March Madness -- time for the nation’s big-time college basketball coaches to strut their stuff.
Dressed to kill, stalking the sideline and working the refs during the game, smiling for the cameras before and after. For some, their next big job depends on how they do in the tourney. Players’ league? That’s the NBA. The NCAA is a coach’s game, centered around the guy who builds and runs the program as players roll through, some after one year. Mention Duke basketball and who springs to mind? It isn’t center Mason Plumlee. It’s Mike Krzyzewski.
College coaches are paid accordingly. According to data compiled by USA Today, there are 35 coaches whose salaries cross the million-dollar threshold, of which 14 pull in more than $2 million. Generally speaking, those making the bigger bucks are worth it. The average seven-figure coach has notched 17 years of service time, taken his schools to the NCAA tournament in 10 of them, while winning 69% of his games overall (average annual record: 22-10). Altogether, the group boasts 51 Final Four appearances and 13 national titles.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some individuals living at the far end of the scale whose pay, relatively speaking, outshines their performance. Kentucky coach John Calipari has long fit this mold. An ace recruiter with a .767 winning percentage over 21 seasons and four appearances in the Final Four with three different schools, Calipari is Lexington’s biggest rock star and clearly one of the nation’s top coaches. Yet, with a salary that tops $5 million this year, significantly more than Tom Izzo (.712 winning pct.; six Final Fours; one title) and Roy Williams (.797; seven Final Fours; two titles), Calipari is clearly overpaid as well.
To come up with our list of the most overpaid coaches, we crunched a variety of metrics -- service time, winning percentage, NCAA tournament appearances, Final Fours and championships -- and compared them to current salaries from USA Today’s database. Tournament appearances and results are measured against total seasons in order to even out differences in service time among coaches – i.e. five tourney appearances in 10 seasons scores higher than five in 15 seasons.
Calipari no longer sits on the top spot of the all-overpaid list, which he occupied the previous two years. His long-coveted national championship last season pushed him down into the No. 2 spot. The new champion: Missouri head coach Frank Haith. Now in his second year with the Tigers after a seven-year run at Miami, Haith has two NCAA tournament appearances on his resume, none past the second round. His .611 career winning percentage is 80 points below that of the typical million dollar-plus coach. At $1.6 million, Haith’s salary is comparable to those of Josh Pastner of Memphis, John Thompson III of Georgetown and Mike Montgomery of California, all of whom have put up better career numbers.
Following Haith and Calipari in the overpaid parade: Baylor’s Scott Drew (.573; three tourney appearances in 11 years, $1.76 million), Michigan’s John Beilein (.612; seven tournaments in 21 seasons; $2.3 million), and, yes, Louisville’s Rick Pitino, whose impressive 27-year college career includes five appearances in the Final Four and a national championship at Kentucky in 1996. Still, at a whopping $4.8 million, Pitino’s salary is out of whack with other top coaches.
Yes, you can be a great coach and still be overpaid. The state of Kentucky's two biggest stars can attest to that.