STATESBORO, Ga. — A leaked audio recording of former Georgia Southern head football coach Willie Fritz telling his players goodbye after he accepted his current head coaching position at Tulane revealed Fritz did not believe he had enough job security at the Statesboro university.
The recording, which included the date Dec. 16, 2015 in the file name, was posted Monday on the website www.forgotten5.com, a blog site that focuses on the FBS Group of 5 conferences and programs, including the Sun Belt and Georgia Southern.
Forgotten5 did not give any source as to how it obtained the recording, which is 13 minutes in length. Fritz speaks to his players for about seven minutes of the recording and explains his reason for leaving.
“I’m 55 going on 56,” Fritz told his players. “When I took this job, I took a big chance. I got a contract that didn’t have much job security. They told me if I proved myself, they would give me job security. Well, that wasn’t the case. I got a one-year deal, and I had to win seven games each year, and I would be reviewed. I thought the last couple of years, I felt like I deserved more than that. This stage in my career, this stage in my life, job security is really, really important to me.”
Fritz was Georgia Southern’s coach for the 2014 and 2015 seasons and led the Eagles’ transition from the FCS to the FBS. His 2014 team won the Sun Belt Conference in Southern’s first year of membership, and in 2015, the Eagles won the GoDaddy Bowl in their first year of eligibility. He finished with a record of 17-7 at Georgia Southern and is now in his second year as the coach at Tulane in New Orleans.
Fritz signed a one-year contract with Georgia Southern after the 2014 season with a start date of July 1, 2015 and end date of June 30, 2016. That contract, obtained by the Savannah Morning News through an open records request, stated that if Fritz won seven games during the 2015 season, Georgia Southern would be required to offer Fritz “employment for the fiscal year 2017 on such terms as may be mutually agreed in a separate writing by the parties.”
Fritz’s base salary was $300,000, plus another $200,000 for his participation in a weekly radio show.
A stipulation in that contract stated in the event Georgia Southern athletic director Tom Kleinlein or president Brooks Keel left the school during the contract period, Fritz could leave Georgia Southern for another job and his buyout would be reduced from $800,000 to $100,000. Keel left Georgia Southern to become the president of Augusta University in 2015, allowing Fritz to save $700,000 when he moved to Tulane.
Kleinlein told the media in a Dec. 11, 2015 press conference announcing Fritz’s departure that the stipulation was a sign of good faith toward Fritz because his contract was for only a year.
On Monday, Kleinlein invited some members of the media to view a copy of a contract extension, along with other documents, that he said was offered to Fritz in late November 2015, after Georgia Southern defeated South Alabama 55-17, earning its eighth win of the season.
The new contract Georgia Southern offered Fritz was approved by the Georgia Southern University Athletic Foundation during a Nov. 25, 2015 board meeting, according to a record of the meeting minutes provided by Kleinlein.
According to the meeting minutes, Kleinlein briefed the board on the contract specifics, which included increasing Fritz’s salary from $500,000 to $700,000 and increasing the salary pool of Fritz’s assistant coaches by $150,000.
The contract would have been for four years, commencing on July 1, 2016 and expiring on June 30, 2020. It also included an option stating if Fritz won seven games during a contract year, he would receive an additional one-year extension. In other words, if Fritz were to win seven games every year at Georgia Southern, he would always have four years remaining on his contract. Fritz’s buyout would have been $1.2 million if he was fired, and he would’ve had to pay Georgia Southern $1 million if he left.
Through a Tulane athletics spokesperson, Fritz declined to comment to the Savannah Morning News on Monday.
Kleinlein made an official statement to the media but declined to comment further on the record.
“Earlier today there was a release on a media site regarding negotiations and conversations with a former coach here in our football program, so what I did today was invite the media and share with them the process and show them the process through the documents that took place to kind of better explain the process that we went through with that former coach,” Kleinlein said.
The audio recording also revealed Fritz’s support for former Georgia Southern running backs head coach Dell McGee to become his successor. As the interim head coach, McGee led the Eagles to a 58-27 rout of Bowling Green in the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Dec. 23, 2015.
“I’ve gone ahead and made my recommendation … I think they should hire this guy right here,” Fritz said referring to McGee, who can also be heard on the recording.
“Whoever the person is coming here for this job, you’ve got a lot of dudes coming back. You’ve got an opportunity to be even better.”
McGee is now the running backs coach at Georgia, and Kleinlein hired Tyson Summers as the Eagles’ head coach. Summers, now in his second season, is 5-10 so far, and the Eagles have started the 2017 season 0-3.
Summers signed a four-year contract, also obtained by the Savannah Morning News through open records, with a base salary of $300,000 and the same radio-show incentives on Dec. 19, 2015.
Two former Georgia Southern players, quarterback Kevin Ellison and cornerback Darius Jones, confirmed on their Twitter accounts the leaked recording was accurate.