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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 31, 2007

New hand will force UH to raise

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

When Riley Wallace coaches his last men's basketball game for the University of Hawai'i in March more than just the name on the office door will change with him.

Gone, too, will be the days of the bargain basement basketball coach at UH.

Even at his current salary of $275,000 which has risen nearly $100,000 in the last six years Wallace has been a steal by current salary standards. A recent industry study lists the average total salary in Division I-A at $675,000, with a high of more than $2 million.

The average total among the nine Western Athletic Conference members was listed at more than $300,000. Apparently, Nevada's Mark Fox and Fresno State's Steve Clevelend, who are both reported in the $500,000 neighborhood, topped the list followed closely by Utah State's Stew Morrill and New Mexico State's Reggie Theus, although given the vagaries of individual deals it can sometimes be like comparing apples and oranges.

Still, they are interesting benchmarks to keep in mind as athletic director Herman Frazier goes looking for Wallace's successor and sets about building a compensation package for whoever follows in the footsteps of its winningest men's basketball coach.

Initially, at last month's press conference, Frazier said UH would offer a package "competitive" within the WAC. Through a spokesman, Frazier has since said he hasn't decided on a salary range for a position that has yet to be advertised and that there will be flexibility to accommodate what it takes to deliver "the right coach." But associates said Frazier told them that he'll probably be working in the $400,000 ballpark.

That's an exclusive neighborhood for UH, currently inhabited or surpassed only by football coach June Jones. Jones' $800,016 deal is Manoa's most lucrative, though the school said half is paid by unnamed donors. Frazier has so far refused to say whether he will solicit donations to assist in underwriting a portion of the basketball coach's package.

While coaching salaries have soared dramatically astronomically so in football where Alabama's Nick Saban pulls down $4 million Wallace's 20-year tenure at UH has largely spared the school the cost of playing catch-up in the booming hoops marketplace. Wallace, who said he earned $55,000 in his first contract, has been happy here for the most part and the school has been glad to have him. Only in the past five years has Wallace used the services of an agent.

Now, UH is about to find out the price of poker in the game everybody else has been playing. "They've had it pretty good with Riley," said George Nessman, San Jose State's coach.

Indeed, Wallace said, "When I talk with other coaches, they say they can't believe what we're paying here. One coach, who is making over a million, asked me what I was getting and then said, '..and you're working for that?' "

Well, yes, but you can bet his successor, whoever it might be, won't.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.