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Compher initiated buyout talks, chancellor said

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East Carolina University Board of Trustees chair Kieran Shanahan, left, and Chancellor Cecil Staton, right, open Friday's special board meeting in the Spilman Building.

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The Daily Reflector

Friday, March 9, 2018

East Carolina Univer­sity of­fi­cials said Fri­day their deal to sever ties with Ath­let­ics Direc­tor Jeff Com­pher just eight months af­ter grant­ing him a con­tract ex­ten­sion came at Com­pher’s sug­ges­tion and was driven in part by an un­der­cur­rent of an­gry foot­ball fans.

In a closed meet­ing on ECU’s cam­pus, the uni­ver­sity’s Board of Trus­tees ap­proved an agree­ment with the em­bat­tled ath­let­ics di­rec­tor to end his ten­ure on May 1. Com­pher is el­i­gi­ble to col­lect up to pay­ments to­tal­ing $1,262,500 through April 30, 2023, the uni­ver­sity re­ported. That in­cludes $140,000 for his sched­uled longevity bonus due on April 30. Pay­ments would be re­duced if Com­pher is hired else­where.

The board re­ported that it found no im­me­di­ate ev­i­dence of in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct. Chan­cel­lor Ce­cil Sta­ton said the de­ci­sion stemmed from ini­tial con­ver­sa­tions “a cou­ple of weeks ago” about the pos­si­bil­ity of the AD’s de­par­ture.

“He brought up the idea that maybe given where things are at the mo­ment, and in par­tic­u­lar with the search for a (new) bas­ket­ball coach, that it might be a time to think about this,” Sta­ton said. “The con­ver­sa­tions be­gan at that point, which has led us to to­day.”

Com­pher was not at the spe­cial board meet­ing in the Spil­man Build­ing. He was with the Pi­rate bas­ket­ball team in Or­lando, Fla., late Thurs­day night for their loss in the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence tour­na­ment, and an ECU spokesper­son said he was fly­ing back to at­tend a ser­vice for long­time ECU donor Wal­ter Wil­liams on Fri­day af­ter­noon, but that Com­pher was not an­swer­ing me­dia ques­tions on Fri­day.

The tim­ing comes dur­ing a pe­riod of ath­let­ics bud­get cuts, angst by some ECU fans to­ward Com­pher and other ad­min­is­tra­tors, a bas­ket­ball coach­ing search and con­sec­u­tive los­ing foot­ball sea­sons. Com­pher and other of­fi­cials also broke ground in Jan­uary on the $60 mil­lion Dowdy-Ficklen Sta­dium ren­o­va­tion project for ECU’s foot­ball home.

When asked on Fri­day to re­flect on the five-year con­tract ex­ten­sion and base pay raise granted to Com­pher in June, board chair­man Kieran Shana­han stood by the de­ci­sion. He cited off-the-field suc­cess in aca­demics and other ar­eas that were fac­tors for the ex­ten­sion.

“By ev­ery ma­trix at the time we made that de­ci­sion, it was the right de­ci­sion,” he said. “What has hap­pened is with the Pi­rate Na­tion that is so pas­sion­ate about foot­ball, some­times they can’t see other things. When you lose on the field, it is very frus­trat­ing be­cause it is so im­por­tant to our great uni­ver­sity.

“As events have un­folded, and let me add that un­for­tu­nately very few peo­ple who claim to be Pi­rates have taken to so­cial me­dia in a neg­a­tive way, those things hurt to un­der­mine our uni­ver­sity.”

Com­pher’s de­ci­sion to fire ECU alum and foot­ball coach Ruf­fin McNeill af­ter the 2015 sea­son was met with some crit­i­cism and protests and di­vided fans. The AD hired Scot­tie Mont­gomery and the Pi­rates have posted con­sec­u­tive 3-9 sea­sons.

Sta­ton said Com­pher will not be in­volved in the bas­ket­ball coach­ing search as he is in the fi­nal months of his con­tract. The chan­cel­lor added that he is hop­ing by next week to have an ad­vi­sory coun­cil in place, with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on the bas­ket­ball hire, and nam­ing an in­terim AD might not im­me­di­ately hap­pen.

The pay­out to Com­pher is equal to 50 per­cent of the base salary and 50 per­cent of sup­ple­men­tal pay he would have earned if his em­ploy­ment had con­tin­ued through terms of the con­tract granted to him in June, the uni­ver­sity re­ported.

The pay­ments re­duce by $912,500 the amount he would have been paid if he were ter­mi­nated with­out cause. He also will be paid for ac­crued, pay­out-el­i­gi­ble leave and any bonuses that are earned and un­paid as of May 1.

Sta­ton said the buy­out should not af­fect the ath­let­ics bud­get, which had across-the-board cuts im­ple­mented last year and ef­fects in­cluded team travel and re­cruit­ing bud­gets.

“It does not come from state funds or tu­ition dol­lars, so it comes from other re­sources that the uni­ver­sity has and we have flex­i­bil­ity be­yond that point,” Sta­ton said of Com­pher’s buy­out. “I don’t an­tic­i­pate it hav­ing a neg­a­tive im­pact on the ath­let­ics bud­get.”

Of­fi­cials said Com­pher’s ten­ure spanned a time of great change for ath­let­ics at the uni­ver­sity. It joined the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence; signed a 10-year deal with Adi­das as the of­fi­cial ath­letic wear brand; added women’s lacrosse this sea­son and broke ground for the $60 mil­lion Dowdy-Ficklen project.

Pi­rate stu­dent-ath­letes also have the high­est grade point av­er­age in the his­tory of ECU and are grad­u­at­ing at higher rates than the gen­eral stu­dent body, of­fi­cials re­ported.

“Jeff has worked hard and has ac­com­plished much in his time here, and our ath­let­ics de­part­ment and stu­dent-ath­letes are far bet­ter off as a re­sult of Jeff’s ef­forts,” Sta­ton said. “I’m par­tic­u­larly proud of the suc­cess our stu­dent-ath­letes have ac­com­plished dur­ing Jeff’s ten­ure. I wish Jeff and Cathy all the best in their fu­ture en­deav­ors.”

Shana­han and Sta­ton both em­pha­sized their want for ECU fans to unite again and move for­ward as more changes are im­mi­nent.

“There are so many won­der­ful things go­ing on at this uni­ver­sity and this uni­ver­sity is much more than two 3-9 foot­ball sea­sons,” Sta­ton said. “This is the work­horse uni­ver­sity for the state of North Carolina. ... When we lose sight of that, it is very un­for­tu­nate. We will win again. We are com­mit­ted to that be­cause ath­let­ics is a very cen­tral part to the uni­ver­sity.

“I’m com­mit­ted to it per­son­ally and it means a lot me, but we also have to keep the per­spec­tive and the long-term view that we are Amer­ica’s next great na­tional uni­ver­sity and we are not go­ing to be side­tracked on that jour­ney or that as­pi­ra­tion by these kinds of things.”

Con­tact Ron­nie Wood­ward at rwood­ward@re­flec­tor.com, 252-329-9592 and fol­low @Ron­nieW11 on Twit­ter.

 

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The East Carolina University Board of Trustees today approved an agreement between ECU and Director of Athletics Jeff Compher whereby Compher will step down on May 1, 2018, the university announced. The agreement allows payments up to $1,262,500 over five years, about half of what he would have earned if he filled out his term.

The embattled AD, who was met with protests from fans during football season as the team scuffled to a second straight 3-9 season behind head coach and Compher hire Scottie Montgomery, was returning from Orlando, Fla., where the American Athletic Conference tournament was held. 

He will be in Greenville today but is not expected to comment. 

Hired to replace Terry Holland in the spring of 2013, Compher is overseeing a $60 million renovation to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. He hired baseball coach Cliff Godwin in 2014 and fired football coach Ruffin McNeill following the 2015 season.

The university also is in the process of hiring a basketball coach to replace Jeff Lebo, who resigned Nov. 29, 2017, shortly into his eighth season. Compher spent part of last weekend traveling to focus on that coaching search.

ECU’s announcement detailed a list of accomplishments during Compher’s tenure.

The university joined The American Athletic Conference in the 2014-15 academic year; moved to adidas as the official footwear and athletic wear brand in a 10-year deal which brought an increased contract over the previous partnership; added a new sport with women’s lacrosse launching this season; broke ground for the $60 million Dowdy-Ficklen Southside Stadium renovation project; and Pirate student-athletes have the highest grade point average in the history of ECU and are graduating at higher rates than the general student body.

“I want to thank Jeff Compher for his service to ECU and Pirate Nation over the past five years. Jeff has worked hard and has accomplished much in his time here, and our athletics department and student-athletes are far better off as a result of Jeff’s efforts. I’m particularly proud of the success our student-athletes have accomplished during Jeff’s tenure. I wish Jeff and Cathy all the best in their future endeavors,” Chancellor Cecil P. Staton said in the release.

Compher is eligible to be paid over five years ending April 30, 2023, up to a total of $1,262,500. The payments, if made in full, equate to 50 percent of the base salary and 50 percent of the supplemental pay he would have earned if his employment had continued through the contract term. The payments reduce by $912,500 the amount he would have been paid if he were terminated without cause. He will also be paid for accrued, payout-eligible leave and any bonuses that are earned and unpaid as of May 1.

The agreement requires that Compher make reasonable efforts to obtain a new position in an athletics-related position in order to reduce ECU’s obligation to pay. The university’s payments would be reduced on a dollar for dollar basis after he earns $192,500 per year at a new position.

While the university is unaware of any violations of law or policy, it has retained the right to stop ongoing payments if it learns that Compher committed any Level 1 or II NCAA violations or his coaches did so with his knowledge. Payments would be terminated, as well, if crimes or policy violations harmful to the university were discovered to have occurred during his leadership as AD. ECU is waiving his obligation to pay liquidated damages for resigning from his ECU employment prior to the expiration of his contract.

Compher led the university through an extraordinarily challenging five years, including the complexities and financial investments involved in a change in conferences, a major increase in costs due to a new state law regarding recruits from out of state, an NCAA rules change that added $1 million in cost and other challenges, and a significantly smaller budget than our conference peers ($17 million less on average annually), Staton said in the announcement.

Staton said the search for a new director of athletics will begin immediately, and interim leadership will be announced soon.

Previous story

East Carolina University announced Director of Athletics Jeff Compher will step down on May 1.

A news release was issued at noon today shortly after the school’s Board of Trustees met.

During Compher’s tenure at ECU, the university joined The American Athletic Conference in the 2014-15 academic year; moved to Adidas as the official footwear and athletic wear brand in a 10-year deal which brought an increased contract over the previous partnership; added a new sport with women’s lacrosse launching this season; broke ground for the $60 million DowdyFicklen Southside Stadium renovation project; and Pirate student-athletes have the highest grade point average in the history of ECU and are graduating at higher rates than the general student body.

“I want to thank Jeff Compher for his service to ECU and Pirate Nation over the past five years. Jeff has worked hard and has accomplished much in his time here, and our athletics department and student-athletes are far better off as a result of Jeff’s efforts. I’m particularly proud of the success our student-athletes have accomplished during Jeff’s tenure. I wish Jeff and Cathy all the best in their future endeavors,” said ECU Chancellor Cecil P. Staton.

Compher is eligible to be paid over five years ending April 30, 2023 up to a total of $1,262,500. The payments, if made in full, equate to 50 percent of the base salary and 50 percent of the supplemental pay he would have earned if his employment had continued through the contract term. The payments reduce by $912,500 the amount he would have been paid if he were terminated without cause. He will also be paid for accrued, payout-eligible leave and any bonuses that are earned and unpaid as of May 1.

The agreement requires that Compher make reasonable efforts to obtain a new position in an athletics-related position in order to reduce ECU’s obligation to pay. The university’s payments would be reduced on a dollar for dollar basis after he earns $192,500 per year at a new position.

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