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Published: Sunday, 2/20/2005

Secret's out: UT extends O'Brien pact

Mum's the word.

University of Toledo athletic director Mike O'Brien realized exactly how it looked.

Here he was, in the final months of his original three-year contract, and no mention if he was coming or going.

Sure, people on the inside knew - like UT president Dan Johnson, O'Brien's boss - that O'Brien's future was secure.

But there were plenty of folks who didn't know - some, perhaps, who still don't know - leading to speculation about the job security of O'Brien and others in the athletic department.

O'Brien O'Brien
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

"I know my staff has wondered," O'Brien said Friday, upon revealing details of his new three-year contract extension through June 30, 2008.

According to a letter from Johnson's office obtained by The Blade, Johnson officially extended a contract extension to O'Brien last November.

"It's done," O'Brien said.

O'Brien, whose original contract began Jan. 21, 2002, will receive a salary of $138,700 from July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2005, a 2.59 percent increase over his previous year's salary of $135,200.

He will be eligible for salary review July 1, 2005, which will begin the term of his extension. O'Brien is also eligible to receive a "supplement" to his salary for "performance-based criteria."

For future reference: The next time UT rewards its athletic director with a new contract, an AD whom Johnson considers to be among the best in the Mid-American Conference, if not the entire Midwest, they shouldn't keep it a secret.

Johnson, who has more pressing issues to consider besides who's in charge of his athletic department - such as a proposed 9 percent hike for tuition and fees starting next fall - took full blame for dragging his feet regarding O'Brien's contract status.

"Part of it is his contract and two or three others did not get processed in a timely way, mainly because I didn't get it done," Johnson said. "It was delayed, but it had nothing to do with his service at the university. We're really pleased with Mike."

Johnson made a statement by sticking with his guy.

Johnson hired O'Brien. The employer and his employee have forged a bond. They're comfortable working together.

"I was extremely hopeful because of my relationship with [Johnson]. I felt that it was going to happen," O'Brien said of his new contract.

Theories abound why it took so long for O'Brien's contract status to go public.

A popular opinion now making the rounds is that at UT, where budget cuts are the norm, the AD getting three more years added to his contract - with a raise - wouldn't be received with open arms.

My response is that O'Brien still hasn't won over his critics. O'Brien's new-and-improved contract means we have the right to demand more from the leader of UT athletics.

O'Brien brings stability to an athletic department that, among other things, has undergone coaching changes, the elimination of some of its sports teams, and, after years of drowning in red ink, a balanced budget.

"I'm surrounded by people who think the glass is half-full. We're not going to get caught up in negative aspects of our business," O'Brien said. "Negativity can bring people down and organizations down, and we refuse to let that happen here."



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