Help wanted: UVA may pay big money for new coach

If UVA wants Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith, it may have to shell out more than $1.75 million.

WANTED: Atlantic Coast Conference university seeks new head men's basketball coach. Must have Division I experience. NCAA tournament appearances a plus. Will be required to raise funds, endorse products, and hobnob with alumni in addition to on-court duties. Must win within four years. Starting salary: $1 million.

After the sudden departure of head men's basketball coach Dave Leitao on Monday, March 16, you may be seeing an ad just like this in the classifieds soon.

And you thought nobody was hiring.

With Leitao's exit, the University of Virginia now faces a critical decision: does UVA shell out the big bucks for a top college coach, or does it go with a less expensive, lesser-known prospect?

In response to the Hook's request, the University provided a copy of the contract Leitao signed in 2005, the document whose buy-out just cost UVA $2.1 million.

What comes as no surprise was that UVA paid Leitao a hefty salary that began at $925,000 annually, with a five percent annual increase, meaning Leitao's salary (pending AD Craig Littlepage's approval) going into this season would have been nearly $1.1 million.

However, what might surprise some basketball fans is that only 23 percent of Leitao's compensation was for actually coaching. The other 77 percent paid Leitao for his role as a fundraiser for the university, for making radio and TV appearances, and for endorsement deals with various sponsors of UVA athletics.

Yet the pitchman pay didn't vary with performance. Leitao was incentivized with an array of bonuses for on-court success.

Such bonuses kicked in big time in 2007, when Leitao got an extra $20,000 for winning the ACC Coach of the Year Award, another $25,000 for winning the ACC regular season title, and $40,000 for making the NCAA Tournament, earning him a cool $85,000 for a season well done.

These numbers are, however, mere earthworms compared to the bait UVA may have to put on the hook to lure one of the college game's big fish to Charlottesville.

One name that keeps popping up in the UVA rumor mill is Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith. Having already been a target of UVA's coaching search in 2005, and given that both Smith's wife grew up outside Richmond, Smith would seem a natural choice. Still, when asked about the vacancy on a Minneapolis radio station on Sunday, March 22, Smith said that he wishes to remain at Minnesota, "for a very long time."

However, if Smith is to come to Charlottesville, UVA will have to pay a hefty price to even match his current deal with Minnesota.

When Smith signed with the Golden Gophers in 2007, not only was the deal worth a reported $1.75 million annually, but Smith's incentives are far greater than Leitao's. A conference title to Leitao meant $25,000; to Smith, it's worth ten times as much at $250,000. An NCAA Tournament bid meant $40,000 to Leitao; for Smith, multiply by 2.5, and get $100,000.

So, if UVA wants Smith, there's no escaping the idea that success will probably come at a greater price than under the previous coach. For all his successes in 2007, UVA paid Leitao $1.06 million. An equivalently good year for Smith would cost the university twice that: $2.1 million.

According to Robert Frank, a professor of economics at Cornell University, such massive investments in the future of a basketball program do not usually pay monetary dividends for the university at large.

"There is the notion that a winning program boosts alumni contributions," says Frank, "but there's no real evidence out there to support that."

In fact, according Frank's 2004 study of the affect of winning basketball and football programs on a university's bottom line, Frank found that if a public university's basketball team makes it to the NCAA Tournament, that only raises donations an average of $5.60 per alumnus. In UVA's case, there are 132,635 living alumni, which would mean only an extra $742,756 in donations for a trip to the Big Dance, while the university stands to pay a big name coach roughly $2 million annually.

Still, Frank does leave open the slim possibility of a university breaking even.

"If you win a national championship, you could get your money back," says Frank, "but then that's true of a lottery ticket, too."

–updated Monday, March 23 at 10:34am


Jeff Capel would come cheaper.

The culture for college basketball coaches is obscene and offensive. It's not far removed from the culture for Wall Street executives who soak their customers while bringing down the economy.

Agreeing to pay a coach $2.1 million to leave town defies logic. The explanation is that's how it's done, and if you want to get a decent coach you have to play that game.

The keyword here is "decent." College ADs should start thinking about what they're doing and start thinking about the long-term financial and emotional health of their programs, and get away from the "if I don't hire THAT GUY we're never going to win another game" mentality.

This hire will define Littlepage - actually, this will conclude the definition of Littlepage. The biggest hire he has had in his tenure was Dave Leitao. He CLEARLY blew that one - this isn't a case of "Leitao is a great coach but..." or "it's too bad he had so many injuries..." or anything like that. Leitao was a mediocre-to-good coach at DePaul, and in his only other head coaching job at Northwestern he was pretty bad. I'm not sure what Littlepage saw in him, other than his connection to Jim Calhoun at Connecticut (which is kind of like hiring Charlie Weis to coach your football team because he worked for Belechik - not working out too well, is it Irish? - in fact, it's kind of like hiring Craig Littlepage because he worked for Terry Holland).

So does he go for an established coach like Tubby Smith - who while at Kentucky, a school with a fabulous basketball heritage, he won big but while at Minnesota the past two years he has barely won, does he go out and get the young coach with the most buzz (see Leitao, Dave, circa 2005), or does he go all-in on a wild card entry like Bobby Knight (the Bill Parcells of college basketball - nobody likes him, but nobody wants to play against his teams, either), Rick Carlisle (probably too expensive and too good to risk coaching here), or somebody else not on the radar right now?

The good money is on another poor hire. Littlepage has demonstrated a keen talent for throwing air balls when it comes to basketball.

I know there are some who think we need to balance basketball and football against the wonderfulness of the tennis and swimming programs. I disagree, completely. It's easy to get great coaches to come here for the non-revenue sports for one simple reason: it's easy to get great athletes to come here for the non-revenue sports. Actually, TWO simple reasons: Virginia pays really, really well. It's FAR more common to find great high school athletes with academic ambition in those sports, so the odds of getting them to accept a scholarship to UVA are fairly high. For football and basketball, there are grave academic concerns - athletes understand they will be held to a higher standard here if they can even get accepted, so it's much safer for a great basketball player to go to Tech, Maryland, Kentucky, etc.

Music lover you should be named sports hater, why do you care what they make, it's not your money? The bailout for Wall Street is your money and on that I share your outrage.

Tubby Smith has "barely won" @ Minnesota? You dislike has clouded all logical reason. Tubby got to Minnesota in the fall of 2007. The team went from 8ââ?¬â??22 in 2006ââ?¬â??2007 to 20ââ?¬â??14 in 2007ââ?¬â??2008. This year he is 22-10. Coach Smith also harvested 2 top recruiting classes @ Minn, the best in years for the program. Everyone in sports is talking about the fantastic turnaround he has accomplished. Tubby is a great coach and recruiter.

Leitao was the not UVa's first choice coach according to reports and some have said that Casteen (who was at U Conn) lobbied hard to hire the Calhoun protege. I agree that Leitao hire is still Littlepage's fault. Bobby Knight is not a real choice and Rick Carlisle is probably a bad choice because of money and no proven recruiting skills.

You have no idea who the new coach will be and I don't either. Littlepage has gotten Virginia to have the 11th best college sports program in the nation. With a good spring we have a very real chance of finishing in the top 10. Littlepage has had only one basketball hire but knows more about college basketball then you, me and everyone one on this board combined. He will have to prove that to keep his job. I will bet you that they already know who they want and we will have a new coach by the middle of may if not sooner.

I guess that explains why Littlepage has kept Groh around, "knows more about college basketball". I would have wanted to see Leitao have one more year to recover and Groh to have none.

Music Lover, do you have any credibility if you say that Tubby Smith has barely won at Minnesota?

6th place in the Big 10 last year, tied for 7th place this year. That's the bottom half of the conference. Yeah, that's barely winning in my book.

In college basketball, teams from major conferences get a dozen gimme games. Minnesota's gimme games were St. Cloud State, Northern State, Concordia, Bowling Green, Georgia State, Eastern Washington, North Dakota State, Cornell, South Dakota State, Southeastern Louisiana, and High Point. Okay - so that's only 11. So fully half of Minnesota's wins were against gimme opponents. So let's just toss in Virginia and make it an even dozen.

Let's look at who they lost to this year: Michigan State (three times), Purdue, Illinois - those are the ranked teams, and can be considered quality losses (though losing to Michigan State 3 times is pretty sad). Other losses were to unranked Ohio State, Michigan (twice), Penn State, and Northwestern. They had a 9-9 conference record. If that isn't mediocre, what is? If you want to count the scrubs they played, fine. Look at the quality teams, though, and he barely won there this year.

And today Texas made it one-and-done for Minnesota. So they lost 10 games by an average of 9 points. That's a bit of a spread.

I'm not saying Smith isn't a great coach - he clearly is. But let's not anoint him the savior of Virginia basketball. Whoever comes in here is NOT getting a roster of very good players. And let's face it: 18 years, one Final Four (and that was many years ago). I'm not sure he'd be considered an elite coach now, though sportswriters and ESPN love him so he's certainly promoted as such.

Is he better than Leitao? He can phone it in and be better than Leitao! But maybe it's okay to dial back the rhetoric.

And yes, countyguy, it IS my money - probably a greater percentage of the basketball coach's pay comes out of my pocket than does the bailout money. Do you think the $ used to pay coaches comes out of Littlepage's butt? Make them earn the pay by PERFORMING, not by simply moving to town. And for God's sake don't pay them to leave. But of course Virginia's basketball program is no jewel, so they have to make major contract concessions if they want a decent coach.

TOTALLY agree that Casteen owns part of this mess as well. Combine the Leitao hire and his confusing love affair with Virginia Tech (forcing them into the ACC has not helped Virginia recruit) and he's proved that he should stick to academics and hire a pro to look after the athletics.

I'm not a sports hater by any stretch. But I don't care how Littlepage has contributed so much to the tennis program. Seriously - I think it's great that they win, but I don't care. I do care that Littlepage has shown zero aptitude for football or basketball, and those sports pay the freight for everything else.

I'll do it for $250K.

You don't even need a coach. You need me. For $250K per year I'll tell the kids: "OK boys git er done, go play ball!"

If they win, several sorority girls will be bathed and brought to them. Girls in turn receive scholarships and Black Tar Heroin. All in all, its a great plan to bring UVa back to her former glory.

@Dave - ROTFLMAO. That was perfect!