Women's Men's College Basketball Men's College Basketball

Sweet deals

More and more college coaches are making CEO money

Posted: Monday June 02, 2003 12:58 PM
  Tubby Smith Tubby Smith has a lucrative eight-year contract with Kentucky. Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

By Mike Fish,

When Iowa State basketball coach Larry Eustachy made headlines last month, it wasn’t just his after-hours partying with female students that raised eyebrows. More than one sports fan -- and not only those in Iowa -- were stunned to learn that Eustachy was the highest-paid public employee in the state, his $1.1 million yearly package about four times what the university president earns.

These days, the best-compensated person on any Division I campus is all but guaranteed to be either the football coach or men's basketball coach. Though college coaches are fond of referring to themselves as "educators," their compensation is not exactly on par with that of the educators who are in charge, say, of the medical or business school. College coaching salaries are more in line with those of entertainers -- or pro coaches.

So all it takes is a glance at Tubby Smith’s new contract at Kentucky to understand why the Wildcats basketball coach hastily shot down rumors linking him to the Philadelphia 76ers' job opening. There’s no buyout or financial penalty in Smith's contract, so he could walk away from the Kentucky bench tomorrow. But Smith would be leaving perhaps the sweetest deal in college basketball -- an eight-year, $20 million pact. Smith's contract with Kentucky may be the gold standard, but a review of other recent coaching contracts indicates that, in this sputtering economy, the coaching business is pretty healthy.

How healthy is the coaching business? At least nine of the 15 basketball coaches hired by major colleges this spring will make more money than their predecessors, and in most cases it's a significant bump. Illinois and Western Kentucky are paying their new guys less, while it’s a salary wash at Arkansas Little-Rock and Cleveland State.

Inside the Contacts
Arkansas-Little Rock
Cleveland State
North Carolina
South Florida
Tennessee State
Virginia Tech
Washington State
Western Kentucky filed state open records requests to obtain copies of the former and current coaching contracts at the 15 schools, as well as Smith’s $20 million-plus deal. Two schools, Pittsburgh and Penn State, declined to disclose their coaching contracts, claiming they weren’t subject to Pennsylvania's open records law.

Driven to find the next Tubby Smith, big-time basketball programs -- especially those backed by Division I-A football money -- are more willing than ever to pay. Consider this:

  • Clemson doubled the coaching salary it had paid Larry Shyatt, luring Oliver Purnell from Dayton with a $700,000 annual package.

  • Georgia is paying new coach Dennis Felton $700,000, about $100,000 more than scandal-plagued Jim Harrick earned in Athens. Georgia is also on the hook to Western Kentucky for a $200,000 buyout penalty for snaring Felton.

  • Kansas is paying former Illinois coach Bill Self $1.13 million, more than Roy Williams was guaranteed, plus a $500,000 buyout to Illinois.

  • UCLA is guaranteeing Ben Howland $900,000 annually, up from the $658,000 paid to Steve Lavin.

  • Washington State drew Dick Bennett out of a three-year retirement with a $430,000 annual deal, double what it paid Paul Graham.

    The Big Boys
    Coach School Salary
    Tubby Smith Kentucky $2.42 million
    Roy Williams North Carolina $1 million-plus*
    * $285,000 guaranteed and additional TV/radio income as well as his own Nike deal
    Bill Self Kansas $1.13 million*
    * plus $500,000 buyout paid Illinois
    Ben Howland UCLA $900,000
    Dennis Felton Georgia $700,000*
    * plus $200,000 buyout paid Western Kentucky
    Oliver Purnell Clemson $700,000
    Bruce Weber Illinois $500,000
    The Other Half
    Coach School Salary
    Dick Bennett Washington State $430,000
    Seth Greenberg Virginia Tech $420,000
    Robert McCullum South Florida $250,000
    Darrin Horn Western Kentucky $145,000
    Mike Garland Cleveland State $135,416.67
    Steve Shields Arkansas-Little Rock $128,000
    Cy Alexander Tennessee State $125,000
    Note: Guaranteed monies and don’t include incentives or perks such as cars, country club memberships and complimentary tickets.
    Nice money. And we’re not even factoring in the cars, summer camps, country club memberships -- Self has two -- and myriad performance and postseason incentives. Smith, for example, stands to earn $2.42 million next season, yet Kentucky is obligated to write another check for $15,000 should the 'Cats make the NCAA tournament.

    Of course, all this comes with heightened pressure to make noise on the conference and national scene, to play deep into the NCAA tourney. As Bennett puts it, “Not only are coaches paid more, but they are also more likely to lose their jobs."

    And most coaches no longer answer only to an athletic director or influential boosters. College presidents are playing more significant roles in the recruitment of high-profile coaches. Why? Like it or not, a school's identity is ofen shaped by its athletic program, and a bad coaching hire, a scandal or an underachieving program can limit the number of talented applicants a school receives.

    “At both major public and private institutions, the board is probably going to expect the university president to be involved, too," said Robert Hemenway, chancellor at the University of Kansas. “No one wants to have a situation where the president is saying, ‘Well, I don’t know anything about this’ if there is a scandal. We’re past the age of saying, ‘I’ll trust the athletic director to take care of that.'"

    So Hemenway was in the middle of things as Kansas sought a replacement for Roy Williams this spring. And with KU also seeking a new athletic director, the chancellor has decided against the search-firm route will be conducting the search himself, assisted by interim AD Drue Jennings.

    The Buyout

    Thanks to buyout clauses, hiring a coach can be pricier than it appears. Kansas didn’t hesitate to pay the $500,000 Self owed Illinois for breaking a contract that had only recently been extended. But Illinois hiked the penalty to $1 million for Self's replacement, Bruce Weber. And KU -- which didn’t have a buyout clause for Williams -- plans to write a $1 million penalty into Self’s deal.

    But if a school thinks it has found "Coach Right," seven-figure buyouts are simply part of the cost of doing business.

    Buyouts Paid for Hires
    Coach Schools Cost
    Bill Self Kansas to Illinois $500,000
    Dennis Felton Georgia to Western Kentucky $200,000*
    * and a 4-game home-and-home series
    Seth Greenberg Virginia Tech to South Florida $50,000
    “To be honest, at most schools, if the person is successful enough and is really the key person that you want, you’re not going to be deterred with that buyout clause," said Hemenway. “You amortize the amount over a 15- or 20-year successful coaching position at a university."

    Still, a buyout payment can be a nice consolation, especially if the clause is creatively written. Take a mid-major program like Western Kentucky, with a I-AA football program in which head coach David Elson earns less ($96,000) than the basketball coach. Officials recognized they had a hot property in Dennis Felton -- much like predecessors Gene Keady, Clem Haskins and Ralph Willard -- so they wrote in a $200,000 penalty if Felton left, which Georgia has agreed to pay in monthly installments over the next three years.

    Future Buyouts for Leaving
    Coach Schools Cost
    Bill Self Kansas $1 million
    Bruce Weber Illinois $1 million
    Dennis Felton Georgia $400,000
    Seth Greenberg Virginia Tech $250,000
    Robert McCullum South Florida $250,000
    Darrin Horn Western Kentucky $200,000*
    * plus 4-game home-and-home series
    Cy Alexander Tennessee State $125,000
    In addition -- and here’s where AD Wood Selig got creative -- if Felton were to leave for a BCS conference or Conference USA school, his contract obligated the hiring school to play a four-year home-and-home series with the Hilltoppers.

    So Western Kentucky now is guaranteed two home basketball games with Georgia at freshly renovated E. A. Diddle Arena, which Selig suggests could produce upwards of $200,000 to $300,000 a game.

    “We couldn’t get prominent programs from BCS-type leagues willing to come to Western Kentucky and play on our home floor," Selig said. “We figured he’s going to more than likely get a pretty good job and that’ll get us an attractive opponent."

    Georgia officials weren’t scared off by the buyout arrangement. Yet with Felton in the Bulldog fold, they’re doubling his buyout penalty to $400,000.

    The Tubby Deal

    The Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals are equally creative in crafting deals for their head coach. One advantage of setting up a separate athletic association outside the university is that it’s not bound by a state law stipulating that contracts can't be longer than four years. Tubby Smith's new deal with the association runs through 2011, and automatically extends to 2013 if Kentucky earns a trip to the Final Four in any of those seasons. No financial buyout is written to protect against Smith leaving for another job. But few places could afford him, and he has millions of incentives to stay, anyway.

    Along with his $200,000 base salary -- less than the $260,000 North Carolina will be paying Williams in a contract that's still unsigned -- Smith receives guaranteed annual TV/radio, shoe and apparel income ranging from $1.55 million this season to $2.175 million in 2010-11. He also has a retention bonus of $1.5 million if he stays at Kentucky through April 2007. An additional $2.5 million is due if Smith is still on the bench in 2011.

    The deal is loaded with additional incentives, including 20 prime, lower-level basketball tickets and eight tickets to Wildcat football games. Smith is also due $50,000 if his team’s GPA is 3.0 or better. There are four weeks of paid vacation.

    And everything is guaranteed in the event Smith is disabled and unable to coach or dies, a clause that athletic officials say is almost unheard of in college sports.

    Last year, presumably because of his stature as the Wildcats boss, Smith also pocketed more than $150,000 in outside income, including $15,000 from Michael Jordan’s basketball camp and a $5,000 speaking fee paid by the U.S. Navy and Department of Defense.

    “It would be pretty difficult to spirit a coach away from all that," acknowledged Kansas interim AD Drue Jennings.

    The Perks

    At lower-level Division I programs, the base salary is about all the head coach can expect to see, other than maybe a courtesy car, a minimal shoe contract and use of campus facilities for his summer camp. Not so for the coaching heavyweights.

    Top coaches earn the bulk of their money from TV and shoe/apparel deals, most of which are negotiated and distributed through the university to the coach. A few coaches, such as Williams and his predecessor at North Carolina, Matt Doherty, do their deals outside the university. Doherty's $500,000 Nike deal dwarfed his $150,000 coaching salary.

    For coaches like Smith at Kentucky and Self at Kansas, their base salary accounts for only one-tenth of their total compensation package. It probably ranges from one-third to one-fifth with coaches in the major conferences.

    Sweet Perks
    Coach School
    Tubby Smith Kentucky
    $1.5 million bonus if he remains thru April 2007; additional $2.5 million if remains thru April 2011
    Oliver Purnell Clemson
    $900,000 bonus if he completes the six-year contract
    Seth Greenberg Virginia Tech
    $225,000 for PR and booster club appearances
    Dennis Felton Georgia
    $75,000 guarantee for summer camp
    Bill Self Kansas
    Six months mortgage fee or payment of the real estate commission on his current residence
    Dick Bennett Washington State
    Airline travel -- Upgrade to first-class business; wife to travel with team in pre-season and regular season; immediate family to travel in post-season; 10 domestic coach-class airline tickets annually
    Somewhat harder to put a price tag on are the personal touches some coaches have written into their contracts -- perks like prime game tickets and travel for the spouse and family members.

    Because of his Wisconsin roots, Dick Bennett made sure to agree on travel freebies before packing for the Washington State job. He upgrades to first-class business. His wife, Ann, gets to travel to regular-season road games, joined by their children and grandchildren in the postseason. The family gets 10 domestic airline tickets a year.

    “Yeah, I’m a Wisconsin guy, and I think the people who engineered my contract were well aware how hard it was for me to leave that state," said Bennett.

    So what is most important in a coaching contract? One is a rollover clause that kicks in after every season, so that the contract is always at its full length. Bennett ventures that coaches are living on the edge if they aren’t working on a five-year deal.

    “When I say five, I mean you are always operating with a five-year contract," he said. “It’s easier [for a college] to end a relationship if it is less than that. On top of that, it affects recruiting because the kids are pretty savvy."

    Oddly, the rollover clause that Bennett told us about doesn't exist in his contract. He laughs about not paying attention to contract details. But after coaching 36 years in Wisconsin, the 60-year-old Bennett is already drawing a pension from that state.

    “Anything here," he said, "was gravy."

    Mike Fish is a senior writer for

    Comments? To e-mail Fish, click here.

    Related information
    Inside the Contracts
    2002-03 Division I coaching changes
    Visit Video Plus for the latest audio and video