Education

Mark Kennedy Joins CU Leaders Paid Millions to Go Away

July 1 is Mark Kennedy's last day as the University of Colorado's president.
University of Colorado Boulder
July 1 is Mark Kennedy's last day as the University of Colorado's president.
Today, July 1, is the official last day for University of Colorado president Mark Kennedy. The onetime Republican member of Congress and former head of the University of North Dakota, hired in 2019 despite a wave of controversy over his selection, agreed to vacate the position in exchange for a $1.3 million settlement.

By doing so, Kennedy joins a not-so-proud tradition at CU: Leaders paid ten figures to just go away. Still, he stands out from the pack by not being a football coach — the category that's most often the recipient of a golden parachute from the university.

Lovely parting gifts for football coaches who've reached their sell-by date have been plentiful over the past two decades. Back in 2005, for instance, Gary Barnett's contract was bought out for around $1.8 million — a sum that included $1.6 million of a reported $2 million retention bonus, plus his annual base salary of $185,000.

Five years later, in 2010, the money truck backed up to the home of exiting football coach Dan Hawkins. His buyout was estimated at $2 million.

Cut to 2012, when the scenario played out again in regard to head coach Jon Embree and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, now one of the NFL's top coaching prospects. Between the two of them, CU ponied up $2,437,500.

An even bigger payoff for splitting was collected by coach Mike MacIntyre in 2019. When MacIntyre was fired, he was owed $10.3 million for the next three years — but he kindly gave the university a break, accepting the paltry sum of just $7.238 million.

CU is far from the only major university to dish out millions to departing football coaches. Indeed, Colorado was the beneficiary in 2020 when coach Mel Tucker left his gig with the Buffs to take a similar position at Michigan State University: MSU wound up buying out Tucker's CU contract and also covering a $2.5 million tax liability. The total came to $5.5 million.

Compared to these buyouts, which cumulatively total more than $15 million, the one given to Kennedy was a relative bargain.

CU's Board of Regents is now in the early stages of a search for the next university president, which is expected to begin in earnest by late summer or early fall.

The regents undoubtedly hope their choice will stick this time. After all, CU doesn't want to spend money it might have to use to buy out football coaches.