ACU head football coach Ken Collums was on his way back to Abilene in mid-December when several media outlets reported he would be the next head coach at the University of Central Arkansas.
The job seemed like a perfect fit for Collums, who had lead UCA to a national title as a quarterback in the early 1990s. Instead, hours later, the ACU Department of Athletics announced a four-year extension with Collums that will keep him in Abilene through at least the 2017 season.
“Most coaches at this level are in it to parlay this job into another one,” Collums said. “They are tying to go make a lot more money with each job or whatever it is. But a commitment for a four-year deal is good with me because I love it here, and I love what we are doing here.”
Southland Conference rival UCA hired a head football coach two days later, committing $180,000 a year to coach Campbell in exchange for his services. Although Campbell’s salary is not necessarily indicative of Collums’ deal with ACU, the signing brought up the issue of compensation for Div. I coaches to the forefront.
ACU’s recent move to Div. I puts greater financial pressure on the Department of Athletics to pay the university’s head coaches more than it has in previous years.
Simply put, coaches at Div. I schools across the country are paid more than those at Div. II colleges, which means the athletic department will have to follow suit in order to compete in its new division.
“Jared and Dr. Schubert have done a great job putting together a plan for us to have success,” said head basketball coach Joe Golding. “You have to put some money into it at the Div. I level to be successful. Not just for coaches but more importantly for recruiting and being able to get home games. Being able to recruit, buy home games and hire a staff is extremely important. What is so great about Jared and Dr. Schubert’s plan is that we don’t have to go out and raise all that money and we are financially stable.”
For example, the average salary for head football coaches at public universities in the Southland Conference during the past few seasons was $162,000.
That is far higher than an average of $107,200, the average salary of the same position at public universities in the Lone Star Conference, in which ACU competed until last year. According to public records, Sam Houston State University’s head football coach, William Fritz, makes $250,000 per year and is the highest paid football coach among public universities in the Southland Conference. UCA’s new coach makes $180,000 per year and Lamar’s head coach is collecting a $150,000 paycheck from the university.
In contrast to the Southland Conference salaries, West Texas A&M’s head football coach’s most recently reported salary was $132,000 per season. Similarly, Angelo State’s head coach was compensated $120,000 per campaign, and Midwestern State’s coach made just over $107,000.
Because ACU’s coaches are not public employees, their salaries are not as readily available, and the university has not released that information. But the university is required to list the highest paid employees on its annual federal filings, and to date, the salaries of none of the university’s coaches have been included, placing them well under that Southland Conference average. As coach salaries increase, they are likely to appear more frequently on the annual documents.
“Money drives everything in college athletics,” Golding said. “The universities that spend more money on athletics tend to be the ones that have a ton of success. You can just look at college football is a great example. I think the Southland is a different league. I think there is a big disparity in what people make in the Southland.”
Even the Southland Conference’s biggest paychecks pale in comparison to the salaries of coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision, which is the highest level of college football.
For instance, Baylor pays Art Briles $4.5 million a season after he signed an extension last December. Former University of Texas coach Mack Brown made $5.4 million while he lead the Longhorns, and Alabama’s Nick Saban recently signed a contract that will pay him $7 million a season to coach the Crimson Tide.
Although ACU will need to pay more money to their coaches in the future, they will still not be committing the millions of dollars that larger schools pay the leaders of their program.
Pay in Basketball
Football isn’t the only sport to be affected by the move. The men’s basketball coaches in the Southland Conference also require more financial compensation than the coaches in Div. II basketball.
According to federal filings by private Oral Roberts University in 2011, its men’s basketball coach, Scott Sutton, made $467,000 to coach the Golden Eagles. Oral Roberts does not have a football team, which allows it to allot more money to the basketball program.
“I was at Arkansas-Little Rock before I came here and we didn’t have football,” Golding said. “Basketball was the key, kind of like Oral Roberts. That works both ways because you have more money and you are more financially stable because all of the money goes to men’s basketball. At the same time there is pressure involved too because you are the one sport that can go make money for your university in the NCAA tournament.”
Even though Oral Roberts pays its basketball coach the most in the Southland Conference, a six-figure salary is not rare in the Southland Conference for a men’s basketball coach. The Texas Tribune reported Jason Hooten, Sam Houston’s head basketball coach, made $143,000 to lead that university’s basketball program.
Texas A&M Corpus-Christi’s head basketball coach makes $150,000 per campaign. Pat Knight, Lamar’s basketball coach and son of coaching legend Bob Knight, makes $204,000 per year. Meanwhile, most coaches in the Lone Star Conference made five-figure salaries.
“A lot of people at this level, their contracts are based upon wins,” Golding said. “There are certain bonuses for 20 wins or 25 wins, or winning the conference and going to the NCAA tournament. The more they win, the more money they get, and so winning is a huge part of it.”
The ACU athletic department also uses incentives to motivate its coaches to help their players succeed on and off the court.
“We have some built-in academic incentives for our coaches, “ said Jared Mosley, director of athletics. “If programs achieve certain levels of success either through GPA performance or outstanding graduation rates, the coaches are compensated. We want them to be thinking not only about wins and losses and post-season performance but how they can push our student athletes in all facets of their experience here.”
In Div. I athletics, coaches frequently bolt for other jobs while still under contract. To protect itself, the athletic department has some built-in disincentives for leaving the school without completing the terms of the contract.
“When you start trying to do multi-year deals, which is the standard in football and basketball in Div. I, when we are going to step up and make a commitment for multiple years, you certainly want that reciprocated,” Mosley said.
“I am willing to put on the table guarantees as far as the length of a contract, so if somebody is going to leave after year one, we have some protection built in. we don’t have any set formula for every contract that I do, but the numbers fluctuate based on sport and the length of the contract.”
Even though the amount of money necessary to run programs at the Div. I level is much greater than it would be in Div. II, both Collums and Golding said they are coaching for more than just a paycheck.
“If it was simply about the money then I would probably go try to coach at a bigger school and make a bunch of money,” Collums said. “The bottom line is it’s not all about the money.”