Come Friday afternoon, if Washington State upsets rival Washington when the clock runs out at Husky Stadium, the victory won’t only mean a second straight year of Apple Cup bragging rights for the crimson and gray.
It also will put an extra $25,000 in Cougars coach Mike Leach’s paycheck.
The pay perk for an Apple Cup victory, as spelled out in his 11-page employment contract, is among a catalog of incentives that WSU afforded Leach when it hired him in late 2011. It’s a bonus given to only one coach in the Apple Cup; Leach’s cross-state counterpart, Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, doesn’t get an incentive for beating the Cougs.
But don’t feel sorry for Sark.
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Win or lose, he’ll drive away from the game in style — thanks to the Mercedes-Benz his contract provides him. And when Sarkisian arrives at his $3.7 million home in Yarrow Point, he can rest easy that the mortgage is covered — by the $150,000 housing allowance the UW pays him annually.
Far and away the state’s highest-paid public employees, Sarkisian and Leach are compensated handsomely by their employers. That’s no secret.
But information gleaned during interviews and from hundreds of documents detail the fullest accounting to date of the benefits, bonuses and perks provided to each of Washington’s big-time college-football coaches beyond their salaries.
Courtesy cars, club memberships, housing allowances, travel freebies — they’re all part of lavish compensation packages offered to the UW and WSU coaches during a golden era of TV-boosted paydays across college football.
If maximized, the incentive-laced contracts could have fetched Sarkisian about $4.4 million and Leach nearly $3 million last year, contracts and pay records show.
In reality, Sarkisian — whose team has made gains, but has yet to rise to the Pac-12’s top tier — earned roughly $2.9 million all told last year. Meanwhile, Leach, leading an improved squad that still dwells in the conference’s bottom half, pulled down total pay and perks of about $2.5 million. Pay for both coaches are covered by sports revenues, not tax dollars.
Neither Sarkisian, 39, nor Leach, 52, was made available to comment for this story.
As amply rewarded as they are, Sarkisian and Leach rate just 26th and 40th respectively among college football’s highest-paid coaches, according to a recent USA Today analysis.
The list, topped by Alabama coach Nick Saban’s $5.5 million, includes 50 coaches earning more than $2 million per year. Coaches for another 20 schools make at least $1 million.
“Yes, it’s insane,” WSU Athletic Director Bill Moos said of coaches’ prevailing pay. “But if you’re going to get in the race and be competitive in the sport of college football, you’re going to have to invest that kind of money anymore.”
TV cash fuels escalation
TV deals struck with big-time schools and power conferences have rocketed coaches’ pay to new heights in recent years.
Both UW and WSU are beneficiaries of a $3 billion, 12-year deal the Pac-12, inked with ESPN and FOX for television rights to football and basketball games. Both schools, along with the 10 others in the conference, stand to make an annual average of $20.8 million over the life of the agreement.
The windfall already has helped cover escalating coaches’ salaries and other rising costs at the UW and WSU, officials for each school said. Without the TV revenues, Washington State simply wouldn’t have been able to hire a coach of Leach’s caliber, Moos added.
WSU paid its previous coach, Paul Wulff, $600,000 per year, while Sarkisian’s predecessor, Tyrone Willingham, earned about $1.4 million in total annual pay.
The coaches’ soaring pay packages are far outpacing the raises earned by other key college employees. Since 2005, the average full-time professors’ salary has grown 25 percent at the UW and 24 percent at WSU. The average salary for a full professor at the UW in 2012 was $122,700; at WSU it was $102,300, according to the American Association of University Professors’ annual salary survey.
At the same time, pay for the Husky and Cougar football coaches has escalated by 141 and 161 percent, respectively, records show. Assistant coaches have cashed in, too. Paced by UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s $800,000 in guaranteed pay this year, the average annual paycheck for a UW assistant coach has spiked 128 percent since 2005.
“If we lived in a pure egalitarian society, heck no, it’s not justified,” UW Athletic Director Scott Woodward said of such pay comparisons. “But it’s the market.”
The trend in Washington mirrors a national one. Duke University economics Professor Charles Clotfelter recently examined pay at 21 public universities over a 24-year period. He found compensation for professors had climbed by about a third and nearly doubled for university presidents. Over the same span, pay for football coaches had shot up seven and half times.
“That’s an astounding increase in compensation,” Clotfelter said. “And as long as the money is there, I only see that trend continuing.”
What they get
A dream season for the purple and gold would reap unprecedented green for Sarkisian.
Now in his fifth season and second contract at the UW, the highest-paid coach in school history is guaranteed $2.725 million this season — pay that puts him at or near the top Pac-12 coaches.
But an additional $1.675 million worth of incentives provide Sarkisian with even more motivation.
Sarkisian’s guaranteed pay — which climbs by $150,000 each year through January 2016 — is doled out in five categories: base salary for head coaching; media pay for participating in press events; pay for appearances and consultation on behalf of Nike and other sponsors; compensation for speaking and representing the UW at alumni and other events; and a housing allowance.
Then the incentives kick in. Under a “merit-pay” matrix built into his contract, Sarkisian can boost his guaranteed base pay $25,000 to $150,000 annually, and for each year thereafter, by winning seven to 12 regular-season games.
Other performance incentives net Sarkisian additional six-figure sums, including bonuses for winning the Pac-12, appearing in a lower-tiered nonbowl championship-series bowl game or drawing a bid to a more-coveted BCS bowl.
Sarkisian’s single biggest incentive — winning the national championship — would snag him $500,000.
The Huskies’ coach also could earn up to $250,000 extra per season if his student-athletes achieve in the classroom.
Next come the freebies. Sarkisian gets two courtesy vehicles that are swapped out with newer models each year (last year, the coach received a Mercedes S550V4; his wife, a Toyota Sequoia); paid memberships to the Seattle Yacht Club and the Overlake Golf and Country Club in Bellevue; an allowance to buy Nike gear; and payments for his family’s travel to all road games and other events.
The UW also provides Sarkisian with complimentary season tickets to Husky football, men’s and women’s basketball and bowl games.
This season, when adding expected bonuses, perks and benefits to his guaranteed pay, Sarkisian is on pace to crack $3 million in total compensation.
Meantime, Leach — known as the “Pirate of the Palouse” for his obsession with 18th-century pirates — has amassed his own treasure chest of Cougar gold in Pullman.
The second-year coach is guaranteed $2.25 million annually for the life of his five-year contract. His assured money consists of a base salary plus additional pay for participating in media events, and appearing and consulting on behalf of Nike and other sponsors.
Beyond those guarantees, WSU offers Leach a maximum of $525,000 in performance and academic incentives each year, starting with the bonus for an Apple Cup victory.
Other incentives include winning the Pac-12’s North Division, an outright conference championship and earning lower- or upper-tiered bowl bids.
Leach’s biggest incentive — $200,000 — comes if his Cougs even play for the national championship, let alone win it.
The WSU coach also can fetch up to $25,000 per season extra if his student athletes post stellar graduation rates compared with other Pac-12 public schools.
WSU outfits Leach with two courtesy vehicles (most recently, a Lexus and a Ford Expedition); a membership to the Palouse Ridge Golf Club; and travel to away games for his “spouse and two individuals.”
He also gets a family suite at Martin Stadium and complimentary home and away tickets to each game.
What does pay say?
If money indeed talks, the story it’s telling in the coaches’ contracts is that winning is valued far higher than learning.
At both schools, the incentives offered to motivate coaches to win each year easily exceed the amount rewarded for encouraging their student-athletes’ classroom achievement.
Last year, Washington offered Sarkisian nearly six times the bonus money for winning than it did for academic success. At Washington State, Leach’s contract rewards him 20 times more for performance-related achievements than educational ones.
Washington’s schools are no exception. After examining coaches’ contracts at 70 public universities playing big-time college football, Northwestern University economics Professor Burton Weisbrod couldn’t find a single school that offered more money for academic than gridiron success.
“If the schools really thought it was important for the student athlete to graduate, they would put their money for graduating students,” Weisbrod said.
But merely adding up potential incentives in Sarkisian’s contract fails to recognize the significance the UW places on academic achievement, Woodward said.
Academics have always been part of a coach’s responsibilities, Woodward said. It was only in recent years — after other schools began doing it — that UW offered bonuses for scholastic success, he added.
A coach simply has greater influence over game performance, he said.
“He controls that piece the most — the wins and losses,” Woodward said. “That’s probably why we put a little incentive in for that. He has less influence in their performance in the classroom.”
Moos spoke more bluntly about why wins are more highly rewarded for his coach.
“The reasoning there is when you’re winning, you’re filling your stadium and you’re creating more revenue,” he said. “And look, this is a big business. We’ve got scholarship costs closing in on $10 million that we have to cover, we’ve got tremendous travel costs and (costs) for all the facilities.”
As the economic engine for both schools’ athletic departments, football is the only sport that turns a profit at WSU. At the UW, it accounts for about 85 percent of all athletics profits each year, with men’s basketball accounting for the rest. Combined, Washington’s two high-revenue sports cover their own costs, plus those for the 19 other sports that don’t make money, Woodward said.
Yet even with a TV bonanza pledged to both schools for the next decade, Woodward expects the spike in coaches’ pay won’t last.
“It can’t,” he said. “ … We’re in a very, very nice situation where broadcasters are paying an enormous premium for live content that people will watch. Now, how long will that continue? I don’t know.”
Lewis Kamb: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-2932. Twitter: @lewiskamb