Last week after Auburn defeated Kentucky in the Elite Eight, there was speculation about John Calipari potentially leaving Lexington and heading to UCLA. The Wildcats gave permission to the Bruins to talk to Coach Cal, but in the end, Kentucky enticed him to stay with a “lifetime contract”. No one knows what that exactly entails, but a Kentucky spokesman confirmed the extension and said it would allow Calipari to “finish his career at Kentucky”.
Calipari was paid $9.2 million last season according to USA Today’s database and had a buyout of $25 million. His total pay last year was over $2 million higher than Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski at $7 million in second. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo is in third at only $4.15 million.
The arms race for contract extensions and hiring/firing of coaches is at an insane level right now. Schools are willing to take too big of risks on coaches just because they have had a couple of good years. Some coaches have proven themselves time after time, such as Calipari at UMass, then Memphis and now Kentucky.
Another one of those coaches is Bruce Pearl, who currently sits at #38 in the country in salary making $2.6 million last year. Pearl has had four successful stops:
Southern Indiana – 9 D2 tournament appearances in 9 years, three D2 Final Fours and a championship
Milwaukee – 2 tournament appearances in 4 years, including a Sweet 16 in 2005 that saw them beat Alabama
Tennessee – 6 tournament appearances in 6 years, including three Sweet 16’s and an Elite Eight
Auburn – 2 tournament appearances in 5 years, including a Final Four this season
Overall, while you could say he had his single best season at 30 wins and a Final Four appearance, it also took him four years just to make the tournament and he has a losing record in the SEC (40-50).
After the Final Four and Calipari’s lifetime contract, that started the discussion that Bruce Pearl should be offered a lifetime contract so he will stay at Auburn. After all, he has no ties to Auburn, is from Boston, and has coached and been successful at many schools. He’s also been caught by the NCAA for having an illegal cookout at his home in Knoxville and was given a three-year show-cause penalty. However, Auburn took a chance and hired him while still under the show-cause penalty and it has worked out for Auburn to this point.
But does he deserve a lifetime contract?
In my opinion, no one deserves a lifetime contract. And that’s not an anti-Auburn sentiment, I don’t believe Nick Saban, or Calipari, or Coach K or anyone else deserves a lifetime contract. I have always believed that every contract should have key performance indicators that are either met and then rewarded, or not met and then acted upon. I’m sure this isn’t a new concept, but it seems like it should be put forth in all of sports (both players and coaches, but in the NCAA obviously just coaches).
We’ll call it the Lunceford KPI Contract Model.
How does it work? Glad you asked…
Essentially, a coach will be given a list of goals to hit – key performance indicators that the coach is doing their job well. These can include such things as: wins, postseason appearances, recruiting or any other options that measure success. There would also have to be potential outs for coaches/schools to be fairly judged such as injuries, infractions and other outside interference.
With these KPI’s, each coach would then understand where they stand with a school. Based on how it is set up, it could also nearly guarantee themselves a lifetime contract as long as they remain successful. We’ll use Bruce Pearl as an example. Let’s imagine he was given this fake contract when he was hired at Auburn: 3-years, $2 million per year.
His KPI’s within those three years could be:
1. Improve in overall record from year one to year three
2. Have a winning SEC record at least once
3. Have a winning overall record at least once
4. Make the NCAA tournament at least once
5. Finish with a top 10 recruiting class at least once
6. Average a top 20 recruiting class in those three years
Those are six key performance indicators that will measure his success. Then, his contract will lay out the terms of his success or lack of success and how it will affect his future employment:
KPI++ (at least 5 hit) – Guaranteed minimum 2-year extension, with a minimum 10% salary increase
KPI+ (at least 3 hit) – Guaranteed minimum 1-year extension, with a minimum 5% salary increase
KPI0 (only 2 hit) – Probationary extension with no salary increase
KPI- (only 1 hit) – Extension only at the athletic director’s discretion, potential salary decrease
KPI– (none hit) – Terminated
There can also be additional performance bonuses that can help add to the total, such as: winning the conference tournament, winning the NIT, defeating certain rivals or other major teams on the schedule.
Let’s look at Bruce Pearl’s first three years:
2014-15: 15-20 (4-14)
2015-16: 11-20 (5-13)
2016-17: 18-14 (7-11)
His KPI’s off that resume:
1. Achieved (15 to 18)
3. Achieved (2016-17 went 18-14)
5. Failed (finished 36, 16, 12)
6. Failed (avg 21.3)
So based off those numbers, Pearl would be given a probationary extension with no salary increase. During this probationary year, Pearl would still be head coach, but would be coaching for his contract, essentially making it a contract year where certain KPI’s need to be met. The KPI’s would shift from year 1 to 3 and instead be year 3 to 4.
In 2017-18, Pearl led Auburn to one of their best seasons ever, going 26-8 (13-5) and won the SEC regular season championship. So his KPI’s from year three to four are:
1. Achieved (18 to 26)
2. Achieved (13-5)
3. Achieved (26-8)
4. Achieved (Made it to the round of 32)
5. Failed (finished #22 in recuiting)
6. Failed (average went down slightly)
So he hit four KPI’s, and his regular season championship could have potentially been an additional KPI point. With all of that, he would get at least a 1-year extension of a minimum 5% salary increase. There also has to be maximums put in place to avoid the overreaction factor. An athletic director shouldn’t say “ok you hit X amount of KPI’s, so here is a 10-year extension with a 50% salary increase” because then you get caught in the same trap as before.
This season, he blew the doors off when he made the Final Four. That would be another potential extra KPI that he could use to leverage himself into the KPI++ range to get a longer extension and a bigger salary increase. The KPI’s would also change because he isn’t building a program anymore, he’s simply trying to improve on major success.
If you take a coach like Nick Saban who has made the college football playoff as one of the top 4 teams in the country every year for the last five seasons, then the KPI’s would be almost as high as they could go and he would still most likely exceed them many times.
However, locking someone in to a life time contract could potentially take the fire out of their job. When people are constantly having to perform to earn their way, it keeps them motivated. We always talk about players going into contract years and how that means they will play with that extra little bit of energy. Coaches should be the same way.
If you’re good, you’re going to keep being rewarded. If you’re not good, then fans don’t need to worry about being locked into a giant contract that in hindsight was clearly a mistake.