As the nation’s states, municipalities and university systems continue struggling to shake off the after-effects of a crippling recession that dried up government coffers and has resulted in huge cuts to education and other core social services, well-paid coaches at big-name schools are progressively becoming targets for political posturing and faux-outrage. The latest coach to take heat for merely doing his job well is Texas’ Rick Barnes, who recently received a $200,000 raise from the university broken into two parts — $75,000 as a standard annual increase written into his contract, and $125,000 to keep his compensation among the top ten highest paid coaches in the country (a provision of his deal with UT). His total compensation of $2.4M was approved on Wednesday by the UT Board of Regents.
While we completely sympathize with higher education systems nearly everywhere in America that are buckling under the dual stresses of spiraling costs and a public generally uninterested in subsidizing those dollars, to place blame on a guy wholly funded by money from non-taxpayer sources is pandering in its worst form. Check out these quotes from Texas lawmakers on the matter:
“I’m a big fan of UT basketball and coach Barnes. But at a time when everyone up here is fighting to come up with money to pay for education, it was disappointing.” — Sen. Kirk Watson (D)
“I think it’s nuts.” — Sen. Steve Ogden (R)
“It’s not appropriate, not at a time when we’re scraping for money for education.” — Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R)
“It is bad timing. They didn’t ask for my advice.” — Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D)
We all remember how Connecticut gadfly Ken Krayeske caused a stink a few years ago in querying UConn head coach Jim Calhoun about the particulars of his then-$1.6M salary, causing the crotchety coach to fire back with several increasingly snide remarks. That was bad enough, but this is different. Not a dime of Barnes’ salary comes from the Texas general fund, which means the taxpayers of the Longhorn State no more pay his salary than they do that of the Prince of Wales. Notwithstanding the deep coffers that the Texas athletic department has at its disposal, we’re also quite certain that the university reaps untold more millions as a result of Barnes’ salary (the Calhoun argument).
If Texas legislators are disposed to pick a fight over Barnes’ salary, they might want to consider his overall performance rather than fixating on the raise itself — when you consider that Barnes is a top ten coach in terms of annual salary, you would hope that UT would avoid the late season meltdowns of the last two years and he’d have more than a single Final Four appearance under his belt. Frankly, at a football school like Texas, he’s done enough to enable job security for as long as he wants to coach there, but it seems as if the lawmakers completely missed the boat in their efforts to tilt at windmills today.