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College Coaches Make Big Money

Feeling underpaid? Avert your eyes from the figures surfacing from the latest college football coach hirings.

  • Tommy Tuberville, Auburn: An annual package worth at least $900,000. Career record, 25-20.
  • Bobby Stoops, Oklahoma: This rookie head coach will make approximately $775,000 per season.
  • George O'Leary, Georgia Tech: When he got a call from Auburn, school administrators ponied up with a six-year, $3.6 million extension through 2004. O'Leary has won exactly zero ACC titles and won his only bowl game, the now defunct Carquest Bowl.
  • Lou Holtz, South Carolina: At least Sweet Lou has won a national championship and offers some sizzle for a state school that lives in the shadow of Clemson. Holtz reportedly is getting $600,000-$700,000 per season.
  • Tommy Bowden, Clemson: Coming off an undefeated season at Tulane and being the son of Bobby Bowden got him $700,000 a year.

And that's just the high-profile hires. The price of hiring college football's elite is going up. The latest round of hirings pointed up that, despite cries of poverty, athletic departments have plenty of money for the right football coach.

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  • "You get what you can command," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "Some of these programs that had full stadiums and now have empty stadiums realize what it's worth to have somebody who can pull it off. It's no different than having a business that's bankrupt. You get a CEO in who all of a sudden puts things in the left-hand column, he gets paid very well."

    "That's what football coaches have turned into -- (they've) turned into a business."

    That fact shold be no surprise. The amazement should be over how quickly coaches' compensation is going up. The average package for a Division I-A coach increased almost 11 percent from the 1997 to 1998 season, according to figures provided by the Division I-A Athletic Directors Association. The average base salary increased 9.35 percent. Even the single highest base salary increased from $501,000 to $525,000 per year in 1998. That's a boost of $24,000 or 4.8 percent.

    Where is it going to stop? That's an unknown because it's hard to track where it began. The ADs association has tracked I-A salaries for only 1997 and 1998. Those are believed to be the only figures immediately available. The fact some schools do not release their compensation figures make trends hard to establish.

    But there is no doubt some eyes bugged out during the recent round of coaching changes.

    "I don't think there's anything that can be done to regulate the sky-rocketing salaries and packages," said Karl Benson, a member of the NCAA Football Issues Committee and the WAC commissioner.

    Unlike the soaring salaries in professional basketball and baseball, there is some method to the madness. College athletic departments are known for running a tight budget. They aren't likely to overpay if it's going to mean red ink.

    That's why the salaries of established coaches such as Florida's Steve Spurrier ($1.97 million), Florida State's Bobby Bowden ($1.005 million) and Ohio State's John Cooper ($800,000) shouldn't seem out of line. Compared to the $14.8 million profit generated by Buckeyes football, Cooper's salary is a small part of a large business.

    "It's whatever people can afford," Alvarez said. "It's not just coaching, it's fundraising, it's being on the road a lot of the time. I'm on the road over 75 times a year raising funds not only for the athletic department but the university. It's not just putting people in the stadium, it's pressing some palms and talking to a high-profile person making an endowment."

    The credo seems to be: it takes money to make money. When upgrading its program 10 years ago, Kansas State went deep into debt to build new facilities, hire Bill Snyder and make his staff the highest paid in the Big Eight. The payoff has been a decade of excellence that culminated this year in a Big 12 Championship Game berth.

    In 1995, Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger started a five-year phase-in to make all his coaches' salaries among the top half in the Big Ten.

    "I want them focused on what they should be focused on," Geiger told the Columbus Dispatch. "I want them to be John Cooper -- well-rewarded and secure in what they're doing."

    Plus, no matter what ADs argue, the pot keeps getting sweetened. The Bowl Championship Series will pay participating teams and conferences $100 million this bowl season. According to media reports, CBS might lead the way, paying the Southeastern Conference $40 millioper season for rights fees through 2008. The Big 12 has a 10-year, $156 million deal with Fox Sports Net in addition to a $100 million deal with ABC that runs through 2003.

    "I don't know if there is a direct correlation there (between rights fees and coaches salaries)," Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg said. "Revenues remain 75 percent ticket based. It's not the NFL financial model. I would tend to think this is driven by the marketplace, by a person whose perceived to be a top coach."

    If the brief trend holds, this off-season's hires probably will cause the national salary average to go up. During the 1998-99 school year, the average I-A coach is earning $165,340 in base salary and a $417,000 total package. Those figures are up from $151,274 and $376,000 in 1997-98. Those numbers were provided by Dutch Baughman, executive director of the I-A ADs.

    "I can assure you (the off-season hires) are not out of line at all with last year's numbers or this year's numbers," Baughman said. "I've looked at each one of those as they've been reported in the paper and I'm not startled."

    "There's a lot of factors that go into it. The old economic principal (applies), whatever the marketplace bears. A lot of it goes back to the arms race."

    That "arms race" is what led the Los Angeles Dodgers to give pitcher Kevin Brown a $105 million deal. It's what allowed Kevin Garnett to demand $120 million from the Minnesota Timberwolves. The price of being the best always goes up.

    Witness the situation in South Carolina, where the two major programs finished a combined 4-18. After firing Tommy West, Clemson jumped at a chance to hire Bowden at the height of his powers. Bowden then hired former South Carolina coach Brad Scott as one of his assistants.

    South Carolina replied by hiring the 61-year old Holtz. Holtz then hired his son Skip to be offensive coordinator. The remainder of the staff includes two former head coaches -- Dave Roberts (Baylor) and John Gutekunst (Minnesota).

    The price of trying to dig out of a 1-10 season includes paying Holtz $150,000 in base salary. Perks include two free cars, and $450,000 a year for coaches shows and endorsements. Holtz could earn another $150,000 if South Carolina wins the national championship.

    Those perks are the guts of any major-college coach's contract. Typically they are made up of television and radio show compensation and apparel endorsement (shoes etc.). Sometimes the school controls the amount an apparel company can compensate a coach. It is misleading, in most cases, to assume a coach is being paid directly by a media source for a 30-minute show each week. Usually, the athletic department takes some of its rights fees for that sport and gives it to the new hire as a perk.

    "South Carolina cannot in and of itself pay Lou Holtz $800,000 to go coach there," said Ralph McBarron, director of university projects for rights holder ESN Regional in Charlotte, N.C. "They can pay him at a certain level and then re-direct some of their media rights money to him to sweeten the pot. I would tell you it is a rare situation that the dollars being paid to a coach are actually worth what that coach brings back to the deal in his radio and television shows."

    "Coaches shows are coaches shows. You'll find very few that are busting the ratings numbers through the roof."

    Also, it's hard to nail down exact numbers for coaches especially when they are hired. The base salary sometimes is public record but the rest of the compensation is up for conjecture. A certain figure might sneak into media reports because an athletic director leaks it.

    "Never," McBarron said, "discount the role that ego plays in this stuff. Anything that has to do with money changing hands is all keeping up with the Joneses."

    There is also an ethical question to be asked about these high salaries. At several schools, the football coach is the school's highest paid employee. That means the president, chancellor and deans of schools are making less money.

    "Unlike those professors, these guys are under constant public scrutiny," said Dan Beebe, another member of the football issues committee. Beebe is commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference where the top coaches make "only" $100,000 per season, but he understands the rationale of his higher profile brethren.

    "There's a lot of pressure in that ... It's not just what the football program takes in, it's what's the impact and importance? At Tennessee during six Saturdays a year they have well over 100,000 in the stadium and millions watching. You better have someone very good."

    There are alternatives. June Jones gave up the chase to become the San Diego Chargers' permanent head coach to take the Hawaii job this week for considerably less money -- about $200,000 per year. John Gagliardi, coach of Division III St. John's (Minn.), runs a highly successful program without playbooks, a strength program or much pressure. He has won more than 350 games in 50 seasons.

    "In that situation," Beebe asked, "how many guys are going to be pounding on the ADs door saying, 'Why didn't we call the right play last week?'"

    The answer probably equals Gagliardi's perks package. Zero.

    © 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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