Thursday, April 2, 2009

How much is too much to reward a coach?

Within a matter of two days, Nebraska football head coach Bo Pelini gets a $700,000 raise that puts him in the middle of the pack among Big 12 head coaches. One day later, Kentucky basketball inks John Calipari to an eight-year, $31.5-million dollar contract.There is one common denominator within these two jobs. Football at Nebraska is king. Basketball at Kentucky is king. The pressure that comes with both jobs can be enormous. You can say it’s blown out of proportion but the Nebraska football job was the wrong fit for Bill Callahan for a reason. The Kentucky basketball job was not a good fit for Billy Gillispie for a reason. Callahan led Nebraska to two bowl-less seasons in four years while Gillispie lasted just two years at Kentucky. In 2008-2009, the Wildcats missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991. Nebraska not in a bowl game. Kentucky not in the NCAA tournament. That’s like Tiger Woods not making the cut.Coaches salaries at virtually every level of every major sport has increased drastically over the years but how much is too much?To the coach making the money, no amount is too much. It’s called capitalism. I don’t want hear any whining from you socialist liberals because I doubt you would be turning that money down.

However, I also think these schools shelling out oodles of coin set themselves up for a bad situation, such as buyouts. Let’s say the university dismisses a coach that it hired or if that coach decides to go elsewhere. The University then has to “but out” the remaining years on his contract. Look at Rich Rodriguez, who left West Virginia for Michigan with a $4 million dollar buyout for the remaining years on his contract. Rodriguez left West Virginia for what he thought were greener pastures at Michigan. As a result, West Virginia wanted $4 million dollars as compensation. Michigan wound up relinquishing $2.5 million with the rest to be provided by Rodriguez.
The truth of the matter is that not every job is created equal. It depends on the university and the perceived "tradition" that that school has in a given sport. Some schools are considered "basketball schools," while others are "football schools." It isn't often that a school excels in both sports.

In college football, the pressure of coaching at Nebraska is far different than say Iowa State. In college basketball, the pressure of coaching at say North Carolina is far different than coaching at say Washington. In Major League Baseball, the pressure of managing say the New York Yankees is far different than managing say the Houston Astros.

So, the higher the pressure the job comes with, the University needs to make it at least equitable for the coach. Equitable, however, should not mean over the top. Granted, Calipari is a proven winner but is he worth $4 million a year regardless of the market? Just a few days ago, I blogged in this very same place that the Huskers rewarded Pelini to the right extent. He turned around what was a rudderless ship of a program that finished 5-7 in 2007, losing six of their last seven games to a 9-4 campaign in 2008, winning six of their final seven. Pelini’s original contract called for him to earn $1.1 million dollars, which was No. 11 among Big 12 coaches. In a nutshell, Nebraska rewarded him but did not go over the top like Oklahoma State did with Mike Gundy, who is set to earn $2.2 million in 2009. Texas Tech’s Mike Leach is slated to earn $2.54 million in 2009.

Both coaches have done a fine job at their respective programs, making them relevant after being irrelevant for years. However, you get the feeling that OSU (9-4 in 2008) and Texas Tech (11-2 in 2008) will max out. Let’s face it; Okie State and Texas Tech get their share of kids that Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas A&M did not want.

The one question these Universities need to ask themselves before opening their vaults to head coaches is, does the head coach’s salary prevent us from rewarding assistant coaches?

Fortunately for Husker fans, Pelini understands the value of taking care of his assistant coaches just like Osborne did. Granted, the Huskers might lose offensive coordinator Shawn Watson some day to become a head coach but if you reward your assistants well enough, more often than not, they might stick around longer.

And if a team wants to become a program, maintaining continuity is vitally important.

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