WRAL Investigates

Fan base, boosters, TV contracts all play into coaches' compensation

Posted September 3, 2009 6:12 p.m. EDT
Updated April 27, 2011 10:47 a.m. EDT

— The fans, boosters and television coverage of college football all play into the pay for coaches.

Because football brings in a lot of revenue for colleges, the coach of a major-college football program can be the highest-paid employee at the school. On average, football coaches make more than their counterparts in other college sports.

Under the law, coaches’ contracts are public records, available upon request under the North Carolina Public Records Act. Although the coaches are employees of the state, their salaries are funded through student athletic fees, ticket revenues and booster money, not tax dollars from the General Fund.

A look at the contracts of the football coaches in the University of North Carolina system shows serious financial incentives tied to winning, fundraising and motivating players to perform in the classroom.

When Tom O’Brien leads the Wolfpack onto the field Thursday night, he knows the team’s performance in its season opener sets the tone for the team and the financial standard for him.

Should North Carolina State University string together enough wins to get invited to a bowl game, O’Brien earns an extra $50,000. A spot in one of the top games in the Bowl Championship Series earns him $200,000 more.

O'Brien's base salary is $240,000. State pays him another $360,000 in “supplemental compensation.” According to his contract, that amount is “in order ... to provide coach with a compensation package competitive with that provided by university peer institutions.”

“Tom O'Brien and N.C. State have a partnership,” said David Glenn, publisher of the ACC Sports Journal. “That's the nature of this big money.”

Glenn said O'Brien agreed to less money compared to many other ACC coaches. His rival at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Butch Davis, for instance, is guaranteed more than twice what O'Brien gets.

If O’Brien wins, he can pull closer. Five victories against ACC opponents are worth an extra $50,000 for the coach. For each additional ACC win over five, he earns another $50,000.

Students at State said the coach is worth the money if he brings success.

“If that's what works for him and helps him, then I guess we should go for it. Try it out and see what happens,” student Chris Carr said.

“If that means that State's going to win – yes,” student Rita Beard said.

William Friday, former president of the UNC System, had a different view. “Money has completely distorted sports in recent years,” he said. Friday is a long-time critic of big coaching salaries whether the money is guaranteed or incentive-based.

“You don't give incentive bonuses to anybody else in the system,’ he said. “Why there?”

Coaches counter that they don't get tenure like professors, so higher pay can offset job risk.

Skip Holtz, head football coach at East Carolina University, said he feels fortunate to command a high salary.

“I feel blessed to make the money that I do,” he said. “But, what drives me is coming here and building this program.”

To keep Holtz, ECU Athletic Director Terry Holland gives the coach a direct stake in the success of the program. Holtz gets $25 for every season ticket sold, plus 5 percent of membership fees to the Pirate Club.

“ECU athletics is getting a multi-million dollar blast out of the energy that is inspired by Skip Holtz,” Glenn said.

“When he helps us generate that revenue, he'll get to share it,” Holland said.

Holtz earns another big boost, to the tune of $125,000, if Holland determines the Pirates are making positive academic progress.

Similar incentives for academic success or graduation rate are common in most big UNC system coaching contracts. O'Brien gets $50,000 if the Wolfpack's six-year graduation rate is 55 percent or higher.

Some students complain rewarding coaches for something that should already be expected doesn't add up.

“If you're here for college and you're getting paid for it with a scholarship, I feel like you should have a drive to perform well in academics,” Beard said.