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Salary vs. Value

It has been over a full day since NC State received it's second rejection in their search for a new head coach. The Wolfpack administration seems to have hunkered down somewhere secluded putting out feelers and attempting to construct some sort of plan to move forward on their so-called "B" list of candidates. Since we have this pause in the ongoing drama it is time to take stock of what has happened in these past 12 days.

NC State AD Lee Fowler understood two things when he began this search. The first is he had to appease the NC State fan base by hiring a star coach. It was imperative that Fowler not start the search with another mid-major coach even if he was a proven winner. State fans wanted a name and a personality to match wits with Roy and K and they also wanted someone who could fire up the masses. The second thing Fowler knew was that he had to bring a "shock and awe" offer to the table to either outbid any school from the very start and express how much NC State really wanted that coach to come. The basic premise was based on the idea that NC State fans would settle for nothing less than an all out offensive to bring in a name coach. The pitfall was that if the offer failed to entice the coach in question, Fowler et. al are left with having raised enormous stakes and failed in the process. The logic was sound on Fowler's part and he should be commended for striking such a bold move to bring in what the fans were asking for since these same fans were the reason Sendek left in the first place. My question now is whether or not this has inappropriately skewed the salary landscape of college coaches?

Based on the best available information UNC coach Roy Williams and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski make in the neighborhood of $1.9 million by the time calculate their entire package. As best as I can tell they are close to the top of the college basketball salary ladder and rightfully so since they head the two top programs during the past 25 years. These programs are consistently elite programs and frequent Final Four contenders. These coaches have posted tremendous winning percentages and each have at least one national title(K has three) and numerous Final Four appearances. So in respect to the salary they get paid it seems to be a reflection of three factors: 1. The status of the program. 2. The success of the coach. 3. The priority of the program at that school i.e. Duke and UNC are both "basketball schools." The salary paid to these two coaches seems reflective of their value in terms of their success and the programs ranking in the country. The coach I think fall into the same category as coaches above are Rick Pitino, Lousiville(#2 and #3, but marginally #1), Tom Izzo, Michigan State(#1 and #2 and sometimes #3), Tubby Smith, Kentucky(#1 and #3, #2 somewhat in question), Lute Olsen, Arizona(all three), Jim Calhoun, UConn(all three). All of these guys coach at schools where basketball is huge, they are historically successful, and they each have a at least one national title and multiple Final Fours under their belt(with the exception of Smith who only has one FF.) In other words these are the type of coaches who warrant the top salaries and for the most part their schools have responded.

Now the offers coming out of NC State were reported to be either in excess of the present salaries of many of the above coaches or in the case of the Calipari offer very close to it. However, if you take a step back and look at the three factors described above how does NC State and their two "A" list candidates fit into the criteria. Is NC State an elite program with a consistent historical success? No, they have do have two national titles but in most respects they have a flash in the pan period of 2-4 years followed by inconsistency. The records are clear that since the Everett Case days NC State has never been a consistent winner in college basketball. Skipping the second factor for a moment, NC State can probably be described as a "basketball school" simply because they are in North Carolina, the play in the ACC, and their football program is not anywhere close to being more noteworthy than the basketball program. So NC State is somewhat solid on the third criteria.

Now let's back up to the second criteria and see how that applies the two coaches in question. I would describe Rick Barnes and John Calipari as being successful coaches. There is evidence that they have developed winners wherever they have coached whether it be Clemson or UMass in the early days or small school Memphis for Calipari and football school Texas for Barnes. That being said their success can be described as limited at best. Barnes has been to 1 Final Four at Texas, has never won the Big 12 Tournament, and just this year set a school record for wins with 30(the previous was 26.) While at Clemson, the Tigers moved from the ACC cellar to the ACC middle and did occasionally crack the Sweet 16. Now, Barnes is poised to do great things but so far all we have from him is a whole bunch of good things. Caliapri has the same kind of record. He has one Final Four appearance from the UMass days(later vacated) and this season Memphis made the Elite 8 with 33 wins and a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Prior to that Calipari had fewer NCAA Tournament appearances in the past five years than Herb Sendek. As is the case with Barnes, Caliapri also appears on the verge of doing some great things at Memphis but again all we have so far a bunch of good runs.

So having digested all of this information can someone please explain the logic of a school which has historically been a middle of the road college basketball team paying a coach who has been to one Final Four and never won the national championship more money than the most storied programs in the country pay their wildly successful coaches. The answer is that there is no logic to it because it is a maddening attempt to address the illogical expectations of a fan base who thinks a big name coach is the cure to all their basketball ills. I understand why Fowler and NC State went this route but it also scares me speechless because of the manner in which it threatens to skew the salary landscape of college basketball coaches.

Try this logic on for size. If coaching job at NC State which is not an elite program is worth $2 million annually to a coach who has never seen Monday night at the Final Four the how much is the job at Maryland, Michigan, Illinois, LSU, or Marquette worth? Heck, if one Final Four is all you need to get a $2 million payday then George Mason needs to engage in some serious fundraising. Now, I know it is not that simple and there are a lot more factors involved that the ones I have put forward. But, in my humble opinion, the salary of college basketball coaches should be based on the success of the school under that coach and is primarily dictated in financial terms by the interest that school has in the program. In the case of NC State, the booster interest is there so the money is there. However, the success of the coaches in question and the status of the program simply makes the money being offered look like overkill. In fact the I would have to agree with 850 the Buzz's Adam Gold who said that Memphis got screwed on the deal because they ended up giving more money to a coach who has yet to do anything significant.

Then again it is NC State's money and they have every right to do with it as they please. In our society the buyer determines the value of something by how much they are willing to pay. If people did not pay $5000 for plasma TV's then I am pretty certain they would be cheaper. So on a objective scale of stats and results it is easy to say that Barnes and Calipari are not $2 million coaches. However, to NC State fans and to the boosters they were see as a coming saviors who would finally push them to the upper tier of the ACC. From that perspective the value they would assign is far higher than what objective measures might say.

The problem is when that skewed perspective based value is used in the open market as an objective standard it really mucks things up.