Hours after a Lincoln judge gave the University of Nebraska-Lincoln seven days to turn over the metrics — two paragraphs — agreed to as part of former Husker football coach Scott Frost’s restructured contract, athletic director Trev Alberts spelled out the plain-and-simple, yet closely held standard.
Win six games and get to a bowl game. Of course, Frost didn’t make it past the third game in a rocky start to the season.
Tuesday’s ruling and Alberts’ acknowledgment was largely a public records win for USA Today, which sued after the university’s director of records denied its reporter’s request for the metrics, calling it personal information that should remain confidential.
At trial earlier this month, USA Today argued it should be public under state law because it involves the expense of public funds.
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Alberts, speaking Tuesday night on the Huskers Radio Network, said his preference was that the metrics remain a verbal agreement but that Frost wanted something in writing.
Written metrics agreed to as part of men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg’s restructured deal do not exist, Alberts said Tuesday. USA Today also sought to have those terms released.
In an eight-page decision, District Judge Ryan Post said: “The evidence showed no document or other public record in any form containing the Fred Hoiberg metrics exists and the relator has not met its burden.”
But regarding Frost’s metrics, the judge rejected the argument of the university’s attorney, Steven Davidson, who questioned whether it even mattered any more, in light of Frost’s firing in September.
Post said that had no bearing on whether the records were public and subject to disclosure. USA Today remains interested in seeing them, the metrics are public records, and it has been denied access, he said.
“The conclusion of Scott Frost’s employment does not render the dispute moot,” Post wrote.
He also rejected Davidson’s contention that, by state law, public employees’ salary and directory information was public information, but anything else is protected.
Davidson cited an opinion by the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, rejecting the Journal Star’s earlier request for the same information.
Post said the Attorney General had applied a broad definition of personal in concluding “the metrics are personal in that they relate to, and affect, a particular person, Coach Frost.”
But, he said, Nebraska has broad public records laws that generally provide open access to governmental records. And statutory exemptions shielding public records from disclosure are narrowly construed.
In any case, the metrics for Frost were tied to the program, not to goals and objectives specific to an individual employee’s duties or responsibilities, Post said.
He said the record he reviewed consisted of two paragraphs: the first containing metrics for the football program and the second an additional agreement by the university related to Frost’s contract of employment.
“USA Today views the court’s ruling as a victory for its readers and the fundamental right of the public to information about how public funds are spent,” Michael Coyle, USA Today legal counsel, said following the judge’s decision.
According to previously released information, Frost’s restructured contract included a reduction in salary from $5 million to $4 million for this year, but also spelled out the opportunity to bump his salary back to $5 million in 2023 and beyond if the program achieved certain “metrics” in 2022.
Alberts, speaking Tuesday, said that Frost would have reverted to his old contract had the metrics of six wins and a bowl game appearance been met this season.
As for Hoiberg, his salary dropped from $3.5 million to $3.25 million this season and the coach gave up a $500,000 retention bonus due him.
Photos: Scott Frost through the years
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