Dick Bestwick, football coach at the University of Virginia for six seasons, was fired yesterday after he refused to accept modifications in his contract, which has three years remaining.
Dick Schultz, Virginia's athletic director for five months, dismissed Bestwick following a late afternoon meeting with the coach, who just completed a 1-10 season for a six-year record of 16-49-1. In 1979, he coached the Cavaliers to a 6-5 record, their second winning season in the past 29 years, and was rewarded with an extension of his contract through 1984.
Schultz said a major factor in his decision was "the ability to sell season tickets after a 1-10 season." Schultz also said he wanted a proven major-college winner to replace Bestwick, a Georgia Tech assistant before coming to Virginia.
Cavalier players met with Schultz before the firing was announced early last night in Charlottesville. They said the athletic director told them that Bestwick had to win six games next season or resign voluntarily and be paid for only one of the final two years on his contract.
"It did involve winning a certain number of games next year," Schultz said last night. "When you're 1-14 (Virginia also lost its last four games of the 1980 season), at some point along the line performance has to be some part of the situation."
Schultz said Bestwick, 51, will be given 30 days to decide whether he wants to exercise his option to remain as associate athletic director.
As players went in and out of his private office to give their condolences early last night, Bestwick sent word through his secretary that he would not comment.
According to Schultz, Bestwick's contract has a settlement clause and he is to be paid cash for the remaining three years. That figure is believed to be about $120,000. Schultz confirmed that Bestwick's contract includes a clause giving him the option to become associate athletic director for five years if he quits or is fired.
Schultz said that, if he accepts the administrative job, Bestwick would be paid his football salary for three years and at an adjusted rate thereafter. Schultz labeled as "ridiculous" reports that the buyout package would cost the university $360,000.
Schultz said he met with Bestwick Friday and laid out the coach's options: "I wanted to give him the weekend to think about it. My instincts told me it wasn't going to work, but my heart told me I needed to give him another chance . . . If we got off to a poor start next year, it could be a real financial disaster. If I was willing to take that gamble, I felt there should be a partnership."
Schultz said that he has several coaches in mind with whom to discuss the job and will begin talking to them today. He gave no names.
Schultz's meeting with the team last night lasted about 15 minutes. He spoke and then asked the players for questions.
Afterward, senior quarterback-cocaptain Todd Kirtley said, "I think the bottom line is they just have to sell tickets . . . At least 80 percent of the team felt that he (Schultz) should have given Coach Bestwick one more year. Ninety percent really wanted to see him succeed. They were behind him and in his corner. The guys haven't talked about it but, as we were losing more, you could see it coming or at least a good chance of it."
Schultz said he could also see the stands at Scott Stadium having fewer spectators, even though Saturday's game against rival Virginia Tech drew a record crowd of more than 39,000. The Cavaliers averaged 30,000 per game, according to university spokesman Doug Elgin.
"Most of those tickets were sold before we played any games," Schultz said. "We also had a lot of people with tickets who weren't coming to the last few games."
Virginia's team had an unprecedented number of injuries to key players this season.
"In my judgment," Schultz said, "that's a legitimate excuse to a degree, but it can't be passed off as the total reason when you have one win in the last 15 games, and that's really what we're looking at."
Several players said they thought the change in coaches would adversely affect recruiting, which starts in earnest this week.
"There's a big question how successful we would have been recruiting anyway with the record we had. In my mind, that could have become a real problem," Schultz said.
The other problem was season tickets. "What are you going to sell next year?" Schultz said, giving his definition of financial disaster. "The people are going to wait and see what kind of team we have. Let's say you lose the first two games for any reason. Here you go . . ."
Schultz angled his right hand at a 45-degree angle toward the floor and moved it downward.