If Rick Barnes’ salary determined how his team would perform, the Longhorns may have had a spot in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, rather than a first round bow out to Cincinnati.
Barnes is set to receive $2.2 million this year — the eighth highest in the country. Texas pays its coaches among the highest salaries in the nation, and for a good reason. The Longhorns spend $17.8 million of its annual athletic revenue on its coaches, a million more than the next-highest Tennessee Volunteers. The Longhorns rake in over $44 million in ticket sales every year, again more than any other school, and the coaches that give Texas national prominence are a part of that.
However, critics have cited Texas’ sustaining athletic program as an anomaly for a school that hasn’t produced very much lately with its big name sports.
Barnes’ basketball squads have failed to advance past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament for three of the last four seasons, though per UT coaching policy he received bonus for simply making the tournament.
In comparison, John Calipari, the highest paid college basketball coach, has navigated his last four teams to two Final Fours, a Sweet 16 and an Elite Eight. His Wildcats are currently in New Orleans preparing for the Final Four. In fact, all of the current Final Four teams’ coaches are among the top seven highest paid in the country.
In 2011, Texas’ Board of Regents approved a pay raise for Barnes, much to the chagrin of a few state legislators. Athletic director Deloss Dodds defended the decision.
“Before Rick Barnes arrived at Texas, we weren’t a top national basketball program. We are now,” Dodds said at the time.
In January, head football coach Mack Brown had his contract extended through 2020. Brown currently makes a staggering $5.2 million a year with annual $100,000 raises, and he is the highest paid coach in the collegiate game. This is almost as much money as Super Bowl winning head coach, Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants, gets paid a year. Brown has enjoyed long-term success at Texas, guiding his teams to multiple conference championships and one national title. But he was 5-7 two years ago and 8-5 last season.
Alabama’s Nick Saban is the second-highest paid college coach, but his Crimson Tide have won two national championships in the last three years. He is set to earn $4.8 million dollars this year.
If it were all about performance then, Texas’ big name coaches wouldn’t be earning as much. However, in 2009, President William Powers Jr. clearly laid out his reason for extending Brown’s coaching contract, and wins have nothing to do with it.
“When Mack came to UT, our program was in disarray,” Powers said in his blog Tower Talk. “Athletics could not be sustained by athletics’ revenue alone, so it had to receive a subsidy from the academic budget. In Mack’s 12 years, he has changed all of that, going from $21 million to $87.5 million in football revenue, more than a four-fold increase, and building by far the most successful program in the country. This allows athletics — men’s and women’s sports — to be totally self-funding and self-sufficient.”
Powers said that the athletics program contributes more than $12 million of that revenue to the UT economy. The football program directly contributes nearly $24 million to the city and state economy with every home game, which further highlights Powers’ decision as a business one for not only the school, but the state.
Texas’ other head coaches are among the highest earners in their respective fields. The men’s golf coach, John Fields, will make more than $130,00 dollars this year — among the top five in collegiate golf coach salaries — mentoring the top-ranked team in the country. But his program isn’t bringing in the ticket sales or revenue the way the basketball and football programs have. Longhorn coaches who lead teams that share a smaller portion of the Texas-sized spotlight are paid respective to their general successes and failures, as the “self-sustaining” program allows for scrutiny of their coaching and less on the economic power they wield.
“In an era of budget cuts in higher education across the country, I am one of very few presidents who does not also have to bail out athletics with subsidies and loans,” Power said in that same 2009 post.
Aside from performance versus productivity, Texas’ giant budget is also the subject of a debate concerning the over emphasis of collegiate athletics in general. But as long as the profit-driving sports, like football and basketball, continue to grow in popularity there will be a need for athletic directors to weigh contract decision as business decisions rather than something as black and white as wins and losses.
Published on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 as: Mack Brown, Rick Barnes among highest-paid coaches in college and pro athletics