Doctor’s appointment and a series of tests - plus our “roommate” (Albert Van Troba) is having surgery so Jane and I become “caretakers.” For all he’s done for us, it’s the least we can do. Since I don’t know how much time I’ll have, this blog will be suspended until Friday.
For today, I return to a blog I posted 11/27/07 (with no changes even though coaches’ salaries are higher than reported in the blog). If anyone thinks this isn’t just as true today as it was so many years ago, all I can say is you’re either misinformed or you’re a coach’s agent.
Anyone who knows me or who’s read this blog is aware of my 30-year career (none of which as a head coach) in intercollegiate basketball. It started in 1972 as a graduate assistant at the University of Vermont and ended in 2002 as Director of Basketball Operations at Fresno State with seven other Division I stops along the way.
I witnessed many monumental changes - from allowing freshmen to play on the varsity to the introduction of the shot clock and three point line. In addition, when I started there were the unlimited number of scholarships that schools could offer and the rule (or lack of one) which made it legal for coaches to recruit off-campus (including grad assistants) every day of the year! This included how many times you were allowed to visit with a prospective student-athlete face-to-face, how many times you could watch him play or practice or call/see his parents or coach. There was a story about an assistant coach from the University of New Mexico renting an apartment in Petersburg, VA for the entire season to recruit Moses Malone (far and away the most dominant high school player I’ve ever personally seen - including MJ & LeBron). Prospects could take an unlimited number of trips to campuses - some kids were gone every weekend, e.g. we had Moses visit Washington State. Imagine a 7-footer traveling cross-country to Pullman, WA. We asked him where else he’d gone and he just exhaled, trying to recall. I think he’d said he’d gone to Maryland the week prior to our visit (where he eventually committed, before deciding to go pro out of high school and sign with the Utah Stars of the ABA). “How about the week before that?” He thought for a while and finally said, “I can’t remember.” There was money well-spent.
Speaking of money, well-spent or otherwise, brings me to the topic at hand. When I got to UVM in ‘72, our head coach, Peter Salzberg, was making $12,500. I was a graduate assistant getting $1,000, plus tuition. That was the extent of our coaching staff. $13, 500 in salaries for the entire coaching staff. Today, guys get twice that for clothing allowances! At the end of the year, Vermont felt Peter had done a good job and rewarded him with a raise - all the way to $12,800.
I left and went to the big-time - the Pac-8 (the Arizona schools had not yet joined the league) and Washington State (once again as a grad assistant) for $1,550, plus $2,000 for summer camp. As far as a percentage increase, I’ve never topped the UVM-WSU move. No exaggeration, there were weeks - and it was not unusual- where I worked 100 hours - and loved it! That’s what all of us got into coaching for in the first place - following a career choice that we were thoroughly immersed in. Even still, WSU got a pretty good return for their buck. George Raveling, the head coach at WSU, took the job there in 1972 for $32,000.
Even when I became a full-time assistant at the University of Tennessee in 1980, many head coaches were making around $75,000. If and when there were too many losses compared to wins, it wasn’t uncommon for an athletics director to bring in the head coach and say something to the effect, “Look, things aren’t working out. You know Mr. (Hot Shot Car Dealer), one of our big boosters. He told me he’ll give you a job as a manager of one of his dealerships and pay you the same as you’re making here. We can say you’ve decided to go into the business world and it will be best for all of us.”
Today, I don’t have the actual figures, but I can safely say there are dozens of coaches making more than $500,000 and some making upwards of $3 mil. I don’t care how moral a person you are, when you get used to that kind of lifestyle (not to mention your wife and kids feeling pretty comfortable with it), it’s impossible not to skew your beliefs on issues that prior to this windfall, you’d never consider dealing with in the manner you currently are (and feel compelled to). Not being in those shoes, it’s easy to be critical, but there are several people I’d like to think I have more than a casual acquaintance with, who have changed their philosophy from the days I first knew them. Some I’ve discussed this with, others I’ve observed. I’ve seen them take actions that I’m certain they would have never have (or not take actions they would have) had not the obscene amounts of money been involved, blurring their vision.
I’ve discussed my concern that the biggest problem in college basketball today is coaches being paid too much money with Jim Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (Jim and I were on the staff at the University of Oregon in 1975-76, he as a full-time assistant, me as a grad assistant and he is one of the most Christian men, of unquestioned integrity, there is today). He agreed it’s a serious issue, one of great concern. But with the last contract between CBS and the NCAA for the rights to college basketball (including, naturally, March Madness) going for, I believe, $2.6 billion, it’s simply something that’s spiraled out of anyone’s control. It would be a foolish business decision (and don’t anyone try to tell me college basketball isn’t a business) to turn down that kind of money and what it does for the NCAA as an overall organization, but there are evils that are attached to the price tag.
The current situation being as it is, coaches have a tough time (and while I can’t empathize, I sure can sympathize) following the adage:
“It is more important to do what is right than what is personally beneficial.”