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UNLV, Massimino Get Nasty : College basketball: Another legal battle brewing as coach and university remain far apart on buyout terms.

October 13, 1994|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — No stranger to long-running legal battles, Nevada Las Vegas might soon have another nasty courtroom fight on its hands after the refusal Wednesday of embattled basketball Coach Rollie Massimino to accept the school's cash offer to terminate his lucrative and controversial contract.

A scheduled meeting between Massimino, UNLV interim President Kenny Guinn and Athletic Director Jim Weaver in Weaver's office ended abruptly with the two sides far apart on a possible buyout figure, Guinn said. No further meetings are scheduled, and Guinn said he is now forced to talk with UNLV's legal counsel about options available to the university.

"The meeting only lasted 30 seconds or so, and we do not have any type of an agreement," Guinn said. "It just really comes down to one simple fact, and that's that his floor didn't come down to where our ceiling is.

"I'll be meeting with the university legal advisers today and we'll decide what's in the best interest of the university and the overall program."

Shelley Berkley, a member of the University of Nevada board of regents, said an unplanned meeting could be called as early as Tuesday.

"One way or another, Rollie Massimino will not coach the UNLV team," Berkley said. "He can hold out and try to (get) all the money he wants, but he will not be the coach of this team."

Massimino, scheduled to begin his third season as the Rebels' coach when practice begins Saturday, was curt with reporters when leaving the basketball offices at the Thomas & Mack Center. When asked if he was done as coach of the team, Massimino said: "No, not that I know of."

Although Guinn would not comment on the specifics of UNLV's proposed buyout package, sources said the school offered $330,000 per year over five years. Guinn said the buyout proposal is based solely on Massimino's $511,000 annual salary agreed to by university regents--not the $375,000 more a year promised to Massimino in a secret deal brokered with former UNLV president Robert Maxson, who now has the same position at Long Beach State.

Revelation of the secret deal by the Las Vegas Sun in August made Massimino's already tenuous position even weaker. The Rebels have not sustained the top level of play they did under former coach Jerry Tarkanian, whom Massimino replaced in 1992.

The supplemental contract, which was not approved by the board of regents, was to be paid by a private group in the Las Vegas community dubbed "The Varsity Club."

Reports have said Massimino, 59, has been paid $300,000 over the last two years, is owed $450,000 currently and another $475,000 next summer.

Guinn refuses to acknowledge the additional contract, and has told Massimino he will not receive the money from the university.

Massimino, who led Villanova to the 1985 NCAA championship, is 36-21 at UNLV, including 15-13 last season. The Rebels have failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament in his two seasons.

After meeting with Massimino on Monday, Guinn was optimistic the situation would be resolved by Wednesday. He described the previous meeting as amicable.

"From the other day, I certainly felt we were within striking distance," Guinn said. "But you just can't keep changing every time you go in (to a settlement meeting). We just reaffirmed our position."

So with both sides seemingly steadfast in their positions, Guinn acknowledges that the protracted legal battle he hoped to circumvent might be imminent.

But although he knows the university and community are weary from the many legal fights over the basketball team that arose out of the Tarkanian regime, he is determined not to leave the situation as is.

"I'm not trying to avoid a (legal fight) at any cost, because if I was I would have just raised our ceiling," Guinn said. "But I think the easiest thing for anybody to do is run to litigation, and we've seen that here."

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