Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the bill would allow the Hawaii Board of Regents to hire coaches. The bill would require the regents to approve all coaching contracts at four-year campuses with salaries greater than $200,000, but would not give them full hiring authority.

Hawaii senators want to give the University of Hawaii Board of Regents more authority to hire sports coaches and approve their contracts.

The move comes just weeks after the dramatic departure of former UH football coach Todd Graham, who left amid accusations that he created a hostile environment for some players.

Earlier this week, a panel of senators voted unanimously to move forward with Senate Bill 3268, which would authorize the UH Board of Regents to terminate the athletic director and head coaches at four-year campuses for cause. Contracts with salaries greater than $200,000 would also need board approval to advance under the new measure.

UH Football Coach Todd Graham.
A measure moving through the Legislature would allow the UH Board of Regents to fire coaches and athletic directors. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Contract termination is currently handled by UH Athletic Director Dave Matlin and UH President David Lassner. Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, who introduced the measure and chairs the higher education committee, believes the BOR should also have authority in the matter. 

“If in fact there is cause and a coach, in fact, will get terminated for cause, there is a cost involved and if that’s the case, the Board of Regents should be involved,” Kim said.    

Kim said the board is ultimately responsible for the cost of contract termination and should carry the responsibility of voting on termination. 

Graham’s departure saved the university more than $1 million if action had been taken to fire him without cause. UH also waived a termination penalty for Graham.

Graham’s salary was $800,000, meaning the Board of Regents was required to approve his contract, but Kendra Oishi, the Executive Administrator for the Board of Regents could not provide the documentation of the Regents’ approval.

Kim asked Oishi if a policy in place now that requires approval of contracts worth more than $500,000 was being implemented, but Oishi was not sure.

“I believe that that occurred, but I was not part of that interaction, so I cannot confirm directly,” Oishi told the lawmakers.

UH has not yet taken a position on the bill. In written testimony, Oishi said that the board hasn’t been able to talk about the measure but plans to discuss it at a meeting on Feb. 17. 

The Hawaii Government Employees Association, one of the state’s largest public workers unions that also represents coaches, opposes the bill. HGEA says that the university has existing executive policies that address the termination of contracts and contract approval.

“We have concerns with how that ($200,000) number was created or how that threshold was determined and also, in addition, it could potentially place an additional barrier to coaches getting their contracts done,” HGEA executive representative for coaches at four-year universities Scott Collins said. 

Sen. Glenn Wakai voted in favor of the measure but also has reservations about SB 3268.

“There is a clear chain of command for personnel decisions at the UH. If there is dissatisfaction with a coach, it’s up to the AD to fire them. If there is dissatisfaction with the AD, it’s up to the UH President to fire them. If there is dissatisfaction with the UH President, it’s up to the BOR to fire them,” Wakai said. “I am not confident this bill is the right way to improve UH athletics.”

SB 3268 now moves to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

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