a strong coach,” she said, “but at the same time, one that respects the players and treats the players with dignity.”

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