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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema walks on the sideline in the second half of an NCAA college football game against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. LSU won 33-10. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Nearly one month after his firing, former University of Arkansas, Fayetteville football coach Bret Bielema's reported $11.8 million buyout agreement with the program has not been finalized, officials said Wednesday.

The nonprofit Razorback Foundation, with which the agreement would be signed, informed the university that the "terms of a release [agreement] have not been finalized or signed by anyone," UA spokesman Mark Rushing said.

Confusion lingered throughout the Razorbacks' 4-8 season about how much Bielema would be owed if the university and he severed ties, in part because of an agreement between Bielema and the nonprofit foundation regarding his severance pay in the case of his termination.

That agreement was withheld from public view. Rushing said Tuesday that the agreement may be released soon.

[DOCUMENT: Read Bielema's termination letter from UA]

UA fired Bielema on Nov. 24 -- with three years remaining on his contract -- immediately after the team lost its season finale in Fayetteville. ESPN, citing a single anonymous source "familiar with the situation," reported Dec. 2 that Bielema and the athletic program agreed to an $11.8 million "negotiated buyout" and would sign the agreement within a "few days."

"It's not uncommon for employment agreements, and releases with head coaches and their representatives to be negotiated over several weeks or sometimes even months," Rushing said. "I don't know anything more than that. I can't speculate as to why some media outlets have reported otherwise."

Release agreements involve more than severance pay, so it's not clear whether Bielema and the foundation are at odds over the buyout amount.

Bielema referred questions to his agent, Neil Cornrich, and specifically declined to confirm whether he agreed to an $11.8 million buyout. Cornrich did not respond to a message left at his Ohio office.

"I'm out of state right now, so I have not had any contact," Bielema said by phone. "That's all going through my representatives. I really haven't been in the loop for the last 48 hours."

Scott Varady, the foundation's executive director, confirmed Rushing's account in a brief email. He did not answer specific questions about whether the parties were negotiating the buyout -- including the amount, how it would be offset against future earnings or the payment schedule.

"We are in the normal process of working on the release agreement with Coach Bielema's representatives," Varady said in a brief email.

Former Athletic Director Jeff Long, fired on Nov. 15, signed a release agreement that finalized his $4.6 million buyout with UA nine days after his ouster.

Long's agreement, obtained through Arkansas open-records laws, included provisions releasing the university and the foundation from future lawsuits, a nondisparagement clause and language that Long's severance pay would be offset by future income.

Area and national media, including the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, reported the ESPN story on Bielema after it was published online, but it does not appear that anyone independently confirmed the report.

A third-party agreement with the Razorback Foundation, which refuses to release that document, set Bielema's buyout at more than $11 million, according to a source close to the program. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in October reported the buyout as $5.9 million, based on a legal analysis of Bielema's contract with the university.

The foundation agreement may be publicly released soon, Rushing said Tuesday evening after it was discovered that the University of Arkansas System has a copy of the record -- months after the Democrat-Gazette first filed Arkansas Freedom of Information Act requests with UA and the system for a copy of the agreement.

The newspaper sent separate open-records requests on Oct. 13 to the university and to the foundation, asking both for "any documents or draft of documents that supplement Bret Bielema's contract, including, but not limited to, any controlling documents related to a buyout."

The newspaper sent that request to the UA System on Oct. 19.

Varady did not respond to the request. Kevin Trainor, the university's athletic department spokesman, sent the newspaper Bielema's offer letter, amended offer letter, his contract and a first amendment to the coach's contract.

No one provided Bielema's agreement with the foundation.

Rushing, responding this week to another open-records request filed on Dec. 6 for the document, said UA has learned that the UA System has a copy of the agreement and plans to release it.

UA System spokesman Nate Hinkel said a copy of Bielema's agreement was found in the system's office of general counsel and that the Democrat-Gazette's October request did not address its request to that office. The request was addressed to system President Donald Bobbitt and Ben Hyneman, chairman of the system's board of trustees.

Hinkel said, "[Bobbitt is] not the custodian of every record kept at the system office, in my mind."

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act defines custodian as "the person having administrative control of that record." The general counsel's office is within the system office and reports to Bobbitt.

Because the agreement has been categorized as "a public record related to personnel," Bielema has until today to decide whether he wants to request that Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issue an opinion on whether it can be withheld, Rushing said.

Information for this article was contributed by Aziza Musa of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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Metro on 12/21/2017

Print Headline: Bielema's buyout deal not yet final, UA told

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