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Art of the Deal
Tim Crothers
April 07, 1997
With a feint toward the door, basketball coaches can cash in by staying where they are
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April 07, 1997

Art Of The Deal

With a feint toward the door, basketball coaches can cash in by staying where they are

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I just got off the phone with Rutgers athletic director Fred Gruninger. He offered me the job as the basketball coach of the Scarlet Knights. I swear. So if SI doesn't set me up with a long-term megabucks deal, pronto, I'm walking. Really. I am. I believe I'm just the guy to take the rut out of Rutgers. I bleed Rutgers scarlet.

Don't laugh. It worked for Tom Penders, the Texas coach. Penders recently spent an afternoon touring the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, N.J., and then let it slip that he was offered the Scarlet Knights' coaching job. The next day he got a $150,000-a-year raise and a two-year contract extension to remain with the Longhorns. So what if Rutgers says that Penders was never offered squat.

And if the Rutgers job falls through, then I'm going to Tennessee. Hell, yeah. They need a coach. Need one bad. I'll learn the words to Rocky Top. I'll promise to vote for Al Gore in 2000. Whatever it takes. Y'all know I bleed Volunteers orange.

Hey, I'm no more opportunistic than Steve Alford. He humored the Tennessee suits with a couple of interviews and then signed a cushy four-year contract extension with Southwest Missouri State—only to promptly declare himself a candidate for the Ohio State job. Tulsa's Steve Robinson hit the job-market daily double, attracting interest for the coaching openings at Tennessee and Memphis until the Golden Hurricane coughed up a contract extension through 2004. Then there's Colorado's Ricardo Patton, who turned down an offer from Memphis, had two interviews with Tennessee and eventually got a $120,000-a-year raise to stay in Boulder. Rick Barnes listened to sales pitches from both Tennessee and Ohio State before re-upping at Clemson for a seven-year, $4.67 million extension plus incentive bonuses for everything this side of perfect attendance. Murray State coach Mark Gottfried and Tennessee- Chattanooga's Mack McCarthy followed the scent of money to Knoxville, and each ended up with a lucrative contract extension to remain at his current school.

In the last month at least 10 college basketball coaches have played this gambit, reaping immense financial windfalls simply by agreeing to continue doing the job for which they were already under contract. Following in the steps of professional athletes, they are the latest wave of capitalists to test the free-agent market—free in the sense that many coaches have contracts with escape clauses.

In an era when many college players scrap the B.A. in favor of the NBA, universities have come to view coaches as the only folks they can "lock up" long term, and you don't necessarily need sterling credentials to feel entitled. Florida State coach Pat Kennedy, whose talented Seminoles finished sixth in the ACC and failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight season, nonetheless summoned the nerve to lobby for his own sweetheart deal after his team reached the final of the NIT. Hey, Pat, try floating a rumor that you have an interview scheduled at Wyoming Tech. In a week you'll be making more than Bobby Bowden.

But the Larry Brown Award for Employee Loyalty must go to Tim Floyd, who has nine years left on a 10-year contract with Iowa State. Floyd, 43, has been mentioned in connection with every coaching job from the Chicago Bulls to the Zambian national team. He flirted with LSU a couple of months ago before turning his sights on poor Tennessee, informing Volunteers athletic director Doug Dickey of his interest in the job through Archie Manning, Peyton's dad. After Dickey decided he would meet with Floyd, the Cyclones coach didn't interview with Tennessee before negotiating a sizable salary increase at Iowa State. Floyd then had second thoughts about staying put and sent another intermediary to inform Dickey of his renewed interest in Tennessee just as Dickey was traveling to the home of Illinois State coach Kevin Stallings to offer him the job. When Stallings learned of Floyd's chicanery, he went through with a visit to Tennessee, but then nixed the Vols' offer. Now Floyd has turned his back on Tennessee again. Dickey is desperately seeking another viable candidate. How about Tim Floyd?

Finally, last Friday, Drexel's Bill Herrion, the first coach to officially be offered the Rutgers job, said no; he believed he wasn't ready for the Big East. (The way things are going, Herrion should be signing a fat, lifetime contract with the Dragons real soon.) Of course, more bad news for Fred Gruninger means a bull market for the rest of us. Just last week I tipped off my nephew, Stan, who cooks fries at White Castle. He told his boss he was offered the job at Rutgers. Stan's a cashier now.