Call it a tale of two high-profile transactions.
When Northern Illinois University hired Lisa Freeman as its new president, school officials held multiple public input sessions and announced she was the candidate they wanted.
After she was hired, they announced the terms of her contract. When they negotiate her extension, they likely will follow a similar process.
When associate vice president and director of athletics Sean Frazier and the athletic department gave football coach Rod Carey a multiyear contract extension reportedly worth more than a half-million dollars more than Freeman’s contract, they said nothing for 10 months until a Freedom of Information Act from a college newspaper uncovered it.
Frazier said the department followed its usual process – and that much is true. Carey’s previous extension was done without pomp and circumstance, as was Frazier’s renewal. In fact, in an interview before the game against Akron on Thursday, Frazier cited his own extension as proof that he doesn’t put much thought into announcing contract extensions.
At last report, Frazier was earning $280,000.
Frazier said he would not comment on the specifics of Carey’s contract, which reportedly will pay him about $600,000 a year, and NIU officials still have not provided us a copy. But he did talk about why he doesn’t announce them.
“It’s just the process,” Frazier said. “It’s not positive, and it’s not negative. For me to come out and make a grand statement that this is our guy and everything – he’s the only guy I have, the only guy I’ve ever had. We’re just trying to win championships and graduate our players and doing the things necessary to accomplish that. It’s not nefarious at all. It’s just an extension. Anyone could have said, ‘Sean, what’s the contract situation with Rod?’ and I would have said, ‘Here it is.’
“I’m a pretty simple guy. You can set a clock to me.”
If that is their usual process, they should change that process.
The Northern Star on Thursday reported that Carey is set to earn a total of $2.1 million between July 1 and June 30, 2022.
Frazier said the intention wasn’t to create a “cloak and dagger” atmosphere, saying he views the extension as a fairly noncontroversial transaction.
“I look for the good with everything I do,” Frazier said. “I can’t believe people look for the negative side. I live in a community that means so much to me, with the supporters I have. I’m not looking at it that way. But I’ll do my best to make sure people are informed.”
Controversial or not, Carey earns more than the president of the university, which makes him the highest-paid employee at the university, which makes him one of the highest-paid public employees in the state of Illinois. This is why people care, and Frazier and other university officials should understand that.
Is Carey worth the money? He’s won one Mid-American Conference title and three MAC West crowns, and the Huskies have a shot at more in his sixth season. He’s 36-8 in MAC play and never has lost more than three conference games in a year. You can point to an 0-5 record in bowl games as a problem, but there also have been “boneyard victories” at Iowa, Northwestern, Nebraska and BYU, as well as a close defeat at Ohio State. He’s been a good fit for the program and has brought it much consistency, which is not common for mid-majors.
But there’s a very vocal “Fire Rod Carey,” or #FRC, contingent on social media. People clog our mentions on Twitter as long as NIU is losing. One guy posts “Bye Carey” on every Facebook post. And the quiet contract extension for the football coach gives them more ammunition – if the university and athletic department are so proud of the work Carey has done over the past six years, why was he given a “secret” extension?
Of course, trolls are going to troll. Don’t feed them, right? But national outlets even are picking up on this and emphasizing the “secret” nature of the extension. NIU is not out ahead of the story, so people are coming up with their own narrative, and making NIU and Carey look bad.
I put secret in quotes because technically it’s not a secret. It’s public, if you FOIA the school and wait for officials to get back to you. Frazier even said he would have been more than happy to answer the question if asked by media or fans. But if it’s not publicized, it’s essentially a secret.
“If there was some kind of regulation, or a situation where the BOT or state requirement to announce it, I would have done it that way,” Frazier said. “It’s like a nonissue. The way I see it, we have a coach and went through with an extension.”
Carey is the highest-paid employee at the school and one of the highest-paid public employees in the state. He just signed a $2 million extension. People are going to care. People should care.
And not making a big deal about it is getting people to care for the wrong reasons.
• Eddie Carifio is the Daily Chronicle sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.