UConn Donor Has Tantrum, Takes his Football, Goes Home
If the same letter had arrived in the office of an athletic director at a top Southeast Conference, Big Ten or Big 12 school, maybe there’d be a little shuddering going on. It’s one thing for big-money donors to throw their weight around in places where college football is king, but in New England? Where college football is not only not king but isn’t even remotely regal, just something to do on fall Saturdays when the Sox are finished and the foliage is past its peak? Write a blustery letter to the AD at the University of Connecticut demanding that your millions of dollars in donations be returned because the university hired a football coach you didn’t want, and you’re going to be called out for the buffoon that you are.
Robert G. Burton is that buffoon. He begins his angry six-page letter by referring to himself, in case AD Jeff Hathaway has forgotten, as “the largest donor in the UConn football program.” By “largest” I assume he’s talking about the vast amount of money he’s given to the university rather than the size of his ego. Although if you read the letter, sent a week after Paul Pasqualoni was hired to run the Huskies program, you might not be so sure of that distinction.
A printing industry exec who from what I’ve read appears to have made his fortune not so much by printing stuff but by putting people in the printing industry out of work — or, as he might characterize it, by cutting payroll to increase profit margin — Burton clearly is a guy who will accept no seat on the bus other than the driver’s seat. So after insisting that he “was not looking for veto power over the next hire,” he goes on to say that “I earned my voice” with millions in donations, that “I know more football coaches than the majority of Athletic Directors in America,” and that “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.”
Gee, maybe Burton has a point. How could Hathaway hire a football coach without consulting the architect of mighty Vanderbilt, which went 2-10 each of the last two years and has had one winning season since 1982? If only you’d listened, Mr. AD, you could have brought that fine football tradition to UConn, a school where women’s basketball is queen.
We can laugh all day at Burton — and laugh you will, if you go to Deadspin.com and read not just his letter but the hilariously biting reader comments — but the problem is, he goes beyond bluster. Along with reminding Hathaway around 3 million times that he’s the football program’s largest donor, Burton lists eight actions he plans to take, most of them involving an end to his financial support for the athletic program. If he stopped there, fine. Take your ball and go home, Bob. But Burton goes so far as to say UConn will no longer receive donations from people who work for him, and to point out that he relocated three companies to Connecticut, each with more than 10,000 employees. If this condescending tone is the way Burton deals with employees, something tells me the UConn football program is going to be receiving a lot of donations from Anonymous.
The funniest line in the whole ranting letter may be Burton’s final swipe at Hathaway: “You have hurt and embarrassed the Burton family for the last time.” Yeah, that job is being handled just fine by Robert G. Burton himself.
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