State Ethics and the Corey Edsall Saga

Hello friends, and welcome back to another edition of Hey, Meghan’s Actually a Lawyer.

The UConn Twitterverse has been in a tizzy since the Connecticut State Ethics Board ruled that Corey Edsall, son of Football Head Coach Randy Edsall, can only remain on the staff through this season, as both the nature of his hiring and his role as tight ends’ coach is a violation of state ethics laws. UConn is appealing the decision, and with a recent Superior Court ruling that stays the Ethics Board’s decision until after that process is complete, the Corey Edsall Saga has ramped up once again.

Let’s unpack this.

The people angry with the ethics board ruling seem to have basically two rationales: that other schools hire father/son coaches and that Edsall the younger is qualified for the position.

Except here’s the deal, neither of those things are relevant to the ethics issue.

- Advertisement - J. Timothy's Taverne

The first one’s easy to tackle. Other schools have to abide by different rules. Private institutions can do whatever they want, and other states make allowances for exactly this sort of thing. Connecticut does not. If you think they should, holler at your state legislators, because that ball is entirely in their court.

As for part two, Corey’s resume makes clear that he’s got the credentials to be UConn’s tight ends coach. His qualifications are not in doubt. They just don’t actually matter. When you’re dealing with nepotism, and ethics more generally, how things appear is all that matters. My dad, a career civil servant, once explained state ethics to me by saying, “It doesn’t matter what it is. It matters how it looks.” And as the people who live in their mom’s basement and comment on Courant articles would lose their damn minds if state employees were able to hire their children without limitation or oversight, I think we can all agree that there’s good reason for anti-nepotism policies in state government.

The ethics issues here are two-fold. First, Randy participated in the negotiation of Corey’s contract, and in a decision that I still can’t understand, Corey’s hiring was actually included in Randy’s contract (this was very dumb). Randy using his position to get a job for Corey is a blatant ethics violation (something UConn should well know) and enshrining that in Randy’s contract is the equivalent of taking out a billboard to announce the violation. If they had hired Corey independent of Randy, they could have avoided the issue entirely. Now, the state’s most recent decision basically says they won’t go after Edsall for his part in getting his son a job, which is all fine and good. But the other piece is one I don’t see how they can work out.

Here’s UConn’s Nepotism Policy. From their web site:

No employee of the University of Connecticut may be the direct supervisor of or take any action which would affect the financial interests of one’s relative. This may include decisions regarding appointment, award of a contract, promotion, demotion, disciplinary action, discharge, assignment, transfer, approval of time-off, and approval of training or development opportunities, as well as conducting performance evaluations or participating in any other employment action, including serving on a search committee acting on a relative’s application, or otherwise acting on behalf of a relative except as noted under “Procedure” below. Further, no employee may use his/her position to influence an employment action of a non-relative if such action would benefit one’s relative.

Currently, UConn is saying they have a management plan to bypass the issue of having Corey on Randy’s coaching staff. The Ethics Board, however, just this week called that plan “a sham.” And, frankly, I don’t see how you can make a legitimate argument that a head coach isn’t doing any of the above with regard to a member of his coaching staff. So unless their fix involves Corey not actually being a coach, I don’t see how that passes the smell test. I’m also not clear how the university plans to extend Corey’s contract without coming up against the same issues they did the first go round.

Look, I feel bad for Corey. No one wants this kind of attention. Plenty of football programs have father-son combos, and for their industry, this is a non-issue. From an outside perspective, Corey has been a positive addition to the UConn football staff. Hell, we should keep him for his social media contributions alone. UConn Football Twitter increased in quality times a million since Corey got here. I would like for the guy to keep his job, but, unfortunately, the state’s ethics rules are really clear on this. And, to be perfectly frank, I’m genuinely shocked that no one at UConn saw this coming. Not to be all “I told you so,” but this issue jumped out at me when I first read Randy’s offer sheet.

I wish there was a better answer here, but absent an assist from the Connecticut General Assembly, I’m not sure one exists. And with the added weirdness that, despite having actually been the head coach for the last year, Randy Edsall has still not signed his contract, likely because of these very obvious ethics violations. I don’t want to crystal ball what that means, but I sure hope we’re not heading toward an outcome that involves Edsall leaving because of this issue. That’s just one more disaster that UConn can ill-afford.

Meghan Bard
2003 UConn grad, recovering journalist, cardigan wearer, former Daily Camper, current lawyer.