Greg Hansen: Best buy could be to pay less

Wise shopping may help UA find bargain-deal AD
2010-01-21T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Best buy could be to pay less Opinion by Greg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 21, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Since Pop McKale's retirement in 1957, Arizona's five full-time athletic directors have included the school's boxing coach/PE teacher, the football coach at New Mexico, a former basketball coach at Michigan and sitting athletic directors at Houston and Washington State.

When McKale's successor, and former boxing coach Joe Picard, resigned after one year, he told the Star that the job was so demanding "I have been on the edge of a nervous breakdown."

Picard's athletic budget was about $550,000. His salary was $6,000.

Arizona's next athletic director will inherit a budget of about $50 million, a contentious Board of Regents that expressed displeasure at recent contracts awarded to Mike Stoops and Sean Miller, and the expectation to raise $82 million to bring Arizona's football facilities into the 21st century.

Joe Picard, rest his soul, might've best defined the job 52 years ago. "It was a very hard year," he told former Star sports editor/columnist Abe Chanin.

Athletic directors are now well compensated for "very hard years." Florida's Jeremy Foley is believed to be the highest-paid at $965,000 a year. Oregon's Mike Bellotti, a rookie AD who was Oregon's football coach, is the Pac-10's highest-paid athletic director at $650,000.

Kansas, whose athletic program is comparable in scope to Arizona, pays $900,000 to athletic director Lew Perkins, who also received a $1.3 million retention bonus paid last summer.

"He's worth every penny he receives," Kansas chancellor Robert Hemenway told Big 12 reporters before his recent retirement. "Athletic directors are no more important than faculty in any discipline, but they are paid proportionally more because salaries at a university reflect the outside marketplace."

Given the UA's budget crisis, it wouldn't be a surprise if president Robert Shelton attempted to hire an athletic director for less than the $372,000 Jim Livengood earned in the final year of his contract.

What can you get for $372,000, or thereabouts, on the contemporary AD market?

You probably couldn't touch an accomplished AD such as Louisville's Tom Jurich, a California native and former athletic director at NAU. Jurich has a contract through 2016 that pays him $484,000 this year and will escalate to as much as $700,000.

You could, however, turn the head of someone considered a rising star in the business, Utah State's Scott Barnes. The former associate AD at Washington and a basketball player at Fresno State, Barnes is paid $216,000.

Or perhaps you could work the climate/quality-of-life angle as Arizona did when it lured Final Four basketball coaches Lute Olson from Iowa and Dave Strack from Michigan (Strack was Arizona's athletic director from 1971 to '82).

The weather forecast in Iowa City, Iowa, today is "a wintry mix" of rain and ice. That's where Iowa athletic director Gary Barta toils for a Big Ten school with a $71 million athletic budget. The Hawkeyes pay Barta $330,524, significantly below the Livengood line.

Barta is also considered a star in the AD business. As a bonus, he has Pac-10 and Western roots. He was the associate AD at Washington and also spent three years as the athletic director at Wyoming. He is an intriguing possibility.

It would be a coup if Shelton could replace Livengood with a sitting AD from a BCS conference school; only one Pac-10 partner, Stanford, has an athletic director who was hired away from a BCS conference. Bob Bowlsby, incidentally, was also Iowa's AD. He had no ties to the West: He grew up in Iowa and worked at Iowa and Northern Iowa University before getting out of the "wintry mix" in 2006.

If money is a factor, Arizona won't be able to pursue someone like ex-Oregon athletic director Bill Byrne, who is paid $690,000 at Texas A&M. But what about Greg Byrne, Bill's 38-year-old son, who grew up working for the Fiesta Bowl and is an Arizona State alumnus?

Greg Byrne is the boy wonder, athletic director at Mississippi State, a fundraiser of note who held finance-related positions at Oregon, Oregon State and Kentucky before he was hired in the SEC two years ago. He is paid a bare $175,000 annually at MSU, by far the lowest figure in the SEC, which averages $431,000 per AD, according to figures obtained by Bloomberg News.

We strongly suspect Shelton will avoid, as Kansas State couldn't, adding to the insanity of college athletic salaries.

In 2003, small-town KSU, of all schools, hired Colorado State AD Tim Weiser and paid him $670,000. He was soon fired after some turbulence within K-State's football program but received a $1.9 million settlement.

"We got caught up in the BCS arms race," then-KSU president Jon Wefald told Kansas reporters. "It was a mistake. I don't think you have to pay an AD $700,000 to have a good one."

Kansas State now pays athletic director John Currie $350,000. Sanity has been restored. Now it's Shelton's turn to keep it that way.

Six-figure jobs

Three salary samples for ADs:

$965,000

Salary of Florida's Jeremy Foley, believed to be the highest-paid AD in the country

$650,000

Salary of the Pac-10's highest-paid AD, Oregon's Mike Bellotti

$372,000

Former AD Jim Livengood's UA salary

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