Attending the annual news conference introducing Arkansas State University’s new head football coach has become almost as much a Christmas tradition as picking out a tree, putting up the lights and hanging stockings from the mantle.
Not long before I left for the Convocation Center auditorium last Thursday, I received an e-mail from the satirical Web site, Rock City Times, under the headline, “North Carolina Names Newly Hired ASU Coach Blake Anderson as Head Coach for the 2015 Season.”
That would be hilarious, except for the mini-tradition that has been established the last three years. Only the first coaching change was by the university’s choice.
A couple of hours later, ASU officials announced that Anderson would indeed leave his job as offensive coordinator for the football team at the University of North Carolina to become the Red Wolves’ fifth head coach in five years. The previous three hires left after one successful year to return to former schools and-or states.
The event changes mainly in the identity of the new head coach. Each year the auditorium has been filled with media representatives and cheering fans. Gus Malzahn’s introduction two years ago drew the most television satellite trucks, but the novelty of a fifth straight change received lots of attention this year.
Boise State had to pay off Bryan Harsin’s ASU buyout clause — a whopping $1.75 million, apparently more than Harsin’s salary under his new contract.
After many years of struggling to pay for its athletic endeavors, ASU has hit upon a solid formula for overcoming the deficit between athletic revenues and expenses that most colleges and universities run.
If Anderson has similar success at ASU and North Carolina, or anybody else for that matter, wants to hire him, ASU will be even richer this time next year. If he chooses to leave in the first two years under his five-year contract, the buyout clause will be $3 million. The next two years after that will not be too shabby — $2 million — and the last year will bring a $1 million payback.
Considering that A-State’s total athletic budget for last year was about $14.8 million, a $3 million buyout would have been a 20 percent boost in revenue. Of course, the university didn’t get that much when Malzahn jumped ship to return to Auburn. Lesson learned.
A $3 million payment on the basis of that 2012-13 budget would rank second only to the $4.5 million brought in from student activity fees. Heck, ASU paid all its coaches that year a total of $3.3 million.
Anderson signed a personal services agreement, and a formal contract will be drawn up later. His total salary will be the same as Harsin’s — $700,000 — good enough to be the fourth highest state salary in Arkansas, behind only the University of Arkansas’ head football and basketball coaches and the chief of cardiovascular surgery for UAMS.
ASU won’t pay the full amount. The 2013-14 appropriation bill for ASU included a line item limiting the salary for its head football coach to $165,723. That’s considerably less than the president’s $305,115 and ASU-Jonesboro chancellor’s $225,000 but more than a full professor’s $152,982.
Even those “maximums” can be a little misleading because each university is allowed by law to go as much as 25 percent above the maximum for 10 percent of its employees. If applicable, that could bring the head coach’s state pay to about $207,000.
So where does he get the remainder — nearly $500,000?
The agreement allows Anderson to sign a personal services agreement with the Red Wolves Foundation for any amount bringing the total up to $700,000. The foundation took on a much larger share starting with Malzahn.
Anderson’s contract will also include several bonus possibilities and fringe benefits. The bonuses start at $50,000 if his team wins a conference championship and goes to an NCAA-sanctioned bowl game, up to $100,000 for winning a national championship game. That can only be if it’s an ASU team, though. He would also get a $10,000 bonus for being named conference coach of the year and $25,000 for national coach of the year.
If his team wins eight games in a season against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, he gets an automatic 1-year contract extension.
He can also conduct football camps, receiving all revenue and paying all expenses.
Fringe benefits include membership in the Ridgepointe Country Club, a courtesy vehicle, moving expenses, temporary housing until March 1 for himself and his nine full-time assistant coaches and a cell phone (watch out, that got Houston Nutt in trouble at UAF).
That housing stipulation is different from the last two coaches. Malzahn and Harsin were provided with a house that ASU had originally acquired for its first Jonesboro campus chancellor, Robert Potts. Presumably, the Andersons will need to find their own house. Chancellor Tim Hudson said ASU is currently “exploring all options on the best use and/or disposition of that property.”
Nevertheless, I’m going to venture out on a limb and say that Anderson will break the tradition next year. And ASU Athletic Director Terry Mohajir will have time to do some real Christmas shopping.
• • •
Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.