Coaches want security, then angle for more money
April is Brass Tacks Month for coaches in college basketball.
After wading through the bull of the NCAA Tournament, where coaches posture from podiums nationwide about being in the profession for the right reasons -- for the kids, for the relationships, for the Socratic life lessons they impart to impressionable youth -- we get down to what really matters to some of these guys:
Piles of cash, and the pursuit thereof.
John Calipari spent the last few days huffing about the lack of monetary sucking up in Memphis, where he's making only $1 million a year and has a $2.5 million loyalty bonus waiting for him four years down the road. Never mind that Cal could have an even better team next year in Memphis; he sashayed off to flirt with North Carolina State over its $2 million-a-year job before deciding to withdraw from consideration Tuesday.
John Brady of LSU waited about 15 minutes after his team stunk up the Final Four to publicly mewl about his not-lucrative-enough contract. He all but announced himself a coaching free agent if athletic director Skip Bertman doesn't significantly sweeten his $715,000-a-year deal. Brady reportedly has been slobbering in the wings over the NC State job while Calipari waited for Memphis boosters to come up with enough cash to revive his deep dedication to the Tigers.
(If those two guys are richly deserving of a raise, what does UCLA's Ben Howland deserve? His Bruins made Memphis and LSU look offensively inept in back-to-back tournament games. And if Howland deserves more jing, what do you give Florida's Billy Donovan? His own island off the Florida coast?)
It should be noted that both Calipari and Brady did great work this season. Through spectacular recruiting and good team chemistry, Calipari built Memphis into a 30-win team and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Brady led LSU to the Southeastern Conference regular-season title, landmark victories over No. 1 seed Duke and No. 2 seed Texas and the school's first Final Four berth in 20 years.
It should also be noted that they were being paid just a tad more than the minimum wage. And that they had willingly signed on the dotted line for the compensation they were receiving.
Of course, you really cannot blame Calipari and Brady. This is the way the game is played in a sport where agreements are one-way streets in favor of the coaches.
Signing a contract and actually honoring the agreement is for chumps. Here are the three basic rules:
1) If you ever have four years or less remaining on your contract, complain loudly that this is hindering your recruiting. How can you convince recruits that you'll be there throughout their college careers if you have fewer than four years on your deal? (Of course, if you have every intention of abandoning that recruit for a higher-paying job at the first opportunity you get, that's something you keep to yourself.)
2) If you're going to be fired or forced to resign, work out the fattest separation agreement you can get -- but try not to let your university build a buyout into your contract if you want to leave. Quin Snyder and Mike Davis recently walked away with plenty of severance pay from Missouri and Indiana, respectively. If Tubby Smith were to walk out on Kentucky tomorrow, he wouldn't owe the school a dime.
3) Expect knee-jerk windfalls after big seasons. Athletic directors -- some of whom rank among the worst businessmen on earth -- cravenly will comply. If they don't, walk away from your contract whenever you can find a better job.
Memphis AD R.C. Johnson has been taking shots in his town for being slow and stingy with Calipari's raise. The guy once nearly doubled Cal's salary after an NIT season, but now he's unreasonable.
Calipari has won as many NCAA Tournament games in six seasons at Memphis as Jim Larranaga won last month at George Mason. But Calipari's a hot coach, and a hot coach holds all the cards.
Here's the question I'd like to ask Calipari: Did you offer to give back any of that seven-figure annual income after going to the NIT three times in your first five years at Memphis?
And this for Brady: Were you agitating for a pay cut last year, after being blown out in the first round of the NCAAs by No. 11 seed UAB? How about the year before, when your team missed the field of 65? Or the year before that, when you lost by 24 in the first round to No. 9 seed Purdue?
Of course not. These guys wanted their universities to live up to their monetary agreements, and they did. But now they expect the schools to break those agreements and rework them in their favor.
Win or lose, the next coach at North Carolina State will be richly rewarded. And if he can put together one breakthrough season in Raleigh, he can agitate to rewrite his contract and earn even more money. That's the way it works during Brass Tacks Month.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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