Mulkey’s Record-Setting LSU Deal Comes With Bargain Buyout

Kim Mulkey’s new 10-year, $36-million contract with LSU, the richest deal for a women’s college coach, can still be voided by the school on the relative cheap.

According to the supplemental terms of her revised employment agreement—which was signed back in July, but officially approved by the LSU Board of Supervisors Friday—Mulkey can, at any point, be terminated without cause for the all-in cost of $2 million.

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That’s the same separation figure that Mulkey negotiated when she first took the Tigers job in 2021—and a fraction of the buyout the Southeastern Conference school would owe her male counterpart, men’s basketball coach Matt McMahon, who Mulkey now out-earns.

While Mulkey is set to receive $3.15 million this fiscal year, compared to McMahon’s $2.7 million package, his current termination fee would run nearly $14 million—or 80% of the compensation left on his deal, which runs through 2029. (Of course, both basketball bosses’ buyouts pale in comparison to LSU football coach Brian Kelly’s pay-to-go-away toll, the current cost of which runs close to $70 million.)

Neither Mulkey nor LSU athletic director Scott Woodward responded to requests for comment.

Last year, Mulkey led the Lady Tigers to the school’s first-ever national title in basketball, while McMahon’s squad finished with a losing record and 14th place in the SEC.

LSU has a notable history of shelling out millions to former coaches it no longer wants. According to Sportico’s Intercollegiate Finances database, the school spent the seventh-most on severance pay among public, non-military FBS institutions in 2021-22.

Mulkey’s $2 million buyout matches that of South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, who is now the second-highest-paid women’s college coach, with $3.1 million coming to her this year.

Both fare worse on the termination front than Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, previously the top earner in college women’s coaching, despite making more money than the Huskies hero.

Auriemma’s current agreement, which pays him $3 million this season, commenced in 2021 with a $5 million buyout that decreases by $500,000 each year through the end of its duration. As such, he would now be owed $3.5 million if fired without cause.

Mulkey’s new contract, meanwhile, increases her pay $100,000 each year through 2033, when she would theoretically earn $3.65 million for her final season. (It’s likely, if she’s still coaching in Baton Rouge by then, that her contract would have been renegotiated once more, if not many times over.)

If Mulkey quits at any point, the contract stipulates that she would owe the school the same flat fee of $2 million. By contrast, McMahon’s agreement says he must pay LSU liquidated damages of $5 million if he leaves between now and next July, an amount that decreases by $1 million each year through 2028. If Auriemma wants out early, his contract entitles him the option of receiving a $1.5 million golden handshake or a new athletic department job that would pay him $500,000 per annum over five years.

Before coming to LSU, the 61-year-old Mulkey spent 21 seasons at Baylor, where she led the Lady Bears to four Final Fours and three national titles. Despite her success, her tenure in Waco was full of controversy. In 2017, she tearfully apologized for the “very poor choice of words” she used in defending the school amid a Title IX scandal.

Following her 500th career victory, Mulkey had told a post-game home crowd, “If somebody around you and they say, ‘I will never send my daughter to Baylor,’ you knock them right in the face.”

At the time, the private Baptist school was facing national backlash for suppressing numerous allegations of on-campus rape and sexual misconduct, including dozens of alleged incidents involving football players. The scandal eventually led to the terminations of head football coach Art Briles and school president Ken Starr. In her mea culpa, Mulkey said she wasn’t being literal with her fisticuffs reference and is not a “violent person.”

The coach has also had a strained relationship with her one-time Baylor star, Brittney Griner, who in 2013 went public with claims that Mulkey told her and other gay players to keep their sexuality under wraps. Mulkey was the subject of criticism last September when she repeatedly declined to offer public support for Griner upon her arrest in Russia, ostensibly over drug-related charges. Finally, at a Final Four press conference this past March, Mulkey said she was glad that Griner, who was freed as part of a prison-swap, had safely returned to the United States.

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