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Penn State Football Made Severance Payments of $2.5 Million in 2012-13

by on March 09, 2014 10:45 PM

Coaching transitions cost money.

That’s especially so for Penn State, which paid more than $2.5 million in football department severance payments, in 2012 and 2013.

That’s according to annual financial reports filed with the NCAA by the university’s athletic department.

Coaching transitions also make money. The Houston Texans paid approximately $5.7 million to Penn State that Bill O’Brien owed PSU for breaking his contract and heading to the NFL. (The updated $5.7 million figure is a corrected, lower amount than what was reported in this story's original version.)

In turn, Penn State paid Vanderbilt $1.5 million to buy out the contract of James Franklin, the Nittany Lions’ new head coach and O’Brien’s successor. Buyout-wise, Penn State came out $4.2 million ahead. That will almost cover Franklin’s first-year $4.3 million salary and year-end bonus.

The severance payments counted as a direct expense for Nittany Lion football the past two years. According to Penn State’s reports made to the NCAA, the university's athletic department paid $956,330 in football severance payments in 2012. And it paid $1,547,297 in severance payments in 2013. In all, that’s $2,503,627. Penn State’s report did not indicate who received the payments.

In both its 2012 and 2013 reports filed with the NCAA, Penn State’s athletic department does not list any severance payments made in any area other than the aforementioned $2.5 million for football. That’s almost $2 million less than Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner reported back in January 2012 that PSU expected to pay.


However, circumstances changed. At the time, Joyner reported that Penn State would pay about $4.4 million in severance fees to the nine full-time assistants on Joe Paterno’s coaching staff in 2011. When Joyner announced that amount, it was to have included any payouts to Larry Johnson Sr., Ron Vanderlinden and Mike McQueary, had they not been retained by O’Brien.

But, both Johnson and Vanderlinden remained on staff and coached under O’Brien in 2012-13. And while McQueary did not coach football, he remained under contract to Penn State until June 30, 2012, when the agreement ended and McQueary was not retained. McQueary has since filed a $4 million suit against Penn State, contending he was fired because he says he was a whistle-blower in the Sandusky scandal.

The severances were negotiated by Paterno when he signed a three-year contract extension in December 2008. (The total figure did not include any money that would have been owed the late head coach.) In total, the seven Paterno assistants not retained by O’Brien had 138 years as Penn State employees – an average of about two decades. None was paid to coach at another school in 2012. In some cases, going to work for another employer could negate or impact a severance agreement.

Those seven, with their years as a Penn State employee in parenthesis, are: Dick Anderson (34), Tom Bradley (33), Kermit Buggs (8), Galen Hall (8), Bill Kenney (24), McQueary (12) and Jay Paterno (17).

NEW SALARIES: FROM $75,000 to $600,000

Financially, it’s been a mixed bag for that group, as well as Johnson and Vanderlinden. Hall and Anderson, both in their early 70s, retired. After serving as a volunteer coach at Lock Haven in 2012, Buggs was hired in 2013 as the secondary coach at UConn, where he earned $140,000, according to the USA Today coaches database. The Connecticut staff was fired after last season and Buggs landed at Old Dominion. His salary there has not been made public.

In 2013, former Penn State offensive line coach Bill Kenney coached at Western Michigan, where he made $75,000. (Charles Huff also made $75,000 at Western Michigan in 2013. Huff will likely make considerably more in 2014 as Penn State’s new running back/special teams coach.)

Bradley, consistently one of the nation’s top defensive coordinators while at Penn State, worked as a radio and TV broadcaster in 2012-13. He was recently named senior associate head coach and defensive line coach at West Virginia, where the school has announced that Bradley is slated to make $600,000 in 2014 and $400,000 in 2015.

In January, shortly after Franklin started at Penn State, Johnson was hired by Ohio State’s head coach, Urban Meyer. As associate head coach and defensive line coach with the Buckeyes, Johnson will be paid $400,000, according to Ohio State. That’s considerably more than his predecessor, Mike Vrabel, who was paid $291,004 in 2013 as the Buckeyes’ D-line coach. Vrabel left OSU to coach the Texans under O’Brien.

Jay Paterno, the former PSU QB coach, is running for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania (which pays $157,765). Prior to that, he spent the past two-plus years writing a book, slated to be published in 2014, running a non-profit and writing columns for this site. Vanderlinden, the longtime linebackers coach for Penn State, was fired by O’Brien at the end of the 2013 season. He is now coaching at Air Force. In 2013, the average civilian assistant football coach at the Academy made $162,111.

Penn State does not disclose the salaries of its assistant football coaches – past or present. So there is no way to determine what Paterno’s assistants made or what Franklin’s new staff (which includes eight of his former assistant coaches at Vanderbilt) is now paid by Penn State, either. Vanderbilt does not disclose the salaries of its assistant football coaches, either.


However, according to the USA Today coaches database, in 2013 the average collective salary pool for a nine-man football assistant coaching staff in the Big Ten was $2.46 million per year. That’s about $273,500 per coach. Ohio State’s staff ranked first, at $3.47 million. And Purdue’s group was ranked last, at $2.01 million. Northwestern is a private school and does not release its salaries.

Big Ten assistants’ salaries received a shake-up in the offseason. Michigan fired its offensive coordinator, Al Borges, who made $700,000 in 2013 and replaced him with Doug Nussmeier, who will make $830,000 -- up from the $680,000 he made at Alabama in 2013.

Meanwhile, Michigan State gave its assistant coaches staff a 33% raise last month, upping the total 2014 payout to its nine coaches to a combined $3.169 million.

No word yet on whether their severance agreements are Spartan or not.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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