MANHATTAN — If Tim Weiser had the freedom to hire, fire and negotiate contract extensions with coaches, his successor as Kansas State's athletic director surely possessed the same authority.
That's the defense strategy lawyers representing former Wildcat football coach Ron Prince appear to have formed in an ongoing lawsuit with K-State over a 2008 "secret agreement" worth $3.2 million to Prince.
According to transcripts of a deposition given by former K-State athletic director Bob Krause — who followed Weiser in 2008 — Prince's legal team asserts that Krause was well within his role as AD to pay Prince a buyout in deferred compensation.
In the transcripts, first obtained by the Topeka Capital-Journal, lawyers representing Prince repeatedly asked Krause what responsibilities his predecessor had at K-State. After saying that Weiser was in complete control of the athletic department, Krause said he thought he was, too.
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Krause was asked if, in the world of Wildcat athletics, the "buck stopped with" him? Yes, he answered.
Former K-State president Jon Wefald was asked a similar question of Weiser following the decision to retain Jim Wooldridge as basketball coach in March 2005. Wefald, who overruled Weiser in wanting to keep Wooldridge, told the Eagle that Weiser "runs the athletic department, not me."
Krause said in the deposition that there were no restrictions on him speaking with Prince or his agent, Neil Cornrich, even though Weiser previously had university lawyers conduct contract negotiations.
K-State, however, claims Krause overstepped his authority by negotiating the buyout with Prince. Wefald has said the agreement was made in secret, and that Krause did not have the authority to make such a deal without his involvement.
When the "secret" agreement was made public in 2009, the university sued Prince to invalidate the deal.
In the deposition, a lawyer representing K-State asks if Krause understood parts of two documents.
The first was a March 2005 memo from Wefald to Weiser about the then-AD's job duties. Krause was asked if he knew what it meant to work "in consideration of the best interests of K-State." The second was the school's Intercollegiate Athletics Corporation bylaws, where the AD's decisions presume "the action is consistent with the needs and objectives of the Corporation."
Messages seeking comment were not returned by K-State lawyers on Thursday, nor were calls placed to Wefald's Manhattan home. A spokesperson with K-State's attorneys office recently told The Eagle there was no trial date.
Prince coached the Wildcats for three seasons, going 17-20. He was fired in 2008 with three games remaining.
Krause served as K-State's athletic director for 11 months before becoming director of development for the K-State Olathe Innovation Campus. He resigned from that position when news of the buyout with Prince became public. Wefald retired in June 2009.
When he first took over for Weiser, Krause viewed extending Prince's contract as his top priority. He said in the deposition that Weiser and Prince had come to a stalemate in their previous negotiations.
In order to spark negotiations, Krause thought he had to get creative.
He recalls the main problem being that Prince did not like the buyout terms of the proposed contract, worth $5.5 million over five years. Krause said it "in essence underwrote approximately 25, 30 percent of the five-year value of the contract."
Prince asked for a buyout that would guarantee payment on the full five years, and provide better financial security for his family. Krause said there wasn't enough money in the athletic budget to accommodate such a request, but told Prince he would think about "deferred compensation over an extended period of time."
Krause said he viewed the deferred compensation as key to the contract negotiations. He said the strategy had been used in several past contracts at K-State, so he devised a separate compensation plan in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding. He said he mentioned it once as a possible solution to Wefald.
During a phone conversation that occurred while Wefald was on vacation with his family in July 2008, Krause told the president he "may have to use deferred compensation."
He said Wefald offered no response.
"He was focused on me getting it done," Krause said, "and then he went off to some other topic."
Krause then met with Jim Epps and Bob Cavello, two former top employees of the K-State athletic department. The memorandum will give Prince a string of deferred payments starting in 2015.
Once a consensus was reached, Prince signed the document, along with his employment contract, on Aug. 7, 2008. Wefald signed the public contract, but was not presented with the memorandum. Krause signed it and it was kept in a locked file cabinet in the athletic offices separate from K-State's "Book of Contracts" for coaches.
Prince said he did not ask for the memorandum to be kept private, and would not have objected to it being public.
When asked why he kept the memorandum under lock and key, Krause said the document would have been "difficult for people to understand and not support."
Still, Krause believed both documents were a fair representation of Prince's new contract.
"It was an offer made in good faith and accepted in good faith," Krause said.
As athletic director, he thought K-State would be bound to his agreements, and said there was a "general understanding that some format of deferred compensation would take place."
Wefald, Epps and Cavello have said they had no knowledge of the memorandum, but Krause said in his deposition that Cavello later came to him with notes about the deferred compensation deal and asked if he should keep them.
Epps and Cavello were placed on administrative leave by Currie in June 2009.
When Wefald learned of the memorandum in 2009, Krause traveled to Charlottesville, Va., on his own behalf — separate from the university — to try to work out an alternative solution with Prince.
Krause agreed to pay his own way to the meeting, and asked Prince if he would nullify the "secret" buyout agreement in exchange for Krause purchasing an insurance policy on his own life with Prince as the beneficiary.
Prince rejected the offer.