THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Wise shoppers: Let VCU do the vetting, then buy
In case you haven't noticed, there's not a lot of extra money floating around these days. Retail sales are down, prices are up, and layoffs abound. When a nickel has to be squeezed until the buffalo poops, one has to spend money wisely. Unfortunately for the Rams, when it comes to bargain shopping, VCU is fast earning a reputation as a one-stop shop.
When Jeff Capel was named Oklahoma's men's basketball coach back in April 2006, it's hard to know which was more of a shock– that just a month before, Capel had signed a six-year contract extension with the Rams, or that he chose to inform VCU of his resignation by announcing it on ESPN. It was a double sucker punch for the school that made Capel the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I basketball.
Now, just three years later, VCU faces another crisis.
It took the University only a couple of weeks to name a new coach. True to form, VCU took the long view and opted not to lure a head coach from a smaller or less successful program. Anthony Grant, like Capel before him, had never headed a college team, but VCU seems to love a gamble– and why not?
Forking out a base salary of $275,000 a year to Grant– who as assistant coach at Florida was instrumental in helping the Gators to the 2006 national title– didn't seem much of a risk.
How could VCU know that lightning would strike twice? One year after Grant's hire, the rumors were swirling. Any doubt that Grant could fill Capel's shoes was dispelled when the Rams upset Duke in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament. The win should have elevated VCU's status in college basketball, but instead, it cemented the school's reputation as a halfway house for coaches on the rise. By June of 2007, VCU was on the defensive.
When head coach Billy Donovan announced he was leaving the Gators, Florida asked for and received permission to speak to Grant about the position. According to the New York Times, in January 2008, VCU signed Grant to a contract extension and boosted his salary to $400,000. By April, the Lynchburg News & Advance was reporting his salary at $700,000, with additional benefits pushing his total compensation past $850,000.
Huge salary increases to be sure, but had Donovan not reneged on his decision, there's little doubt Grant would have left VCU, considering the reported $1 million annual salary Florida was planning to offer.
Less than a year later, VCU's athletic director, Norwood Teague, told the New York Times that he "was working to upgrade Grant's contract for a second time to make it more competitive with programs at major-conference schools."
This trip to the rodeo had VCU pitted against multiple suitors, with South Carolina, Marquette, and LSU expressing interest in the wunderkind, even though Grant failed to take the Rams to the 2008 NCAA tournament.
VCU may not have a football team to support, but with an athletic budget of around $14 million, how long can the school defer the inevitable?
This week, VCU granted the University of Alabama permission to speak to Grant, and with an annual athletic budget of over $82 million, any offer coming from the Tide would be hard to beat. Having paid their not-so-stellar coach, Mark Gottfried, a larger salary than football coach Mike Schula, one can only imagine what Alabama would spend for Grant's reputation.
Unless Grant is made from more honorable stuff than his predecessor, his contract to coach for VCU through 2014 isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Georgia, with more than $76 million to spend, has been whispering sweet nothings to Grant, although he's their second choice.
Not surprisingly, it's VCU's previous prodigy who has the Bulldogs' attention. According to Fox Sports, UGA athletic director Damon Evans is prepared to offer Jeff Capel $2 million a year to come to Athens, a move Oklahoma is sure to thwart.
In the interest of economy, perhaps Alabama, Georgia, UVA, and whoever else is considering Grant should take a step back. I've no doubt that with all the interest in their coach, VCU has been conducting a search of its own; and if their luck holds, Grant's replacement will prove a superstar. Rather than fork out a million plus for Grant, the hungry suitors could avoid the middleman and pay a bargain basement price for whomever VCU has tapped as a frontrunner.
As any experienced bargain shopper knows, no one should ever pay retail for what can be had for wholesale.