Sunday, July 12
Shadow

The word cloud of Robert Burton’s letter to Jeff Hathaway

For those who haven’t heard of Robert G. Burton, he’s the winner of January’s Douchebag of the Month award.  Burton, who has donated millions of dollars to the University of Connecticut football program and whose name adorns their athletic complex, was most displeased with the recent hiring of head coach Paul Pasqualoni.

That’s pretty standard I guess.  Boosters get pissy all the time when a coach gets hired/fired, or some other decision is made that they don’t agree with.  But Burton took it a step further, firing off a rambling, boastful, and just plain obnoxious six-page letter to UConn Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway.

The letter itself (excluding attachment notices and other miscellaneous text) is more than 1,700 words long.  So here’s the word cloud for it, which pretty much sums up the main points.  (Those being UConn, football, Burton, program, and money.)

The main text of the letter after the break…

Dear Jeff:

When I called you on Monday, January 3rd, I made two things very clear to you, as the largest donor in the UConn football program. I told you that I wanted to be involved in the hiring process for the new coach. I also gave you my insight about who would be a good fit for the head coaching position as well as who would not. For someone who has given over $7,000,000 to the football program/university, I do not feel as though these requests were asking for too much.

Your lack of response on either of these requests tells me that you do not respect my point of view or value my opinion. After our call on January 3rd, I did not hear from you until you attempted to reach me on January 13th to inform me who you had selected as the next head coach. I should note that I had already heard from several other sources about the pending hire, but I did not hear it from the UConn Athletic Department.

To be clear, I was not looking for veto power over the next hire; I just wanted to be kept in the loop and add value and comments on any prospective candidates. This is the same process that Lew Perkins had with me when Randy Edsall was hired in December of 1998. You did not call me and ask for information on Pasqualoni or talk to my son, Joe, who started as an offensive lineman at Syracuse from 1997 – 2001. Instead you listened to others. You hired a coach who only knows CT coaches and players. CT players alone will not put UConn’s program where we want it to be. You seem to forget that I have three sons who played at Greenwich High School. Two of these sons were all-state players. Joe was all-state for two years. You need to draw talent from Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I am sure your new President, Susan Herbst, will understand that the UConn football team is only as good as your last recruiting class.

I am fed up with you as a manager because you did not let the hiring process take place in an open manner. You and your committee of three talked to some coaches and made a critical decision about who you were going to hire without input from knowledgeable people who care about the program. I believe that you are not qualified to be a Division 1 AD and I would have fired you a long time ago. You do not have the skills to manage and cultivate new donors or the ability to work with coaches. It is our intent to let the correct people know that you did not listen to your number one football donor and you led a flawed process in the search for UConn’s football coach. The primary reason Randy took another job was because he could not work with you. I assume it will not take your new President long to find out that you also have problems in your working relationships with the basketball coaches and other UConn managers. Randy even met with a senior board member to complain about his working relationship with you. I cannot count how many times Randy came down to my office to ask for funding on projects that you were not able to get done.

I did not graduate from UConn, but my son Mike and his wife are UConn grads, and UConn did give me an honorary PhD.  I earned my voice on this subject as your number one football donor/supporter, by naming the Burton Family Football Complex and by giving millions of dollars in scholarship money to UConn’s football players and its Business School. I supported Randy’s football camp as a sponsor and gave thousands of things like artwork at the football complex and an audio system for the player’s weight room.

What you don’t know about me, other than being a college football player/captain and NFL draft pick, is that I know more football coaches than the majority of Athletic Directors in America. I was a GA in Graduate School and worked on my PhD in Tennessee and Alabama. I was also a scout for the Minnesota Vikings while in grad school. I am fully qualified to assess coaches and their ability to match up with the university’s needs, and I have done so for football programs from Vanderbilt to New Haven, as well as several schools in the Ohio Valley Conference and Big Ten.

During the past two days, I compiled a list of all the money that we have given UConn going back to the day Mike started school and came up with a total of over $7 million, including Lew Perkin’s air transportation to find Randy Edsall and the money I paid to get Murray Slate to play UConn here in Connecticut. Based on our demonstrated commitment to the program, I would think that the selection committee would want to listen to me, or at least meet or do a conference call to hear what I have to say. With the shrinking budgets that all public universities are facing each year, I cannot believe that you would not listen to your top football donors on any subject, let alone the hiring of a new football coach. I am sure you can take a collection from your hiring committee and friends to offset the loss of future donations from the Burton family.

After this slap in the face and embarrassment to my family, we are so upset that we are out of UConn. What that means is that we do not want to deal with people like you and your committee, who we do not trust and cannot count on to make the correct decisions or do anything right with our money.

Please be advised of the following eight actions we plan to take effective today:

1.    We will not support, pay or use our $50,000 per year football box at Rentschler Field. I have supported this box in the past with the correct program and coach. No more. You already have many other empty boxes at Rentschler.  My box will just join that list.

2.    I will not purchase the front inside cover of the football program for next year or any other year as I have in the past. This is another $8,000 loss for UConn each year.

3.    I will transfer all of the football scholarship dollars that I have given UConn out of the football program and give them to Business School students. At one point, the program had more than $1.5 million. Whatever the current balance, I am taking it away from you and the football program. I have no trust or faith that these funds will be managed properly.

4.    As soon as you find a new donor, I want you to return the $3 million I gave you for the Burton Family Football Complex, as well as the additional funds I gave Randy and the football department for pictures and other art and the new audio system in the weight room. We plan to donate these funds to another university that supports our objectives and goals. After we get our money back, you can take our name off the Complex.

5.    I will not be supporting the annual head-coaching clinic in the summer. Our $20,000 per year donation will not be part of any future program.

6.    The Burton family and friends (including UConn graduates who work for me) will not be making any other future donations to UConn at Storrs or Stamford. They are also fed up with your leadership.

7.    When the press contacts me, I plan to tell them the truth and the entire story about how your lack of support was the primary reason Randy departed from UConn and how you did not even give the football team’s largest donor the opportunity to provide any input about the head coaching job. I also plan to advise them about the eight items outlined in this letter. I am sure you will recognize several of the names on the distribution list that have an interest in UConn’s future. I learned a long time ago from my personal friend Dr. Billy Graham that the truth helps heal all falsehoods.

8.    What you people in higher education do not realize is that you are going to need more private money to survive. The state cannot pay all of your bills and you must reduce costs. We have relocated three NYSE companies to Connecticut, with over 10,000 employees at each of these firms. If you treat us like outsiders with no respect, then you provide another reason for companies to be located outside of Connecticut. In the past, I have used the Business School at UConn to help train our first line managers in Greenwich. Although we have been trying to set up a similar program for 2011, I will not have UConn’s Business School give me a proposal to do this training for our company. I instead plan to have the Syracuse Business School help us out with this program.

Lastly, don’t underestimate me or what I have outlined and requested in this document. I have already secured legal counsel from several law firms. If you are looking for a fight, then you have selected the right family. You have hurt and embarrassed the Burton family for the last time.

We want our money and respect back. Over the past years, the Burton family has donated over $31 million to Support special education and scholarship programs in America. Most of the people who know me realize that we have been very generous in making donations to scholarship funds because of the personal hardships I endured while growing up in a very poor environment. I was raised in a small coal mining town where most families lived from week to week. I was very fortunate to be offered a football scholarship and a free ride to college. Without that scholarship, I would have worked in the coal mines all of my life. I made a pledge that because of that scholarship, I would repay that money many times over by helping other people and contributing to programs that promoted higher education. It is a shame that UConn will not be on our list going forward.

We wish Susan Herbst much success at UConn. We look forward to hearing from the university about this letter.

Sincerely,

Robert G. Burton

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