What’s Behind the Big Pay Raises for Coaches?

How come new basketball coaches earn so much more than their predecessors? That provocative question, raised by the Elon University assistant professor Tony Weaver this week, deserves extra attention this year as colleges struggle to pay the bills.

Yesterday St. John’s University named Steve Lavin as its new men’s basketball coach, replacing Norm Roberts, who was fired after a 17-16 season. According to some reports, Lavin could earn millions more per year than his predecessor, thanks mostly to a wealthy Red Storm alumnus.

Smaller programs like the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Fordham have also recently doubled down for supposedly savior coaches. And officials at once-mighty DePaul, who fired Jerry Wainwright after his team went 1-17 in the Big East this season, say they’re willing to make their new guy one of the league’s highest paid.

What’s behind the big upgrades? Presidents and athletic directors usually claim a combination of market forces and a short hiring window. But let’s be honest, fear over fan fallout—or losing the coach to another suitor—is really what’s at play. And the surest way to prove you’re serious about winning is to slap down big bucks.

You rarely see that sort of insecurity anywhere else on campus. Unlike athletic directors, most department heads are spending their time these days delivering news of salary changes going in the opposite direction.

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