WVU’s Ability To Retain Quality Coaches On Upswing
By Matt Keller
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There was a period of tension not long ago regarding West Virginia’s approach to coaching contracts.
Cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell had left WVU in the spring of 2016 for a multi-year deal at Virginia Tech, where as of two weeks ago he holds a letter of appointment good through June of 2019. Receivers coach Lonnie Galloway also left the Mountaineer program within the same time frame, though that was for a for a three-year deal as co-offensive coordinator at Louisville worth a whopping $607,500 annually.
Then there was the departure of Blue Adams to South Florida last February, even after West Virginia took a run at retaining him. JaJuan Seider took his same running backs coaching position at Florida, and offensive line coach Ron Crook went to Cincinnati. It was viewed as a discouraging scenario at best by some fans – thought of largely as if WVU couldn’t retain talent – though the majority of the moves made sense.
Galloway earned more with a better title. Seider saw the writing on the wall that he also wasn’t the offensive coordinator to be and left for his recruiting hotbed, and Crook wasn’t highly pursued, it seems.
But that left Mitchell and Adams. West Virginia wanted both to return, but Tech offered a multi-year deal that the longtime assistant desired. Adams, who is slated to make the exact same $200,000 salary at South Florida this season that he earned with the Mountaineers in 2016, was perhaps drawn by new USF head coach Charlie Strong and a return to his home state. But those departures raised some questions about retention, and losing assistants to what are lateral or lesser positions. Director of Athletics Shane Lyons has admitted his approach to assistant coaching contracts has changed as the national spectrum evolves from single-year contracts to that of multi-year deals. Where at one time WVU was willing to offer only coordinators multi-year deals, it is now doing so with other assistants as well.
“I think that we look at the market for coaches and salaries,” Lyons said. “There are some where you get to the point where you go with your own philosophy because you can’t pay that money and you have to move on. But we are very competitive both nationally and within the conference (for salaries). There’s not a whole lot of schools who could come searching who would be paying more, if it’s all about that.”
Which it never is. Galloway, after all, broke the mold as a receivers coach and signed a two-year deal in February 2016 that was supposed to keep him in Morgantown through this upcoming season. That obviously didn’t happen. But it does appear West Virginia – because of the $41 million in Big 12 and Tier 3 media revenues – is in increasingly better shape to offer competitive contracts laced with incentives, and also proper buyouts.
Consider that Tony Gibson was the sixth highest-paid assistant in the Big 12 last year at $750,000, with a salary that increases to $900,000 this year. And that’s in a conference that ranks second in the country behind the SEC in having the most assistants (four) earning among the top 20 assistant coaching salaries in the nation. WVU also sewed up head coach Dana Holgorsen, who agreed to a five-year contract extension announced in December. That carries him through the 2021 season, with an average annual salary of $3.72 million – plus incentives -which tops out at more than $4 million in the final year. His $3.5 million salary for this season ranks him third in the Big 12 for head coaches, behind only TCU’s Gary Patterson and OSU’s Mike Gundy. New Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley is at $3.1 million, while Bill Snyder and Kliff Kingsbury are also over $3 million per year.
New coordinator Jake Spavital will earn $450,000 this season and an average of $500,000 over the next three years, right in the middle of the Big 12 for coordinators. Joe Wickline, WVU’s offensive coordinator last season, earns $450,000 this year as well, while West Virginia as a whole ranks in the 40s nationally – and rising – when it comes to total combined assistant coaching salaries.
“Really, it’s more about the resources to the program, and that’s more than just a coach’s salary,” Lyons said of support for all varsity sports. “It’s what are you doing for the program from a facilities standpoint, a travel standpoint, what are you doing for the student-athlete? That’s the big picture as a whole in how you are supporting that program. When I started this job, my goal from top to bottom was to have our programs all competing for Big 12 and national championships.
“I understand it isn’t going to happen overnight, but looking at the resources we are getting and investing in all our programs across the board, you saw it with six teams that ended up nationally ranked. We are performing in the classroom. Our student-athletes all combined for a 3.15 GPA. Our APRs in all of our sports are very good. It’s competitively and academically community wide.”
And West Virginia is now better maintaining its grasp on coaches. Women’s basketball coach Mike Carey, with more than $250,00 a year in base pay, has been at WVU since 2001 and shows no signs of slowing after coming off a Big 12 postseason title. Men’s head coach Bob Huggins is signed at WVU through 2023, with an annualized salary of $3 million-plus. Portions of that, however, are deferred until his Emeritus status (Huggins will aid the university in public relations and development activities) begins once his coaching career ends.
Nikki Izzo-Brown earned $185,000 last year, with bonuses totaling more than $68,000 after the Mountaineers advanced to the women’s soccer College Cup final. Baseball coach Randy Mazey is inked through the 2018-19 year, with a complete package paying him nearly $1.5 million through that time. And he made a splash by hiring veteran coach Dave Serrano this offseason.
With recent facility updates for all the above, along with a still-increasing athletic department revenues, WVU has finally positioned itself to where it is far less reactionary than it was while in the Big East, or even the early stages of Big 12 play. That should, in turn, help limit the departure of coaches – at least those looking at lateral moves.
“They are all doing what they need to do and it’s, in my opinion, just the beginning,” Lyons said. “We have programs on the horizon that can continue to climb in volleyball, wrestling and men’s soccer that can be ranked in the final Top 25 polls.”