“…and bonuses, and a buyout clause… and this paddle-ball game!”
Over the weekend, University of Minnesota officials released details of Tubby Smith’s new contract extension, which included a pay raise and added benefits for the veteran coach. It didn’t take long for someone, in this case FoxSportsNorth’s Joan Niesen, to wonder if maybe, just maybe, he got a little too much. After all, Smith had great success at Kentucky for ten years, and even though the last few years were a little low by our standards, any other school would absolutely kill for to have that same decade. So it was no surprise that UM paid out the nose a little bit to hire him, and then again to extend his contract, even though his production with the Gophers has been, maybe, less than stellar. Niesen explains:
Smith came to Minnesota on the heels of those 10 NCAA tournament berths [with Kentucky]. He had won the SEC just two years before he was hired, in 2004-05. He was a big-name coach sent to revive a program, and he was compensated as such. Five years later, he hasn’t made the tournament since 2010, when his team lost in the first round. In fact, Smith has never led the Gophers past the first round of the tournament and has never finished higher than sixth in the Big Ten standings. To improve his initial pay scale even marginally after what the economy has done since he was hired in 2007 represents a steep financial commitment to Smith on the part of the school.
What’s most interesting, though, are Smith’s bonuses. They’re greater than even Kentucky’s John Calipari’s, and for a reason. Such bonuses should be weighted in terms of their likelihood, and Calipari poses a strong threat to earn them. Smith, at least in the near term, is a longer shot, and the contract represents an implicit statement that the university is willing to pay through the nose for success if it’s possible. Smith hasn’t necessarily earned a guaranteed pay raise, but he has warranted the chance to make big money if he can take his team farther than he yet has since he came to Minnesota.
With the new contract, Smith is still compensated on par with the best coaches in college basketball, and the University of Minnesota is paying a premium for his past success. That success has been a burden, at times, but it still holds promise for the team, which has committed itself both to Smith and to a steep cost of success.
If I were a college coach, I would hate to try to recreate any success I had at Kentucky at a different school. It’s just a completely different ballgame. I don’t think Minnesota necessarily expected ten straight NCAA tournament appearances and a national championship, but you have to think they wanted to get close. Now, even though Tubby hasn’t quite done what they wanted him to do, he’s still a big-name coach with lots of success that they want to make sure they’re able to keep.
There’s a very real chance that coaching at Kentucky spoils you for other NCAA jobs. It’s hard to think that you’ll be able to match or exceed whatever success you’ve had at a different school, even though that’s sort of what folks want to hope will happen. Tubby now finds himself in exactly that position: still getting paid for his time at Kentucky, five years after the fact, while others question whether he’s worth that much in the first place. Here’s to hoping he has enough success this year to quiet the Joan Niesen’s of the world.