Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

RichRod potentially worth every penny of his huge salary

Now that some of the hoopla and excitement over the hiring of Richard Rodriguez as the University of Arizona football coach has died down, consternation by some over his salary is rising.

The UA will pay RichRod about $8 million in base salary over five years, plus another $1.5 million in swanky benefits, such as a country club membership, and additional cash compensation from outside funding sources, namely a piece of the action of the UA athletic department’s apparel contract with Nike.

In an era of high unemployment, rising poverty and sky-rocketing college tuition, paying a man nearly $2 million a year to teach 90 burly young men how to properly play with an oblong ball seems absurd.

The absurdity, though, evaporates when his salary is compared to what other coaches earn across the country rather than Tucson’s median household annual income (about $30,000).

According to an analysis of coaching salaries at Football Bowl Subdivision schools by USA Today, the average salary for a head coach is $1.5 million. However, in the six conferences that have an automatic bid into the Bowl Championship Series, of which the Pac-12 is one, the average salary is $2.1 million.

In other words, Rodriguez’s salary is below average. To land a coach of Rodriguez’s caliber for that little money is a stunning success for athletic director Greg Byrne.

Four years ago, Arizona couldn’t have even gotten Rodriguez on the phone let alone hire him, he was that hot, having lost only five games in his last three years at West Virginia.

In 2008 he was hired by Michigan, arguably one of the top 10 football programs in the country, for $2.5 million a year. But the pressure to win at those marquee football schools is enormous and when Rodriguez didn’t win enough games fast enough he was fired.

If Rodriguez is still the coach he was at West Virginia, Arizona just landed a marquee coach for less than an average coach’s price. If he’s the coach who won only 15 games in three years at Michigan, then it’s paying slightly more for a nicer, funnier version of Mike Stoops.

The college football cognoscenti are betting that Rodriguez is still one of the best coaches in the country.

So what does that mean for Arizona football? Money.

Last year, according to the college athletics business reporting website thebusinessofcollegesports.com, Arizona football earned $24 million and made a profit of $10.7 million. The men’s basketball team earned $19 million and made a profit of $13 million. That $30 million combined profit is used to fund all of the other athletic teams and programs. Unlike many FBS schools, the university’s general fund is not used to pay for athletics; the department is self-funded.

It will be hard for men’s basketball coach Sean Miller to significantly increase basketball income because McKale Center isn’t getting any bigger.

But Arizona Stadium is. A new north end zone project will add about 8,000 seats to the stadium.

If Rodriguez is as successful here as he was at WVU, or even nearly so, he’ll sell out the stadium, ticket prices will increase, the team will qualify for bigger and better bowl games with huge payouts and the school will land more TV and radio deals and sell more UA logo apparel.

He could increase UA’s football income from $24 million a year to perhaps as much as $40 million a year without significantly increasing the cost of operation.

Meaning, if all goes as planned, the UA for its $10 million 5-year investment could potentially realize a return of between $25 million to $50 million. Even Wall Street during the heyday of the housing bubble couldn’t realize an ROI like that in five years.

But unlike Wall Street, that money doesn’t get paid out to a handful of people in the form of huge salaries or bonuses, or sent out of the country to some offshore tax haven.

It gets spent. And that means jobs.

Not that hiring a new football coach is some kind of ersatz jobs bill. While good arguments could be made about whether learning institutions should be spending enormous sums of money on athletics, in the real world of college sports, Rodriguez’s hiring is good business.

Rodriguez is indeed being paid a lot of money. If all goes as planned, he’ll be worth every penny.

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