What Barnes’ new contract means for Pruitt
When Rick Barnes parlayed a Sweet 16 appearance and an overture from UCLA into a new deal to remain at Tennessee, he became the nation’s third-highest paid men’s basketball coach.
He also surged past Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt’s annual salary.
Pruitt is in the second year of a five-year contract that pays him $3.8 million annually, before bonuses. Barnes will earn $4.7 million next season before even tapping into a bonus platform. His contract has builtin raises, culminating in a $5.7 million salary the final season of the five-year deal.
Martin Greenberg, a Marquette University Law School professor and a sports attorney who has represented several college coaches, said it’s “absolutely” surprising to see UT’s basketball coach outdis-
tance its football coach by $900,000 in salary, “especially given the importance of football in the SEC.”
That doesn’t mean the imbalance is permanent.
“It’s just not going to be the case. I can’t see where football will not outdistance basketball in the near future at that school,” Greenberg said.
Put differently, Pruitt will either win and progress toward a raise, or he’ll head down a path of getting fired. For college coaches, there’s no standing still.
Why Rick Barnes outranks Jeremy Pruitt in salary
A coach’s success and demand from potential employers are the key factors in driving up his salary.
Barnes has more than doubled his salary during the past two years for two main reasons. His Vols won 57 games during that two-year stretch, and he fielded interest from another suitor. Pruitt, meanwhile, went 5-7 in his debut season as a first-time head coach.
“It’s simply a reflection of where the programs are at, at the moment,” David Berri, a professor of economics at Southern Utah University who specializes in sports issues, said of the salary difference.
Alabama’s Nick Saban, Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Georgia’s Kirby Smart pace SEC football coaches in salary. The first two on that list are national championship winners. Malzahn and Smart are national runners-up.
The coaches who rank below Pruitt in salary are Arkansas’ Chad Morris, Mississippi’s Matt Luke, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead and Missouri’s Barry Odom.
Like Pruitt, none of them had been a Power 5 head coach before their current job. Only Morris had Group of 5 head coaching experience.
“You don’t want to commit a huge sum of money to somebody on the hope that they’re going to rebuild your program,” Berri said. “I think you need to see that they’re going to do this first — unless you’re getting a proven name.”
Tennessee showed this offseason it isn’t pinching pennies when it comes to football. The Vols hired Jim Chaney away from Georgia to be their offensive coordinator. He’ll earn $1.5 million this season, more than any offensive coordinator in college football made a year ago.
Tennessee defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley will earn $1 million this season. He spent last season as the Oakland Raiders’ defensive backs coach. Additionally, UT’s Craig Fitzgerald ranked second last season among all strength coaches with his salary of $625,000.
Butch Jones showed Jeremy
Pruitt the path to a bigger payday
Smart is an example of how a coach can quickly accelerate his salary.
Georgia hired before the 2016 season as a first-time coach after he spent eight seasons as Saban’s defensive coordinator. Smart’s initial contract was a sixyear deal worth $3.75 million annually. By last May, he’d negotiated a new deal that paid him $6.6 million in 2018 and is worth $49 million over seven years.
It’s proof that contracts don’t mean much. They’re made to be broken or reworked.
“To maintain an invasion from another university — because these contracts are so easily breakable — these universities are putting more money on the table year after year,” Greenberg said.
“It used to be, a five-year contract is a five-year contract. If you got paid $5 million a year, you got paid $5 million (a year). That’s not the case anymore. What has happened now is that these things, from a standpoint of package amount and terms, are constantly being renegotiated to be competitive.”
And it doesn’t take a division title to ratchet up salary.
At South Carolina, Will Muschamp used back-to-back bowl bids in his first two seasons to bump his salary to $4.2 million after making $3 million during his first season.
Tennessee hired Butch Jones, Pruitt’s predecessor, to a six-year deal worth $2.95 million annually. The Vols went 7-6 in Jones’ second season. Reports surfaced that Michigan was interested in hiring Jones.
Tennessee restructured his contract to pay him $3.6 million annually. The following season, in 2015, the Vols won nine games for the first time since 2007. Jones’ salary bumped to $4.1 million, equaling an increase of $1.15 million in three seasons.
Willing to pay for basketball success
Although it’s uncommon for Tennessee’s basketball coach to earn more than its football coach, it isn’t unprecedented.
Derek Dooley entered his first season as football coach in 2010 with a $1.8 million salary. Vols basketball coach Bruce Pearl was earning $1.9 million, fresh off the program’s only Elite Eight appearance.
Within the SEC, Kentucky and Missouri were the only schools that paid their basketball coach more than their football coach during the 2018-19 athletic year, according to USA TODAY’s salary databases.
Comparing their résumés explains why Barnes will outpace Pruitt next season. Even so, it’s unusual to see in the football-crazed SEC, and it’s unlikely to become the norm at Tennessee.
“I think the optics are that the football coach is in line for a new deal,” Greenberg said.
Either that, or he’ll be looking for a new job.