The costs of hiring an elite coach

by Andrew Baker

From a purely football standpoint, Athletics Director Joel MaturiâÄôs decision to fire Gophers head coach Tim Brewster was a no-brainer. The merciful termination of the foundering coachâÄôs contract was ostensibly the first step toward righting a program that has become synonymous with underachievement and disappointment.

However, for Maturi to dig himself out of the hole he made for himself and the University of Minnesota by offering (and less than a year ago extending) a contract to a man who had never been a head coach beyond the high-school level, the price will be steep for the athletic department, its boosters and perhaps the UniversityâÄôs non-revenue sports.

While some Division I schools can use game day and television revenue to pay coachesâÄô escalating salaries and still have profit left over to funnel back into the department, Minnesota is not so lucky. In fact, in recent years, the UniversityâÄôs athletic department has struggled just to break even.

In 2009, the department had to dip into the athletics endowment for $1.6 million and bump a $3.5 million debt payment to fiscal year 2010 just to stay even.

With these shortfalls in mind, the University will now face an unavoidable rise in football costs as Maturi tries to rebuild the program.

âÄúCan I pay the dollars that Urban Meyer [is] making? No,âÄù Maturi said Oct. 17 after announcing BrewsterâÄôs firing. âÄúNick Saban? No. We cannot go down that path âĦ but can we pay more than what weâÄôre paying? Yes, we can. We can pay competitively, and we can pay our staff competitively.âÄù

A quick glance around the Big Ten shows theyâÄôll likely be facing at least $1.4 million, which is Bret BielemaâÄôs annual wage at Wisconsin. IllinoisâÄô Ron Zook makes $1.5 million per year, while Michigan StateâÄôs Mark Dantonio makes about $1.8 million. On the upper end, IowaâÄôs Kirk Ferentz and Ohio StateâÄôs Jim Tressel each rake in over $3 million per year.

While no one expects the University to pay Florida- or Ohio State-like dollars, the Gophers do play in the same conference as the Buckeyes, Michigan and Penn State, which boast three of the most profitable athletic departments in the NCAA and stadiums that hold about 100,000 fans.

To compete, fans and Maturi alike have made it clear that only an established winner will do as a replacement for Brewster.

âÄúWeâÄôre out here to find a Tubby Smith,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúWeâÄôre out here to find somebody that people can recognize, people have confidence in and [who will bring] instant credibility and notoriety to the football program. ThatâÄôs my goal. Whether thereâÄôs that interest remains to be seen.âÄù

But hiring a football equivalent of Tubby Smith, and freeing up the athletic department dollars to do so, could mean sacrifices elsewhere.

âÄúI think that they would probably look at other things first before they started to cut [sports], because itâÄôs pretty nice knowing youâÄôve got 25 sports at the University of Minnesota,âÄù former Gophers football player and longtime booster Bob McNamara said.

Nice as it is, it may not be realistic for long.

Other big schools have succumbed recently to the pressure to trim non-revenue sports in order to cut costs. The University of California made headlines in September when it cut five varsity sports, including baseball and womenâÄôs gymnastics, in an effort to wean its athletic department off subsidies from the school.

Bruininks told the Star Tribune last week that while he doesnâÄôt like the idea of cutting non-revenue sports to offset football costs, the University may have no choice in the coming years. The athletic departmentâÄôs budget is stretched beyond its means, due in part to buyouts of prematurely dismissed revenue-sport coaches, of which Brewster is now the third in four years.

His original contract was set to expire after the 2011 season, but since Maturi gave him a two-year contract extension in January, the University is now on the hook for about $775,000 in Brewster buyout costs, according to the Star Tribune, which also reported the athletic department had to take out a loan from central administration to cover $5 million worth of buyouts associated with the early terminations of BrewsterâÄôs predecessor Glen Mason and former basketball coach Dan Monson.

In light of these costs, and with slumping football ticket sales, the University may need to get creative in finding ways to boost athletic department revenue.

Bruininks has said he will consider allowing the sale of alcohol at TCF Bank Stadium. The Pioneer Press reported that an estimated $3 million of revenue for the athletic department has been lost by not selling alcohol at the stadium.

Whatever revenue-building measures the University takes, the question is not whether it can or will pay what it takes to hire a big-name football coach âÄî the University will pay whatever figure is necessary within reason to turn the program around âÄî but at what cost?

MaturiâÄôs supporters cite the fact that he has been able to avoid cutting sports, an increasingly noteworthy feat given the hard times that have befallen the country and its colleges and universities.

âÄúI think Joel has done a great job, to be honest with you,âÄù McNamara said. âÄúThey hired him to mesh the [menâÄôs and womenâÄôs athletic] programs âĦ he did that, and then he put the University in the black.âÄù

Maturi was hired in 2002 as the UniversityâÄôs first athletics director of the newly merged menâÄôs and womenâÄôs athletic departments and rallied donors to save menâÄôs gymnastics and menâÄôs and womenâÄôs golf, which at the time were on the chopping block due to department financial woes.

Each year since, Maturi and the athletic department have found a way to balance the budget and avoid cutting any sports.

âÄúThe big picture window is football,âÄù Maturi said. âÄùPeople all over the world know whether you win or lose in football. And those that wear maroon and gold are disappointed, embarrassed, frustrated, angry and hurt by a [then] 1 6 football team and the lack of being really competitive in the Big Ten for a long time.

âÄúIt also has a tremendous financial impact, ticket sales, premium seat sales, merchandise sales, all of these kinds of things which are a reality in big-time college football.âÄù