It was a day after groundbreaking began on the University of Connecticut's $50 million on-campus football facility that Burton's $2.5 million donation helped kick-start. His contribution would earn his family's name on the facility, along with the perception that Burton was the football program's No. 1 booster.
• Read The Letter: Burton Demands $3 Million Returned From UConn
But just over six years after accepting the UConn Club's Outstanding Contribution Award from Hathaway, Burton had donor's remorse. In a scathing letter to Hathaway, the university's athletic director, Burton has asked for a $3 million donation back and demanded that his family's name be removed from the Burton Family Football Complex in Storrs.
The letter, obtained by The Courant on Tuesday, was also sent to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, incoming UConn President Susan Herbst and UConn Board of Trustees Chairman Lawrence D. McHugh. In the letter, Burton expressed his frustration with Hathaway's handling of the search for a new football coach and said that Hathaway was not qualified for his position.
The controversy comes at a precarious time for Hathaway, who replaced Lew Perkins as athletic director in 2003. Former football coach Randy Edsall's departure came amid reports he was upset that Hathaway did not support him when he questioned the school's admissions office about changing academic standards for recruits.
Also, the men's basketball program is awaiting punishment from the NCAA for recruiting violations that took place under Hathaway's leadership, and Hathaway's relationship with men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun has had its ups and downs. Most recently, Calhoun's latest contract took months to become official.
Burton's complaint concerns Hathaway's lack of communication during the coaching search. Burton began his letter by referencing a Jan. 3 conversation in which he asked Hathaway to keep him involved in the search process and offered to provide his insight into who might be a good fit for UConn.
"For someone who has given over $7,000,000 to the football program/university, I do not feel as though these requests were asking for too much," Burton wrote. "Your lack of response on either of these requests tells me you do not respect my point of view or value my opinion."
UConn hired Cheshire native Paul Pasqualoni to replace Edsall, a decision that Burton opposed. His letter, while expressing dissatisfaction with the choice, is also a strong indictment of Hathaway, who Burton writes is "not qualified to be a Division 1 AD."
"I am fed up with you as a manager because you did not let the hiring process take place in an open manner," Burton wrote. "You and your committee of three talked to some coaches and made a critical decision about who you were going to hire without input from knowledgeable people who care about the program."
Burton added, "The primary reason Randy took another job was because he could not work with you. I assume it will not take your new President long to find out that you also have problems in your working relationships with the basketball coaches and other UConn managers."
In an e-mail to The Courant, UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma said, "I don't know the guy. The letter sounds like someone is trying to make Jeff look bad in the media. Pretty well-orchestrated, it appears."
"His statement that Jeff has a poor working relationship with the basketball coaches pisses me off. He has no clue what my working or personal relationship is with Jeff, nor is it any of his business. On a lighter note [I'm] just thankful he doesn't like basketball."
Men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun said he was preparing for UConn's game at Marquette and wouldn't comment.
Maryland sports information director Shawn Nestor said: "[Edsall] is out on the road recruiting and we at Maryland have no comment on the matter."
Burton, 72, is a Greenwich resident whose son Mike was a captain for Edsall's 1999 team. He has been a significant donor to the football program and was visible around the program in its early years in Division I-A.
When Edsall left for Maryland after UConn played in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, Burton attempted to exert influence by citing his football experience. Burton played at Murray State and was a 19th-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 1962.