Large groups of football recruits have visited Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., the past two weekends and Joe Yukica, the coach who successfully sued to keep his job for one final season, says life goes on as usual at the Ivy League school.
"We've had two real big recruiting weekends," Yukica said yesterday. "We talk Dartmouth College. My situation is not discussed. You don't sell them on the idea I'm the football coach when they have to pay $15,000 tuition. We're talking about Dartmouth as a school, an environment . . .
"I don't think we'll lose recruits. A kid may pick Penn State because Joe Paterno is the coach there, but they don't pick Dartmouth or Harvard because of the coach."
Life may be going on as usual at Dartmouth. But, while no legal precedents were established in Yukica's out-of-court settlement, athletic administrators and coaches around the country are reexamining contracts to make sure the language is precise. And the American Football Coaches Association used the Yukica case as a forum to implore both coaches and institutions to honor contracts.
"I think it means when you make contracts with a coach, you better know what you've done," said Gene Corrigan, athletic director at Notre Dame, which waited until football coach Gerry Faust's five-year contract was completed before firing him. "Now coaches have lawyers and they'll be more and more specific as time goes on."
Said Jake Crouthamel, athletic director at Syracuse and Yukica's predecessor at Dartmouth: "Contracts obviously are going to be more carefully written by the institution . . . . The institution clearly has to retain the right to move a person out of a job if the employer feels a particular job is not being done properly and move that person to another position.
"If coaches are going to be protected, so is the institution."
The broad legal question raised -- but not answered -- in the Yukica case was whether an employe in a personal services contract can force an employer to fulfill the terms of the contract, or whether the employe is entitled only to a financial settlement.
In a narrow ruling, Judge Walter Murphy, a one-time football coach, said in Grafton County (N.H.) Superior Court that Ted Leland, the athletic director who tried to fire Yukica, lacked authority to do so without backing from the Dartmouth College Athletic Council. That group subsequently upheld Yukica's firing, but because Yukica's contract requires a 12-month termination notice, the vote was too late to keep him from coaching next season (after which the contract expires), Murphy ruled.
The judge ruled that, because of language in the contract, Leland could not arbitrarily assign Yukica other duties in the athletic department.
The settlement will allow Dartmouth to begin searching for a coach as soon as the 1986 season is finished, thus allowing a new staff to recruit the freshman class of 1987. Yukica will be paid his $60,000 annual salary through June 30, 1987.
In eight seasons at Dartmouth, Yukica has won or shared three Ivy League titles. His overall record is 33-41-3, including 0-20-1 outside the Ivy League, which is the only Division I football conference that grants scholarships solely on a need basis. Dartmouth won the last of its 13 Ivy League football titles in 1982. The Big Green was 2-7-0 and 2-7-1 the past two seasons.
"I don't at all feel like a lame duck," Yukica said. "I feel very positive about what I'm doing . . . . I look at myself like somebody who's announced his early retirement."
Some would say that there were no winners in this case, that the reputation of Dartmouth College was sullied by the institution trying to fire a coach who wasn't winning and that Yukica's name was tarnished after a successful 20-year coaching career at New Hampshire, Boston College and Dartmouth.
Crouthamel, a two-way halfback in his playing days at Dartmouth, said: "The image of the Ivy League is tarnished somewhat. I suspect the image of the institution is tarnished more than the league. Anybody who follows Ivy League football has to be very naive if they think the league handles personnel situations any differently than anybody else."
As part of the settlement, Yukica and his attorney, Mike Slive, a former athletic director at Cornell, agreed not to characterize the college as a winner or loser.
Yukica, however, thinks he will have been a winner if one coach is able to keep his job as a result.
"If it would help another me, (cause a school to) handle it differently . . in that sense, there weren't any losers," Yukica said, citing coaches such as Ray Dempsey of Memphis State, who was fired after two years of a five-year contract.
"They're paying him for three (more) years," Yukica said, "but careerwise, what has it done to him?"
But it is a two-way street, said Slive, with some coaches signing long-term contracts then moving on when a better contract comes.
"It may mean next time the coach wants to leave, he may not be able to leave," Slive said. "If you believe in contracts, it goes both ways."
The board of the American Football Coaches Association said: "There is a need for a renewed sense of responsibility, both on the part of institutions . . . (and) coaches, to meet the obligations of a signed contract for whatever terms and length it specifies . . . .
"The board is well aware there may be occasions where a coaching change is a viable option, but it believes any such change in an existing contract, which is deemed in the best interests of both parties, should be by mutual agreement. Had that been the case, the . . . litigation involving Coach Yukica and Dartmouth might well have been avoided."
Meanwhile, Leland, who has been athletic director for three years, and Yukica publicly have buried the hatchet.
"Joe and I have talked at length about our differences," Leland said, "and we are confident that we can put them aside and work together for a good year and a stronger program to be in place for his successor."