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Tom Miller / Forum News Service, Published April 13 2013

UND coaching salaries lag in Big Sky

GRAND FORKS – As the University of North Dakota’s first season in the Big Sky Conference winds down, UND coaches and athletes have learned they have some catching up to do on the field.

But UND has some catching up to do off the field, too – a change that takes place at the bank.

UND’s coaching salaries in men’s basketball and football lag far behind the league’s frontrunners, according to numbers gathered by the Grand Forks Herald.

UND’s biggest bang for its buck might be Brian Jones. He is the Big Sky’s lowest-paid men’s basketball coach with a base salary of $86,384. He’s also the only men’s basketball coach in the league not making six figures.

Jones’ team finished third in the Big Sky Conference in 2012-13 and qualified for the CollegeInsider.com Tournament for the third straight year. UND was knocked out of the Big Sky playoffs 76-74 by Weber State, a 30-win team this season that finished runner-up in the CIT.

“In certain sports, we’re very good. In others, we have a long ways to go,” UND athletic director Brian Faison said of the school’s league standing regarding coaches’ pay. “We have to find ways to address it, because in certain spots, there is a significant gap.”

Most of UND’s high-profile coaches were given contract extensions last summer, including Jones, football coach Chris Mussman, men’s hockey coach Dave Hakstol, women’s hockey coach Brian Idalski and volleyball coach Ashley Hardee.

Some of those contract extensions, Faison said, were partly a trade-off for UND’s salary shortcomings.

“One reason was to provide stability given where we are with salary,” Faison said. “At the end of the day, we have to continue to work on salaries of both our head coaches and assistant coaches.”

Faison stressed UND will be diligent in how it addresses the issue.

“It’s not just throwing money at it,” he said. “We want to recognize quality coaches and reward them. Thankfully, we feel we have quality coaches.”

Salaries run a wide gamut in the Big Sky, which has 11 schools in basketball and 13 in football.

At Weber State, men’s basketball coach Randy Rahe made $60,000 more than Weber State’s then-president Ann Millner in 2011 in base salary alone.

Rahe, who has taken the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament once in his seven seasons, is signed at Weber State through 2019. A contract signed in March 2011 indicates he’s paid approximately $175,000 annually, with an additional $100,000 paid as long as he’s still the coach of the team on July 1 each year.

That’s more than three times the base salary of Jones.

In football, the three California schools lead the pack with base salary pay of upward of $195,000 for UC Davis, Sacramento State and Cal Poly. The league’s highest-paid football coach is Davis’ Ron Gould, who makes $235,000 in base salary. He has not coached a game yet for the Aggies as the former Cal assistant recently was hired to succeed the retired Bob Biggs.

Mussman, who completed his fifth season as head coach in 2012, makes less than half of what the UC Davis coach is paid.

Faison noted that coaching salary is one of a number of areas the school needs to address in future budgets.

“When I look at it, I see that we need more of everything – not just one thing,” Faison said. “When I look at our programs, I look at what makes us more competitive – so we’ll also be concerned with facilities, strength and conditioning and academic support.”

UND is in a unique situation in that the school’s two highest-paid coaches don’t compete in the Big Sky. In men’s hockey, which will compete in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference next season, Hakstol makes a base salary of $300,000 that caps out at $435,000 per year if certain incentives are reached. In women’s hockey, which competes in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, Idalski has a base salary of $116,777.

Faison said those hockey contracts aren’t tied to UND’s salary gap in certain Big Sky sports.

“I look at hockey separately,” Faison said. “Hockey generates a significant amount of revenue and therefore requires a significant amount of spending, as well. We have an elite hockey program, and we’ll do everything we can to keep it there.

“We have to address these other programs and it’s a challenge, but I don’t tie (Big Sky salary issues and hockey contracts) together.”

So how will UND afford larger coaching contracts down the road?

“Frankly, trying to find and enhance revenue streams,” Faison said. “Revenue production is a component in our ability to enhance those contracts. We’re constantly looking at that. We’ve done better with it, but the work there is never done.”

Tom Miller is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald