Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Yurachek no part of Bielema matter, leaders say
Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek is shown during a football game between the Razorbacks and Colorado State on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek and Razorback Foundation executive director Scott Varady said Thursday the foundation — not Yurachek — made the decision to stop making buyout payments to former UA football coach Bret Bielema last year.
A federal lawsuit filed by Bielema against the foundation alleges Yurachek “appears to have been the driving force behind” when the foundation ceased payments to Bielema in January 2019. The attorneys cite multiple examples of Yurachek criticizing high-dollar buyouts, including during his introductory press conference at the UA shortly after Bielema was fired as the Razorbacks’ coach in 2017.
“The Razorback Foundation flatly denies the allegations about Hunter’s alleged involvement in the Bielema matter,” Varady said in a statement. “The Foundation is the contracting party and made the decisions about which Mr. Bielema complains in his lawsuit.”
During a Zoom conference with reporters, Yurachek was asked about the lawsuit for the first time since Bielema’s attorneys filed their original suit June 12 in the U.S. Western District of Arkansas. Yurachek noted Bielema’s time at Arkansas “predates” him and the foundation had already started to negotiate a release agreement with Bielema by the time Yurachek was hired in December 2017, 10 days following Bielema’s dismissal.
“Of course I’ve had conversations with Scott Varady and the Razorback Foundation, but this is a contract that was executed by the Razorback Foundation and guaranteed by the Razorback Foundation. The buyout was negotiated by the Razorback Foundation. This is 100 percent a Razorback Athletic Foundation decision,” Yurachek said. “I support the Razorback Foundation, absolutely, but for someone to accuse me of being the driving force behind that, they’re not really paying attention to the timing of my arrival to our campus.”
Including citations, Yurachek’s name appears 17 times in Bielema’s amended 66-page lawsuit against the foundation that was filed July 2. On Wednesday, the foundation filed a motion for U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes III to dismiss the case on jurisdictional grounds, claiming disagreements between Bielema and the foundation are contractually meant to be settled in Washington County Circuit Court, not the federal court with an office in Fayetteville, the county seat.
In the amended suit, Bielema’s attorneys characterize Yurachek as having “considerable influence” over Varady, a former UA general counsel who was hired to lead the foundation in 2015.
“At a minimum, Mr. Yurachek exerted pressure on the Executive Director to find some justification for terminating the monthly buyout payments to Coach Bielema,” the amended suit states. “If Mr. Yurachek was not the architect of the Foundation’s strategy to accomplish that objective, he certainly approved it.”
Bielema’s attorneys characterize an “incestuous” relationship between the UA athletics department and the foundation, and claim “it is inconceivable that the Foundation would have stopped making the monthly buyout payments and threatened Coach Bielema with a multi-million dollar lawsuit unless Mr. Yurachek was either the architect of that plan or unequivocally expressed his support for it.”
In court filings, the foundation has denied it acts as an arm of the UA. The foundation served as a third-party guarantor for Bielema’s buyout agreement. In contracts written since Yurachek was hired, the UA serves as the guarantor for coaches’ buyouts, including the approximately $10.1 million that was owed to former football coach Chad Morris before mitigation.
The foundation stopped paying Bielema’s $11.935 million buyout when it claims he failed to comply with his duty to mitigate while serving as a special assistant to the New England Patriots during the 2018 season. In a letter to Bielema last year, the foundation demanded he repay more than $4 million in buyout payments.
Bielema is demanding $7.025 million in compensatory damages, as well as punitive damages, attorney fees, court costs and a jury trial.
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