University of Hawaii coach's $1.1M salary raising grumbles
By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer
If University of Hawai'i football coach Greg McMackin had a dollar for every time someone has questioned whether he should be the state's highest-paid employee, he might be making more than the $1,100,004 annually listed in his contract.
"When the economy goes south, coaching salaries are easy targets," noted his boss, University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood, whose contracted salary was $475,000 before she took a 10 percent pay cut.
"I see no positive result for just bashing one person over the salaries for all of athletics," said Kapi'olani Community College professor Harry Davis IV, a member of the All-Campus Council of Faculty Senate Chairs, who questions more broadly the priorities placed on athletics by the community and media as well as the university.
But if you are the coach of a 3-6 team when unemployment is high, the state is cutting back on education, the university and its faculty are at odds over a new contract and you are earning 12 times what the average full professor on campus makes, it can be the perfect storm.
McMackin, in the second year of a five-year contract, has an agreement worth $1,138,504 this year that ranks him 52nd among 120 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams, according to a USA Today survey of major college football teams that was released this week. All but $38,500 is salary, according to the listing.
McMackin was to forfeit approximately $169,000 of his salary as part of an agreed-upon punishment for offensive remarks against homosexuals he made in August at the Western Athletic Conference Football Media Review in Salt Lake City.
HIGHEST PAY IN WAC
The average head coach's pay is $1.36 million, with at least 25 coaches being paid $2 million or more, according to the USA Today survey. McMackin is the highest-paid coach in the Western Athletic Conference.
Defending WAC champion Boise State's Chris Petersen, who is listed at $1,123,150, ranks second to McMackin in the nine-member conference.
They are the only two head coaches in the WAC guaranteed more than $1 million this season. Fresno State's Pat Hill is to receive $963,506 but the Fresno Bee has reported he can make $1.2 million with bonuses.
Murray Sperber, professor emeritus at Indiana University and author of several books critical of the growth of college athletics, said what a college pays its football coach is where it sets it priorities.
"At a time when the university (of Hawai'i) is cutting employees and shrinking academic departments and functions, its pay of an ever-increasing amount to its head football coach clearly signals that it values entertaining football above academics," he said. "That's a sad state of affairs."
Davis said the media share the blame.
"Look at (The Advertiser) — how much sports coverage do you have compared to education?" he said. "The same goes for TV news. Education only gets coverage when it suffers furlough days. I wonder how many of your readers even know the difference between academics and sports. They think football, not science."
More than 80 percent of the presidents at the 120 major football schools agree that athletic department spending cannot be sustained nationally and a collective response is required on the so-called athletic "arms race" that has seen some salaries for football coaches top $4 million annually, according to a study by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
"Nationally, I think, somewhere it has to come to a screeching halt," said Karl Benson, WAC commissioner.
McMackin agreed to his contract in January 2008, reaping the benefits of UH's magical 12-1 Sugar Bowl season, then-head coach June Jones' sudden departure for Southern Methodist, public pressure for a quick hiring and a leadership change at UH.
McMackin was the defensive coordinator under Jones in 1999 when the Warriors made the largest turnaround in NCAA history, going from the 0-12 season of predecessor Fred vonAppen to 9-4 and the Oahu Bowl. McMackin, who left in 2000 to attempt a path that would get him closer to a head coaching job, returned in 2007 after stops at Texas Tech and the NFL.
Initially, when Jones announced his departure on Jan. 5, 2008, four days after the Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia, McMackin was headed to Dallas with him as defensive coordinator.
It was a time of turmoil at Mänoa, where then-athletic director Herman Frazier was bought out of his contract for $312,510 for having failed to renew Jones' contract or entice him to stay. UH President David McClain had previously announced he would leave in 2009 and Mänoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw had been on the job less than a year.
Jones, who earned $800,016 at UH, was to receive a package worth nearly $2 million per season with the Mustangs, and McMackin was to more than double his $110,000 UH salary and return to Texas, where he had a home and family.
But after UH assistant coaches and players pressed him to stay in Mänoa and, hopefully, keep the Warriors from losing the momentum the program had built up, McMackin made himself a candidate, with the full backing of the players.
"Coach Mac is the best man for the job," All-WAC linebacker Solomon Elimimian, a senior-to-be, said at the time. "He has everybody's respect on the team, along with the coaching staff. He knows about the culture of Hawai'i. He knows about us as people. I've talked to a lot of guys on the team, and he's their choice. Coach Mac will bring us together."
"It was clear to those of us involved that such an agreement was required to ensure that he stayed at UH-Mänoa," Hinshaw said in a recent e-mail. "Many considerations go into an individual's decision about a position and all are different but coach McMackin had many good reasons to move at that time."
Hinshaw and interim athletic director Carl Clapp headed the selection committee for a new coach under the pressure of a fast-closing recruiting period for high school players and amid public outcry for urgency.
McMackin was hired Jan. 15, two weeks before the end of the recruiting contact period and less than three weeks before national letter of intent day.
McMackin's representatives reportedly insisted upon the same terms — $1.1 million — UH initially offered to Jones. UH reportedly went as high as $1.5 million in an 11th-hour bid to keep Jones.
McMackin's hiring was widely praised though the terms of the deal, a five-year contract some have described as "ironclad," and the hefty base salary immediately raised eyebrows at an athletic department that was running an accumulated deficit of upward of $5 million.
J.N. Musto, executive director of the UH Professional Assembly, the faculty union, said he supported McMackin's hiring because he believed the coach looked out for his players, but said, "I suspect — and it is my personal opinion — that (UH) could have fairly compensated Coach Mac at less than they agreed to at a term of less than five years."
A better solution, some at UH peer institutions have said, would have been a $500,000 to $700,000 base salary with incentives pegged to attendance, ticket sales, pay-per-view sales, record and postseason appearances. As UH made money, the coach would benefit.
At UH, football is often said to be the engine that pulls the 19-sport train that is the state's only major college athletic department.
In the past fiscal year, UH credited football with bringing in $10,556,500 to the department through ticket sales, media rights, sponsorships, donations and other sources, officials said. That accounted for approximately 37 percent of the department's revenue. Its $3,169,000 profit helps underwrite six to eight sports that don't bring in revenue.
UH coaching salaries, which had lagged to the mid to lower half of the WAC for many years, were targeted for raises under former UH President Evan Dobelle's administration. His announced philosophy was to reach at least the 50th percentile nationally. In the wake of Jones' departure and suggestions UH needed to be more competitive, the school raised football salaries across the board.
Athletic director Jim Donovan, who was hired nearly two months after McMackin's elevation, said he has largely focused on "incentivized" contracts in his hires and contract extensions. "My personal philosophy, as we go forward, has been to see that coaches (be given) a fair base salary with incentives tied to performance, etc."
The exception, he said, has been Hall of Fame Rainbow Wahine volleyball coach Dave Shoji, who is believed to make upward of $175,000 per year. "Dave is a rare case; a proven coach over decades who has shown the ability to run a good program, graduate his players and draw fans," Donovan said.
UH's Greenwood, in an exchange on The Advertiser's Hot Seat blog, said McMackin's contract "was negotiated before I came here, and that said, the coaching staff and the team have my support. And remember, as I understand it, June Jones went from a 9-4 season in 1999 to a 3-9 record the next year. So not all coaches have good years every year."
The issue, Musto said, "is can we afford it? If it is a public enterprise, it is a simple question. There is no free lunch."