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Big dollars on the line this season for ACC’s football coaches


For any of the football coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference, winning the league title surely would mean a great deal. Financially, it means the most to Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen.

Should he guide the Terrapins to an ACC title, Friedgen will earn a bonus of about $347,000 the most lucrative incentive clause of its kind for a coach at one of the league’s public schools, The Associated Press found in a review of ACC coaches’ contracts.

Across the nation’s most famous college basketball conference, the price of hiring and keeping a football coach has never been higher as the ACC tries to keep up with skyrocketing salaries nationwide.

Million-dollar-a-year coaches have become routine, especially in the ACC’s neighboring Southeastern Conference, where Nick Saban got $4 million a year from Alabama.

Now even in hoops country, football coaches are raking it in.

This past offseason, N.C. State gave coach Tom O’Brien a seven-year contract worth about $1.1 million annually to pry him away from conference rival Boston College. At North Carolina, Butch Davis got a seven-year deal worth an average of about $1.9 million a year on par with what Hall of Fame basketball coach Roy Williams makes.

“What happens in collegiate athletics is that there’s this arms escalation where one institution builds a facility at a certain size and the others have to do something similar to maintain the recruiting advantage,” said Peter Roby, director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University.

“They pay coaches certain amounts, and they fear other coaches on their staff may leave or they see somebody else being paid something more at another institution, and they feel compelled to have to meet it.”

Both Davis and O’Brien make more than their fired predecessors. At North Carolina, John Bunting’s base salary was $260,000, though his contract does not specify how much supplemental income he received. As part of his buyout agreement, he is being paid a total $780,000 in three equal payments made each July 1 through 2009.

Chuck Amato made $995,000 at N.C. State and will receive $1.155 million after the Wolfpack bought out his contract. He landed softly at Florida State, where he is coaching linebackers and making $200,000 as one of Bobby Bowden’s top assistants, an amount deducted from his N.C. State buyout.

“Fans are as critical as they are because coaches are making so much money and they expect them to win,” Bowden said. “I’m sure they’re not paying Saban ($4) million to come out second in the SEC. They’re paying him ($4) million to win the national championship.”

At roughly $2 million a season, Bowden and Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer also get national championship money. Both are believed to be the highest paid football coaches in the conference; officials at the ACC’s four private schools Duke, Wake Forest, Boston College and Miami declined to release details of their coaches’ salaries.

None of the contracts are simple.

At North Carolina, for example, the athletic department pays Davis a base salary of $286,000. That alone makes him one of the highest-paid employees at the university Williams’ base is $325,000, and he will make up to $1.8 million a year under the terms of an extension announced last spring.

Davis received a payment of $750,000 last Saturday coincidentally, the day of his ACC opener against Virginia, a 22-20 loss to the Cavaliers as part of a clause that provides him “a compensation package competitive with that provided to head football coaches at (North Carolina’s) peer institutions.” Another payment of $250,000 in December will push his supplemental income to $1 million, and by 2013, that amount grows to $1.3 million doled out in equal quarterly payments.

Davis shrugged off the suggestion those big dollars add any pressure to win at North Carolina, which last won a bowl game in 2001.

“That’s insignificant,” Davis said. “Nope, not at all.”

At N.C. State, O’Brien’s contract is packed with incentives. Along with $240,000 in base salary and $360,000 each year in supplemental income, O’Brien is eligible for another $750,000 in bonuses for performances on and off the field, such as bowl appearances and graduation rates.

“It wasn’t like this guy was going to ask for the moon, and if we didn’t give it he was going to walk away,” North Carolina State athletic director Lee Fowler said.

O’Brien also joins Virginia’s Al Groh as the two ACC coaches who receive a bonus for finishing the season ranked, with the payout for the N.C. State coach ranging from $200,000 for a top-five ranking to $50,000 for finishing between Nos. 16-20.

O’Brien votes in the coaches’ poll and insists he will neither stump for votes nor be tempted to boost his team’s ranking for a bigger check.

“If we deserve to be Top 25, we’ll be voted there,” O’Brien said.

For a few coaches, some defeats are more costly than others. A clause in Chan Gailey’s contract at Georgia Tech calls for his assistants to receive $5,000 apiece if the Yellow Jackets beat rival Georgia which they failed to do in 2006.

Maryland faced Wake Forest in last year’s regular-season finale, and a win would have earned the Terrapins a spot in the ACC title game and Friedgen a chance to collect a $330,750 bonus. But when the Demon Deacons won, Maryland dropped into a three-way tie for fourth place.

Friedgen still gets a bonus, with the amount determined by an intricate sliding scale all the way down to $23,152 if the Terps reach a bowl game and finish in a four-way tie for sixth place.

Last season he got $49,612.50. His assistants also earn bonuses on a similar sliding scale.

“The Wake Forest loss, our coaches lost a lot of money on that game we went from potentially first to (fourth),” Friedgen said. “That’s a big hit for them.”

–Associated Press

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