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Pay Day For College Coaches

May 11, 2014, 10:18 PM by Sammi Bjelland

Pay Day For College Coaches

Some of the highest paid college coaches in the country are making millions.

Alabama's head football coach, Nick Saban, makes over $7 million a year. But how do South Dakota college coaches stack up?

Switching over to Division-I was a long, and difficult process for both SDSU and USD. With the switches, a lot of things changed; including coaches' salaries.

"You know, when we were Division-II, we competed locally and regionally. Right now we're expected to go out and compete nationally. So you've got to make sure that you arm yourself with everything that everybody else has," Athletic Director for USD David Herbster said.

Even though the pay has gone up, both of the state's largest universities are realistic about the fact that they are still on the smaller-end of the largest Division.

"If you're going in to coach and you want to come to South Dakota State, and you think you're going to get rich quick. That's probably not going to happen. But we also want to be competitive." Director of Athletics for SDSU Justin Sell said. 

So, how do athletic directors decide what each coach should make? Both Justin Sell with SDSU and David Herbster with USD, say it's a long process with several deciding factors.

Things like ticket sales, and how far they can take their teams in the season gives some coaches a boost in pay. But that's not all.

"You look at the overall success of the program. And it's not just the athletic success that we look at. It will be the academic success of the student athletes. It's the graduation rates. What kind of program are they running. Are they doing all the things within a department that you need them to do," Herbster said.

"I've always argued, you know if I have the coach that I want. Why am I going to wait for them to leave for a higher salary, and then I probably will have to raise that salary to get somebody, when I can take care of that and give them a raise and keep the person that I wanted," Sell said.

Because the team's performance is a factor in determining the coach's salaries, someone successful, like Scott Naggy, puts them at the top of the list. Naggy's making $200,000 a year. Which is the most between the two universities.

However, here at USD, Coach Craig Smith was recently signed on as the men's basketball coach. And he is now second in the rankings, making $185,000.

While they believe the salaries they offer is strong for the market, even the universities' presidents understand this might not be enough to keep good talent.

"I think it's an opportunity for a great coach to move from an even smaller place, or an assistance coach to move here to be as coach Smith is, a head coach. And I have no doubt that he's ambitious and you know what? That's just fine. That's just fine with me," USD President Jim Abbott said.

"We want our coaches to have that ability to be successful and we want to compete for their time and their talent. But within the marketplace that we exist and are competitive in," SDSU President David Chicoine said. 

Once salaries are determined, they're handed over to the South Dakota Board of Regents for approval. The Board then decides if the salary makes sense for the school.

"We're not going to say, every football coach or every basketball coach has to make this amount of money. But the program has to justify. So it is a selling job to the board to approve those things that are out of the ordinary," South Dakota Board of Regents President Dean Krogman said. 

"Without competitive salaries, you're not going to be able to keep and attract the type of talent that you want and need, so that the student athletes can be successful in their athletics and academic endeavors," Chicoine said. 

Though salaries have increased over the years, both USD and SDSU face a challenge with the length of the contracts they can offer.

The state only allows one year contracts for all staff.

"Obviously if we had a choice, we'd certainly like to strategically be able to offer multi-year contracts. I think that's an important element to have when recruiting. So when you're in the marketplace and Creighton might be looking for a head coach, and Northern Iowa and Minnesota, and you're fighting amongst these schools on who's gonna get that talented person, obviously they're going to look at total package," Sell said. 

The short-term contracts can also be used as a scare tactic by other schools trying to recruit similar athletes.

"If we're both recruiting the same individual, it's really easy for a coach from another school to make sure that student, prospective student athlete, knows that there is no security in your coach's position. They don't have a contract. Or it's a year to year contract. They could be gone at any time," Herbster said. 

"It's not totally out of the question. But there is a historic precedence that it's been one year. So it would be a discussion. It would be based on where the program's at? Have we moved into that level," Krogman said.

Even with the contract challenges, both schools retain and recruit high quality coaches. 

USD was recently able to bring in Craig Smith for less than he was making at his previous job in Nebraska. And SDSU is able to keep some of the most tenured coaches in the country.

So what is it that keeps them resigning, year after year?

"Great community. Very tight. Very tightly knit. Everybody's got your back. It's a good thing," Abbott said. 

Which is something neither school sees changing, no matter where the salaries may go.

Coaches also receive bonuses for things like conference championships and coaching awards. Both athletic directors say these can range from $700 to $7,000.

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