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A Smattering of Salaries

Publication Date: November 4, 2003

Only the Love of It Is the Root of All Evil

Let's talk about money.

There's this weird dynamic that goes into the whole discussion of sports salaries. You see it most at the professional level, where Alex Rodriguez draws frequent criticism for being paid a sum for doing things that essentially no one else on the planet can do under an agreement that his employer went out of his way to seek, but it also turns up occasionally in discussions of high-profile college football and basketball coaches. There are a few dozen of those making over a million dollars a year at this point, and that seems to annoy those who are sure they could do the job better if they had actually gotten around to having any experience. There aren't any baseball coaches that have reached that level yet, as far as I can tell (that phrase is going to come up a lot this week), but there are a few salaries out there that might annoy the occasional out-of-step Little League volunteer.

Here's the thing, though. People don't work just for money, but it's a factor in the choice of career for most, and the amount we as a society are willing to pay for a given profession does have an effect on how large the pool of people willing to do the job is, even for jobs that are fun.

Commercial airline pilots make very healthy livings, for the most part, recent union concessions notwithstanding, even though flying is fun enough that lots of people are willing to do it for relatively low wages -- such as flight instructors or a lot of charter pilots -- or are willing to pay to do it -- amateur pilots, for example. Keeping people in the field long enough to gain the experience we want the pilot to have when we board that 747 headed to London, though, requires that there be a level where the incentive is great enough to stick with the career long enough to gain the hours we want them putting in in smaller planes first.

One of the reasons that 50% of all public school teachers in this country last less than five years is that, although starting pay is not really that bad for new teachers, there's really not much of an increase coming for those who stay for twenty years. Teaching is hard work, so even for those who love it, the lack of a potential high-end payout, even in administration, tends to push a lot of them out.

In other words, there needs to be a Texas out there if we want to keep the pool of coaches large and hungry. I like well-coached college baseball, so I'm in favor of it, and cheer for every dollar a coach can coax from his administration (or from other sources; more on that as we go).

Some Paychecks

With that said, let's take a look at what some of the coaches around the country make, as far as I can tell (see, there it is again). One of the side effects of the odd American attitude about money is that calling the schools and asking what the coach makes is generally a waste of time, even though the salary is a matter of public record at most state colleges. What's listed here is what I've been able to garner through Google; it's not comprehensive by any means, but I consider the sources credible on all of these. I apologize if any of these are inaccurate or outdated, although a couple of old ones are obviously listed for comparison.

Coach               School               Salary

Pat Murphy          Arizona State        $130,000
Dave van Horn       Arkansas             $150,000
Keith LeClair       East Carolina        $100,000
Dave Perno          Georgia               $75,000
Rayner Noble        Houston              $120,000
Itch Jones          Illinois              $90,000
Ritch Price         Kansas                $70,000
Smoke Laval         Louisiana State	 $145,000 + $50,000 media bonus
Geoff Zahn          Michigan              $57,873
Dave van Horn       Nebraska              $90,000
Jim Schlossnagle    Nevada-Las Vegas      $67,600
Elliott Avent       North Carolina State  $74,334
Bob Todd            Ohio State            $72,000
Tom Holliday        Oklahoma State        $78,744
Tony Gwynn          San Diego State      $100,000
Ray Tanner          South Carolina       $125,000
Augie Garrido       Texas                $340,000
Gene Stephenson     Wichita State        $150,000

Some other notes:

I'm not quite sure if there's enough data here to draw any big, sweeping conclusions. Most of these are major conference programs, and the SEC certainly seems like the place to be for the top end, with the exception of Garrido (Garrido seems likely to be the nation's highest paid coach; the only competition I can think of would be Mark Marquess or Wayne Graham, and Stanford or Rice would die of embarassment before releasing that sort of information). The results from the mid-majors listed show that it's quite possible to do well there, especially at schools that want to be national powers like Houston or East Carolina. It's interesting that, despite all the concerns over how ECU gets treated by the legislature, LeClair was making 35% more than Avent.

Now, as the company I work for tells me constantly, the base salary isn't necessarily what matters, although it's what I can count on. In the case of coaches, there are three categories of extra income that can add up. The first is incentive bonuses. For the 2001 season at Nebraska, for example, van Horn was given a $23,000 bonus for getting the team to the CWS. Tanner's contract is probably the most extreme; he has incentive clauses at each stage of postseason success potentially adding up to double his $125,000 base salary. The second potential income source is summer camps. Most schools allow coaches to keep most or all of the income from summer youth baseball camps, which can add up to a substantial amount. Finally, a small percentage of coaches can manage individual equipment contracts with manufacturers, although I don't believe those deals are as significant as they are in basketball.

As an example, the van Horn salary numbers above -- $90,000 at Nebraska; $150,000 at Arkansas -- were fairly widely reported at the time of his move. However, there was one report that listed the change as going from $140,000 to $250,000. It's possible that that was just inaccurate reporting, but the amounts are the right size for that to represent the total package. One significant aspect is that the extra income is much more likely to be present at a large perpetual CWS contender than at a lower-end program, which widens the gap a bit more. Like I said, there needs to be a Texas out there to give young coaches a target.

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