Gather ’round, kiddies, for a football story that begins in long-ago 1999.
The Washington athletic department paid a $1 million annual salary to a head coach, Rick Neuheisel, who had not won as much as a conference championship, to leave the University of Colorado and replace the fired Jim Lambright.
Outrageous, said many Pac-10 athletic administrators. Washington ratcheted up the arms race to ridiculous proportions, they said.
Another round of grumbles, although these were more muted, because, well, it wasn’t THAT outrageous anymore.
Fast forward to Wednesday, when Washington completed its Coach Poach for 2012 with the hire of a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach purloined from Cal, Eric Kiesau. He will be be paid, according to various unofficial reports, at least $700,000 annually, and perhaps even more than the $750,000 annual base that Tennessee was paying its defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, before he took a better offer from UW.
Grumbles were few, because, well, everyone is on the runaway freight train and no one sees a way to jump off without skinning elbows, knees and chins something awful.
So the coordinators in the Shangri-La world of the Pac-12 have nearly caught up to Neuheisel’s head-coaching salary that engendered so much disdain. Granted, $1 million today isn’t what it was in ’99, particularly if you have to pay to park in downtown Seattle. But inflation aside, the sum remains handsome coin to push around X’s and O’s that has no impact on national security or the Kardashians.
Is the pay scale too much? A relative question, of course. If you are, say, a senior executive at Microsoft or Amazon, it is tip money.
If you are, say, Cal athletics, you are stunned, angry and feeling impotent, particularly because you lost not only Kiesau, 39, but Tosh Lupoi, 30, a defensive-line assistant so well well-regarded as a recruiter that he may pull a few Cal recruits to Washington with him, as well as bending light waves and door keys with his mind.
“Tosh and Eric have decided to take other jobs, and we wish them the best,” Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said in a statement that did not describe the tension in Tedford’s jaw. “We exhausted all our resources to try to retain Tosh and Eric within the confines and continuity of our coaching staff.”
Slightly more revealing was a statement from Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour: “We did all we were able to do to have them remain at Cal and appreciate our community’s willingness toward that effort.”
Normally, ADs don’t say much about this sort of bad news, but it’s clear Barbour was speaking AD code for “#@&* Washington,” or characters to that effect, addressing both the poaching as well as Cal’s reluctance to play the stupid-money game. As a position coach, Lupoi is getting a raise from $164,000 at Cal to more than $500,000.
Washington State’s new football coach, Mike Leach, likes to play pirate. Hah! His cross-state rivals ARE pirates.
So are most schools, despite Cal’s misgivings. USA Today published its annual salary survey of college football coaches this week, which showed that average salaries set to be paid to head coaches for 2012 among Bowl Subdivision schools is up seven percent from 2011, and 55 percent in six seasons. The new coaches hired for 18 vacant positions went up 35 percent from the new coach average in 2011. That that doesn’t include the logs UW has just thrown on the fire in the last couple of weeks.
“This just shows the difficulty of bringing (football) into the right proportion, the right balance with the academic mission,” Penn State emeritus professor John Nichols, who chairs the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, a faculty group advocating for athletics reform, told the website.
Good luck with that reform. Ain’t gonna happen, not as long as the American sports fans’ thirst for big-time college sports remains unslaked. Judging by the $3 billion, 12-year TV deal the Pac-12 signed with ESPN and Fox Sports, we have all taken the advice from the World’s Most Interesting Man to stay thirsty.
Washington finds itself under the twin pressures of having been surpassed in the West by Oregon and Boise State, as well as the need to renovate Husky Stadium, then fill it with, and amuse, wealthies who are disposed to support the university’s sports program.
It is not the job of the football coaches or the athletic directors to figure out reforms. It is their jobs to win big so the sports programs at every public university do not fall on the schools’ general funds for support. So nothing as trifling as rationality, sobriety, perspective and university mission statement will get in the way of whatever it takes to win big. Reforms will come only from university presidents, but they are in the locomotive with a clear view that there there is no stopping this train, least of all by them.
To get on board, it comes as no surprise that Washington’s key program hires have come from recently successful programs that had surpassed UW in prestige and credibility.
The Huskies have an athletic director from Southeastern Conference powerhouse LSU, a head coach from USC, an offensive coordinator from Cal and a defensive coordinator from Boise State via Tennessee. Then there’s Lupoi, whose reputation is such that some believe he could have drawn recruits to Custer’s side at the Little Bighorn River.
The TV money that is fueling the train is destined to be distributed evenly to all conference members, which explains how WSU was able to pay Leach three times more than was ever paid to a Cougars coach.
What has happened this week is that the Huskies, desperate to make the leap back to national prominence, had the most vacancies and greatest urgency. Should they be successful, they will be next to be plundered.
That is neither to be cheered or lamented. It is simply part of the pirate’s life.
NOTES — Sarkisian has shifted around some responsibilities on his staff. Holdover Johnny Nansen will serve as assistant head coach, recruiting coordinator and special teams coordinator. Jimmie Dougherty, the UW wide receivers coach, is now also the pass game coordinator, and running backs coach Joel Thomas has added the title of associate head coach, offense . . .Kiesau spent last season as passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. He returned to Cal, where previously worked from 2002-05, after having spent the 2006 through 2010 seasons at Colorado. Kiesau coached Bears wideout Keenan Allen, the No. 2 receiver in the Pac-12 in terms of receptions per game last season. Allen and teammate Marvin Jones finished in the top 10 in the conference in receiving yards . . . Kiesau began his coaching career at Glendale (Calif.) Community College in 1998. His first Division I job came in 2000 at Utah State, where he was initially running backs coach before moving to receivers. He coached All-America running back Emmitt White, who led the nation in all-purpose yards in 2000, while at USU. In 2001, he coached receiver Kevin Curtis, the NCAA’s leading receiver with 100 catches, to All-America honors . . . “It’s great to have our staff complete,” Sarkisian said. “We are going to turn our focus to the final two weeks of recruiting and then start attacking the 2012 season.”
UW FOOTBALL COACHING STAFF
Steve Sarkisian, head coach
Dan Cozzetto, offensive line and run game coordinator
Jimmie Dougherty, wide receivers and pass game coordinator
Keith Heyward, defensive backs
Eric Kiesau, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach
Tosh Lupoi, defensive line, defensive run game coordinator
Johnny Nansen, assistant head coach, rcecruiting coordinator and special teams coordinator
Peter Sirmon, linebackers
Joel Thomas, running backs, associate head coach, offense
Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator
Ivan Lewis, strength and conditioning