For the second time in five years, Fort Hays State athletic director Curtis Hammeke came calling.
He wanted Butler Community College football coach Troy Morrell — the man Hammeke hired in 2000 when he was AD at Butler — to come to western Kansas and resurrect his moribund program.
And Hammeke, who fired Kevin Verdugo on Nov. 10 after five seasons and an 18-46 record, was willing to pay. Enough money to reportedly make Morrell, who has won three national junior-college titles at Butler and is the top-paid coach in the Jayhawk Conference, the second-highest paid coach in the MIAA behind Northwest Missouri's Mel Tjeerdsma.
But for the second time in five years, Hammeke came up empty handed. The Tigers named Washburn defensive coordinator Chris Brown as their coach on Friday.
Hammeke and Morrell, a Fort Hays State alum, met in the weeks following Butler's 48-0 win over Hutchinson in the Region VI title game on Nov. 14.
"Troy and I visited, we talked about salary range and about the position," Hammeke said."... But in the end, he expressed he wasn't interested in leaving Butler. We never even got to the application process."
Morrell's rejection of the Tigers, all parties indicated, ended up being less about what the Tigers had to offer and more about a plan implemented by the Butler administration and booster club to keep Morrell in El Dorado. Morrell's incentive- rich deal guarantees he's taken care of in the long term and also keeps his program's facilities at a level that most MIAA schools would struggle to compete with.
"Sometimes the grass isn't always greener on the other side, you know?" Butler athletic director Todd Carter said. "Curtis is the one who gave Troy a chance, so it's only natural that (Morrell) would listen. We know money isn't everything, but we've laid out some incentives that make Butler a pretty appealing place for him to be."
Those incentives start with Morrell's base salary of $65,000 a year, a number that jumps to an undisclosed amount with private dollars raised by Butler's booster club, the Grizzly Backers.
The Grizzly Backers also began putting money — also raised through private donations — into a five-year annuity plan for Morrell this year. It's money that Morrell can take out at the end of five years in one lump sum, or presumably roll over into another five-year plan if he is still at Butler.
"Fort Hays State made us a good offer, but the best thing for me is to stay where I'm at," Morrell said. "The thing about Butler... they take good care of people."
Butler's desire to keep Morrell in place hasn't been limited to upping his personal wealth.
This summer, the school unveiled the privately-funded Criss Football Complex, a state-of-the-art football facility replete with a new locker room, coaches offices and meeting rooms. That's in addition to adding indoor turf and a weight room at the Hubbard Champions Training center in 2004.
The school has also committed to redoing Butler's practice fields and adding more money for recruiting, according to Carter.
And the crown jewel is still on the way. The school is on track to open a new football stadium in 2012 — a 4,000-seat facility across the street from campus in the space once used by the American Legion golf course — thanks in big part to a $1.25 million donation from BG Products in August that pushed the stadium's fundraising total to $2 million.
The Grizzlies finished as the national runnerup this season for the third time in Morrell's career after a 13-12 loss to Navarro in last Sunday's NJCAA title game.
"It would have to be a great opportunity for me to leave Butler," Morrell said. "I enjoy the people I work with, and my family and I are very happy where we're at. It would have to be someone along the lines of a (Oklahoma coach) Bob Stoops or (Kansas State coach) Bill Snyder offering me a job to make me think seriously about leaving."