Bucky Gleason owes Danny White an apology

Bucky Gleason isn't an Athletic Administrator, he just plays one in his column.

Three years ago, Bucky Gleason turned the Hurley negotiation into a soap opera. He talked at length of the many things Danny White did to hurt Bobby Hurley's feelings, and how the inability for the two sides to come to an agreement was really all White's fault.

I thought Bucky was wrong then, and now with Oats' success, we have enough evidence to say Bucky was completely and totally wrong. Bucky, not afraid to be consistently wrong, continues to take shots at White despite it being obvious that White was right to let Hurley leave.

It seems to me Bucky doesn't understand negotiations, doesn't understand Athletic Administration, was completely wrong about this situation, and he probably owes Danny White an apology for continuing to use this issue to bash the former UB AD.


Negotiation Theory

In a negotiation, each side determines what they'd do if the negotiation is not successful, their Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). This information is used to determine the highest and/or lowest offer they would accept (Reservation Price). If successful, an offer has to be in the Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA), the plane that represents all offers that would be in the acceptable range of both parties.

I believe that through the negotiation process, White and Hurley realized there was no ZOPA, so they both went with their BATNAs, and they both have seen success. The only person involved that didn't do their jobs was Bucky, when instead of writing about both sides of the negotiation, he uncritically passed Hurley's narrative to the public, and used Hurley's frustrations to criticize White's decision.


To start their negotiation, Danny White and Bobby Hurley should have determined their BATNAs. This is likely what drove Hurley to interview with DePaul, a job he reportedly did not want.

Meeting DePaul helped Hurley determine what his alternatives could be. Also, as it came after UB "leaked" details of a verbally-agreed to extension, the DePaul interview was a "walking out of the dealership" moment, that signaled to White that Hurley wanted a better offer.

To determine UB's BATNA, White would have looked at the cost of hiring a replacement coach. Nate Oats, the most obvious replacement, would keep the team together (especially returning MAC player of the year/Romulus guy Justin Moss), secure recruits, and build on UB's success. However, with Oats, UB would lose the national attention they gained from having Bobby Hurley as the coach.

If Oats was successful, you assume he'd initially make $250k for two years, get a raise to $350,000 for 2 years, and by then, once established as the top coach in the conference, get a raise of $555,000 for five years, a total of $3.6 million over 9 years, $380K/year.

With Nate Oats making $380K per year for 9 years and continued success as your BATNA, Danny White had to decide what his reservation price for Hurley would be. There was value in Hurley's prestige, and with Hurley there was less risk that UB's success would be interrupted by transfers and decommits. However, there was no guarantee that a new deal would keep Hurley in Buffalo long-term, and that increased uncertainty lowered his value to Buffalo. There was also the risk that the longer you held on to Hurley, the more likely you'd lose Oats. Finally, the more you paid Hurley, the more you would be expected to pay the next coach, all assistants, and all coaches in all other sports.

White seemed to value Hurley's contribution at a value of $171,000 over hiring Oats (551K-380K). It was reported that Hurley wanted $700,000 but White did not see the value in keeping Hurley at that price.

While Gleason found this value judgement to be bad, selfish or immature, it was just sound negotiation. Gleason was wrong to over-value Hurley, and was wrong to spin a principled negotiation into a personal soap opera.

In the end, White correctly determined that the value of Oats at his salary was better for UB than Hurley at anything over $551,000/year. It wasn't spoiled or immature, he was calculating and accurate. Not only was Bucky wrong, he (and TBN and WGR) are a major contributing factor to White's decision.

The major non-basketball value of Hurley is his national attention. Buffalo's local media, when it comes to UB Sports, has the attitude of "call me when I should care," which limits Hurley's value in Buffalo. On the other side, anyone invested in the program knew Oats was a special coach and recruiter, I can't say the local media knew that Oats was a great alternative because they do not for the most part invest in learning about the program.

Arizona State competes with UCLA's tradition, Arizona's stranglehold on the state, Stanford's academics, USC's money, and Oregon's Nike. ASU needs Hurley to keep ASU in the conversation in the PAC 12, and even then, ASU offered, and Hurley accepted $200,000 less than what they were paying the coach he replaced. For a guy who was reportedly upset about being the highest paid coach in the conference by only $1,000, he wasn't too offended about making 13% less than his predecessor. I guess once you're making 7 figures, you stop caring about the principle of comparative salaries.

At Buffalo, we don't need to be in the national conversation, we need to build a consistent winner. 1 million eyeballs are nice, but we need 6,000 warm bodies in the seats. A coach willing to take less for himself to ensure more goes into the program is key. A coach who feels like part of the community is more useful at UB. Behind every mid-major success story, there is usually a coach who stuck around and built a program, not those who ransomed the future for personal gain.

Moving on from Hurley was not the sentimental decision, it was just the right decision. If being right is what made White, as Bucky describes him, an "outsider acting like a big-timer who would show Buffalo how things were done" then sign us up for more outsiders.


Based on how Hurley felt after leaving Buffalo, and how Gleason felt about the future of UB Basketball, Gleason wrote that Danny was "classless" in his negotiation with Bobby Hurley and accused White of "thinking small." I'll end this piece by addressing these two feelings.

Hurley's feelings about the negotiation

One of Hurley's alleged grievances is UB leaked the details of an extension framework, which made it seem that Hurley had agreed to a contract extension. The details of the "leaked" extension were:

  • UB reached a verbal agreement in principle to renegotiate Hurley's contract to make him the highest paid coach in the MAC
  • No deal has been signed, but it would be above $550,000 that Saul Philips receives.
  • All money would be from donors and not from University funds.
  • It was an oral agreement, still an "if" executed, not "when"

I don't think anyone believed that meant Hurley had agreed to an extension, as it was stressed that it was not signed.

I read the leak as White signaling to Hurley that $551,000 was White's Best And Final Offer (BAFO), he was done negotiating, Hurley could take it or leave it. When Hurley returned from the DePaul interview Gleason reports that Hurley felt that White shut him out. Gleason uncritically determines this was just White's incompetence. I contend, once Hurley took the DePaul interview, White moved on to Oats.

Additionally, the leak of the offer, put the fanbase at ease. I know the Bills, Sabres, and TBN Sports don't have to answer to the fans so that probably didn't cross Gleason's mind, but UB had to let the fanbase know they were doing all they could to sign Hurley.

Unfortunately, Gleason uncritically framed this "leak" as a personal attack on Hurley, instead of a normal part of a negotiation. Generally, he never questioned Hurley's role in the negotiation, (why take an interview for a job you don't want, when you have a raise waiting for you at a job you reportedly do want), Hurley was just a victim of White's bungling ambition.


Gleason's view of the future of UB Basketball

Through this process, it's clear Gleason believed Hurley was UB's ticket to Big Time Basketball.

Another Hurley grievance was the "insulting" offer of $551,000 (In two recent articles, Gleason wrote the offer was $651,000. Not sure if he was wrong in 2015 and was corrected, or is just sloppy now). Again, while Hurley's feelings may have been real, Gleason's uncritical parroting of those feelings was wrong because Hurley's feelings were flawed.

1. Ohio routinely sells 50,000 more tickets than UB each season. At $20/ticket, that's an extra million dollars for Ohio Basketball. UB paying more than Ohio by even just $1,000 was very significant.

2. The $551,000 represented a 120% raise from his previous base salary again significant.

3. Timing is important. You probably don't start talking to donors until March 1, the day after UB won at division-leading Kent State to move to 19-9 (10-6). 24 days later, White had $301,000 raised for Hurley's salary. White raised his butt off. It is not White's fault that Hurley didn't get his team up for the first half of MAC play in order to ensure time to adequately fundraise for more money.

4. Did Hurley do anything that warranted doubling his salary? Hurley was paid $250,000 to field a successful team, with a bonus (probably between $25,000 and $50,000) for winning the MAC, he did that and was paid for it. Did attendance or interest spike in tangible ways that justified doubling his pay? Was the team so dominant that it was obvious he was underpaid? The 2014-15 UB Bulls, love them as we did, were not a dominating team. They were famous on Bull Run for being DirecTV one half, and cable in the other. The Bulls were 15-9 (6-6) before going on a tear and winning 8 straight to get to the NCAAs. We felt like Hurley was building a dynasty, but I'd argue 4 hot weeks weren't enough proof that he was the best coach in the conference.

Questions about what Hurley exactly deserved via winning one MAC Championship were the most important, but Bucky neither asks nor critically answers those questions. He believed Hurley was our only chance at playing big time basketball, and UB should have paid him whatever he wanted. Failure to pay Hurley was a sign that White was not interested in building "something special" in Buffalo.

So while I could instantly say Bucky was wrong to frame White's successful negotiation as a failure, I couldn't say Bucky was totally wrong. White and the rest of us could only guess that Oats would be able to build something special at UB, but we couldn't be sure at the time. AD's get fired all the time for making the right choice but getting the wrong result.

In this case however, White was right about the choice and he got an amazing result. Bucky was wrong about White's negotiation and wrong about Oats' potential. This week, he was proven to be completely 100% wrong about the entire issue. We can now confidently say the money Buffalo needed to spend to get Hurley was not worth spending with Oats waiting in the wings. In three years as head coach at Buffalo, Oats has continued to build UB Basketball into something special. Oats is starting to build his national profile, he unofficially "made it" by being invited on the SVP Sportscenter, he has won a regular season conference championship (Hurley has none), has two postseason conference championships (Hurley has 1) and has a NCAA Tournament win (Hurley has none).


Thankfully for UB Basketball, Bucky Gleason isn't an Athletic Administrator, he's just a columnist. Unfortunately for the next forward thinking UB AD, Bucky hasn't learned his lesson. If he had, he would have apologized to White by now.

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