Crucial context for Kelly, Weis salaries at Notre Dame

South Bend Tribune


There is plenty of context missing from the now-annual dig into the Notre Dame athletic department’s tax records.

The most compelling piece involves the role of former Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White, now heading up the Duke athletic program, who, as it turns out, is not the main reason the regurgitated Charlie Weis angle keeps surfacing every spring.

A source, who wishes to remain anonymous and one familiar with the now-Kansas head coach’s contracts with ND, confirmed Thursday it was White’s idea to put an offset clause into Weis’ second contract with the school, one which included a buyout that will pay the deposed Irish coach almost $19 million by December 2015.

However, the university attorney who drafted the contract did not include the offset clause, fairly standard procedure in the industry, in the contract. And so Weis continues to receive payments from the university, with two more (of more than $2 million each) scheduled to come in December 2014 and in December 2015.

USA Today was among the media outlets Wednesday reporting Weis received an initial payment of $6,638,403 after his firing late in 2009, ending his five-year, 62-game run with a 35-27 record. Tax records revealed annual payments in 2010, 2011 and 2012, with the December 2013 payment set to show up on next year’s tax records.

If an offset clause had been in place, Weis’ annual salary, wherever he happened to be working, would figure into the calculation. Take, 2012 — the year many media members have been referencing the past couple of days. Weis received $2,054,744 in 2012 from ND. His salary from Kansas for that year was $2.5 million.

Had the offset clause been included, ND would have owed Weis nothing for 2012 — or 2013 — a tax year that seemingly is surely to be rehashed next spring. However, if Weis was not making any income in those years, ND would have been on the hook for the entire payments of $2,054,744. If he made less than that in those years, ND’s obligation would have been the difference in the buyout payment figure and his actual salary.

Weis was named Notre Dame’s head coach in December 2004, succeeding Tyrone Willingham. He signed a six-year contract with the school at that time.

But in late October 2005, in the midst of a renaissance season for ND in which the Irish finished in the Top 10 of the AP poll for the first time since 1993, White offered to redo the contract. In essence, he tore up the final five years of the first contact and added 10 new ones, with new conditions and a raise that would keep Weis under contractual control until 2015.

“This may sound terribly arrogant, and it just might be, but I can tell you there is very little that we can do where there isn’t going to be backlash,” White told the South Bend Tribune the following spring.

“I really took a good hard look at the position I felt we were in. I felt our momentum was dramatically improving. I felt we had a very strong recruiting campaign going, and I believed we would have a significant number of (NFL) suitors at the end of the season. We had already had some overtures. So if you’re in my position, it would have been irresponsible not to (extend the contract).”

“Charlie’s been very clear from the day he arrived here that he wanted to stay here long-term, wanted to finish his career here. But the New York cynic didn’t want to leave anything to chance. I didn’t want any other forces to leak into the equation. When he came, we had a pretty big buyout. Now we have a Herculean buyout, so I think for somebody to move in and out of this contract is more challenging.”

Tribune columnist Al Lesar, citing anonymous sources, first reported a figure that exceeded $18 million for Weis’ buyout, doing so in mid-December 2009, a couple of days after Brian Kelly was announced as Weis’ successor. Weis later confirmed the number to the South Bend Tribune and put a finer point on it ($18.9 million).

And yet every spring it seems to become a national story. Over and over.

But is it news?

The distortion comes more from some of the headline writers and from those copying and condensing pieces by writers who correctly and responsibly pointed out that the numbers they are reporting are incomplete when it comes to current head coach Brian Kelly’s salary.’s headline, for example, read: “Irish paid Weis more than Kelly in 2012.” But did they?

The tax records show that Kelly was paid $1,457,284 directly from the university during the team’s title run in 2012. But that figure is misleading — by design.

In a meeting with Weis after he left Notre Dame, the former Irish head coach told the South Bend Tribune that because ND is a private institution and because the school doesn’t want a paper trail that shows the head football coach among the top five highest-paid employees at the school, the numbers are manipulated.

He said he received a significant portion of his compensation through adidas and another large portion from Notre Dame Sports Properties, for his radio and TV shows. Taxes weren’t withdrawn at the time those checks were cut. Weis had to pay the taxes after the fact.

Lesar reported in 2009 Kelly’s compensation to be $2.5 million per year — before bonuses. His contact was extended two years — to 2016 — after his first two years on the job. Then on opening day last season, a 28-6 win over Temple on Aug. 31, ND announced another extension and reworking of the contract.

Only one year was actually added, but Kelly and Jack Swarbrick admitted the terms were upgraded. Kelly, though, said the most important part was shared vision of the future of the program and a written commitment to that.

“When we come to an agreement, it’s not necessarily that within it I get a lunch stipend on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Kelly said in August. “It’s about that we’re all together in this contract about moving the program forward. We’ve all decided that by signing this contract, we’re all in it together — and that’s what I was looking for.

“By my signature on it, (ND president) Father (John) Jenkins’ signature on it, and (athletic director) Jack Swarbrick’s signature on it, we’ve all agreed that the principles within this contract (are) that we’re all together, and our voices — the communication — was the huge piece for me. That dialogue is open, and that’s what I was looking for.”

Eric Hansen: 574-235-6112

Twitter: @hansenNDInsider

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick shakes hands with Charlie Weis after the Irish beat Boston College on Oct. 14, 2009. (SBT File Photo)