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Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez gets a raise … and he’s still a bargain

Rich Rodriguez

Rich Rodriguez capped his first season at Arizona with a 49-48 win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl. Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats bought low when they hired Rich Rodriguez in November 2011.

Now, they will be spending a little bit more.

The university proposed a raise of $225,000 per year, a one-year extension and other adjustments to Rodriguez’s contract, and those changes were approved Thursday by the Arizona Board of Regents.

You know what? He’s probably still underpaid.

Rodriguez earned $1.5 million last season from the university in his first year at Arizona — $1,005,000 in base salary and $495,000 in peripheral duties (radio and TV appearances, speaking engagements, etc.). He also makes $300,000 per year in non-university funds from Nike and IMG, which markets and broadcasts Arizona athletics.

The contract was a bargain then.

It’s a bargain now … even with an enviable pile of cash thrown on top.

The new five-year deal — which includes a boost of $100,000 in base salary every Dec. 1 — will pay Rodriguez an average of $2.25 million per season. And we haven’t even gotten to any on or off-field bonuses yet.

That kind of money might be crazy, possibly obscene, but that’s the price for an athletic department to get a seat at the big-boy football table. It’s the marketplace.

Consider: There are 68 teams in the nation’s six biggest conferences. According to the USA Today coaching salary database, the average salary for a head coach at a BCS conference school was $2,370,959 last season.

That’s gone up about 20 percent from just two years ago.

“If you would gave told me 10 years ago that the coaches would be making what they are today, I would have looked at you funny,” Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said in a recent interview, asked about a salary “bubble.”

“I actually think about that quite a bit, and I don’t know if anybody knows the answer right now. We need to be competitive in the marketplace. That’s important for us.”

Five private schools did not report salary data to USA Today. Stanford is one of them. Not including Cardinal coach David Shaw, Rodriguez ranked ninth last season in the Pac-12 in salary, ahead of Oregon State’s Mike Riley and Colorado’s now-fired Jon Embree.

Rodriguez is coming off an 8-5 debut season at Arizona in which the Wildcats exceeded most expectations, topping the year with a victory in the New Mexico Bowl.

He arrived at Arizona with a 75-48 career record in 10 years in the Football Bowl Subdivision, including two BCS bowl game appearances at West Virginia. That’s the resume of someone who could be making north of $3 million a year as a college head coach.

RichRod was making $2.525 million at Michigan in 2010, but he was fired after three tumultuous seasons in Ann Arbor.

Arizona pounced, buying low after Rodriguez spent 2011 out of coaching.

The contract adjustments approved Thursday is a market correction, one UA needed to make after an 8-5 season. You can bet that other schools will come knocking, blank check in hand, if Rodriguez posts another season like that in 2013.

At least Byrne already has pushed Rodriguez’s compensation closer to the middle of the pack within the league and among major conference programs.

Rodriguez said in a recent interview he appreciates being able to talk freely with Byrne, including contract matters.

“Greg and I have such a good relationship that we talk about everything,” Rodriguez said.

Said Byrne: “I talk to Coach Rodriguez and (men’s basketball coach) Sean Miller — as well as a number of our other coaches — on an annual basis about what they need for their program. And part of that is their contracts.

“I think having a coach with four or five years on their contract is important if you believe in what that coach is doing, especially with football and men’s basketball.”

* * *

You can view the contract proposed to the Board of Regents at this link, starting at page 84. A few notable items:

– The creation of a retention fund.

At the end of each contract year from November 30, 2013, through November 30, 2016, UA will deposit $125,000 ($500,000 total) into a Retention Fund for Rodriguez’s benefit. UA will pay Rodriguez the value of the Fund as of July 1, 2014, unless he was earlier terminated for cause, resigned, retired, or otherwise voluntarily ended his employment with UA. Subsequent deposits into the Fund will be paid to Rodriguez on November
30, 2016, unless he was earlier terminated for cause, resigned, retired, or otherwise voluntarily ended his employment with UA.

– Termination

a. Termination Without Cause
University shall owe Rodriguez 100% of his University-funded salary for the time remaining on the Contract should it terminate him without cause.

b. Termination by Rodriguez
Rodriguez shall pay the University $1,500,000 if he terminates the Contract prior to December 1, 2013.

He will pay the University $1,000,000 if he terminates the Contract from December 1, 2013, up to and including November 30, 2014.

Rodriguez shall not be obligated to pay the University for terminating the Contract after November 30, 2014, unless he accepts employment as the head football coach of another present member of the Conference, in which case he shall be obligated to pay the University the value of his University-funded Compensation (base salary plus peripheral duties compensation) for the time remaining on the Contract.

– Source of salary

Rodriguez’s salary will continue to be paid entirely from revenue generated by the Athletics Department. No part of his salary will be paid from appropriated funds or donor contributions.

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