There has been plenty of trouble on the gridiron this fall in Knoxville. UT appears likely headed for a 3-7 campaign after a 2-0 start provided false hope. But the events of this past week suggested that the issues in play go beyond Jarrett Guarantano interceptions or busted coverages on defense.

The UT athletic department, in light of the financial hardships imposed by COVID-19 and an ensuing decrease of athletic revenue, asked all employees to accept pay cuts. The cuts generally amounted to 5% of amounts earned between $50,000 and $150,000 for the year and 10% of amounts earned over $150,000. Most UT athletic department employees are at-will employees and were told that they would undergo the pay cuts, rather than asked to accept them. There were exceptions, including the UT football staff, who had contractual employment agreements that could only be altered by agreement.

Tennessee wide receivers coach Tee Martin and running back coach Jay Graham each agreed to accept the pay cuts. Jeremy Pruitt declined a scheduled raise as his part of the athletic department maneuver. UT athletic director Phil Fulmer accepted an even larger pay cut than suggested. The savings were projected to be about $1.6 million, according to the Knoxville News.

But 8 UT assistant coaches took a “Thanks, but no thanks” approach to the suggested pay cuts, which means UT now will save about $1.3 million. Interestingly, of the 10 coaches in question, Martin and Graham are UT alumni. The 8 coaches who declined pay cuts were not UT alums. Among the 8 coaches who said, “Keep those checks coming” were the following:

  • Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who is set to earn $1.6 million, and whose UT offense is 12th in the SEC in scoring and 13th in yardage.
  • Defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley, whose defense is 9th in the SEC in scoring allowed.
  • Offensive line coach Will Friend
  • Quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke, whose QBs are 13th in the league in passing yardage and 11th in passing efficiency.
  • Inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer
  • Outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton
  • Tight ends coach Joe Osovet, whose two starting tight ends have caught five passes all season.
  • Strength and conditioning coach A.J. Artis

Now, a few words of caution here. Yes, these gentlemen all signed contracts that called for them to earn between $200,000 and $1.6 million each. No, there is absolutely no legal requirement to agree to the lower figures. COVID-19 was certainly not their fault and was largely unforseeable to everyone within the athletic department.

That said, the unmistakable rub is this: The two old-school UT guys, Graham and Martin, agreed to the cuts. This saves the athletic department money and helps prevent layoffs for less-prestigious UT employees who earn significantly less money than even the least of these assistant coaches. The 8 non-UT guys all looked over a team in shambles, a team that, again, is highly likely to finish 3-7 and near the bottom in most significant SEC categories and thought, “Eh, good enough.”

If this were Alabama coaches declining pay cuts, it would be one thing. It would be just as selfish, but it would also come from a place of recognition that UA football brings glory and cash (even if less than expected) to the university. Chaney, Weinke, et al, can’t even dream of saying that right now.

Without argument, 2020 has been an insane year. Conferences weren’t playing, and then were playing, and now are engaged in a week-to-week dance to accommodate the health and safety of athletes and students, while still playing games and making money. Against that backdrop, it’s hard to justify coaches who earn 6 and 7 figure salaries refusing to forego a small slice of that pie to protect the jobs of lower-earning workers in their athletic departments.

But it’s even harder to justify it when the on-field product has been awful. And it will probably make it even harder to feel bad for some of those coaches when they get cut loose for the abysmal on-field results … and for the ugly off-field optics of adopting a Scrooge-like mentality during a brutal 2020 year.