Price of success: Iowa football, basketball coaches earn $5M-plus in bonuses, pay raises
The University of Iowa’s year of success in its big-ticket sports came with a cost.
The athletics department will end up paying out more than $2.2 million in performance bonuses to coaches after the football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball teams experienced impressive, collective success.
Throw in more than $2.8 million in raises achieved by the contract terms of all three head coaches, and the price tag tops $5 million.
Iowa athletics director Gary Barta told the Register that those staggering numbers are mostly accounted for in current and future budgets.
“We do create a pretty strong bonus budget, anticipating a lot of those successes to occur,” Barta said. “So, it’s not like we have to find all new (money). We may have to come up with a little more, though, just because of some really great success. Which is a great problem to have.”
Only four FBS programs nationally won a football bowl game and won an NCAA Tournament game in men’s and women’s basketball: Baylor, Kentucky, Oregon — and Iowa.
So, the Hawkeyes’ athletics department finds itself in unique company.
A more detailed look at the numbers is attached to this story. But let’s quickly examine some of the big-picture achievements and resulting contract payouts that happened.
Kirk Ferentz, under the terms of a contract extension he signed in September 2016, pocketed $825,000 in performance bonuses for Iowa’s Outback Bowl-winning season. For the year, his total pay reached $5.525 million, the highest of his 20-year tenure.
Additionally, Ferentz increased his fired-without-cause buyout by $2.275 million (to a total of $19.8 million for the final seven years of his contract, which expires Jan. 31, 2026) once the Hawkeyes beat Illinois on Nov. 17. That seventh win converted his 2023 buyout amount from half of his base plus supplemental pay to 100%.
But Iowa’s 9-4 football season really paid off for the Hawkeye assistants. Under the terms of Ferentz’s deal, his entire football staff — from strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle to the equipment manager to secretaries — will share more than $1 million in bonus pay.
A big budget bite comes from the Hawkeyes playing in a bowl game with a $3 million-plus payout — which triggered a bonus pool of $814,000 (1.75 months' salary) to be distributed to the 10 on-field assistants, two strength coaches and the director of operations.
Meanwhile, women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder topped $1 million in total pay after a wildly successful season for the Megan Gustafson-led Hawkeyes.
The 19th-year Iowa coach collected $260,000 in performance bonuses, the final $25,000 coming into the fold with Saturday’s announcement that she was the Naismith National Coach of the Year. Iowa’s Big Ten Conference tournament win plus an NCAA Tournament berth each triggered a one-year contract rollover; a two-year extension that takes her deal through the 2024-25 season.
“I view (Bluder) very similar to the way I view Kirk in terms of longevity,” Barta said. “She doesn’t technically have a lifetime contract, but I anticipate — and I hope it works out — that she’ll end up retiring at Iowa.”
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Additionally, Iowa’s run to the Elite Eight was worth a 15% raise for Bluder — elevating her base pay to $653,531 next season, an $85,243 increase.
Barta said women’s basketball bonus pay was an area “that maybe wasn’t budgeted,” but it should be noted that Iowa had strong attendance figures that should help the bottom line. Iowa averaged 6,797 fans in its 17 home games, a 24.7% increase from last season.
In men’s basketball, Fran McCaffery’s total contract value shot up by $2.15 million as a result of the Hawkeyes' 23-12 season.
The ninth-year Iowa coach will likely push $2.5 million in pay this season after his final bonuses are calculated. But under the terms of a contract extension he signed in November 2017, the Hawkeyes’ qualification for the NCAA Tournament triggered a new pay schedule over the life of McCaffery’s contract that begins with a $400,000 raise next season, rather than the scheduled $50,000 bump.
Overall, the dollar figures are substantial. But so is Iowa athletics' annual operating revenue, which was $137.1 million during the 2017-18 school year, according to the school's January filings with the NCAA. Iowa ranked No. 18 nationally in USA TODAY Sports’ most recent database for the 2016-17 school year, with $130.7 million in revenue, but that was before an eight-figure annual boost in media-rights distributions that will help Iowa absorb the additional bonuses and pay raises.
One last thing: If these bonuses and raises hadn’t been achieved, we might be talking about the university trying to find millions of dollars in its athletics budget for a coaching buyout instead. McCaffery’s, for example, would have been $9 million had Barta chosen to fire him without cause.
In that sense, Barta said, many different outcomes are planned for and (mostly) accounted for.
“We expected some of these successes,” Barta said. “If they wouldn’t have occurred, we would have invested some of that money elsewhere.
“But looking back, it’s been a heck of a year. Football wins a bowl game and wins nine games. Men’s and women’s basketball — Lisa had incredible success; Fran brought us back to the tournament and was a breath away from the Sweet 16.”
What the Hawkeyes' success means for coaching pay
The Register's Chad Leistikow, in conjunction with USA TODAY's Steve Berkowitz, took a closer look at the current-year bonuses and future obligations for the Iowa athletics department.
Kirk Ferentz, football
Ferentz's contract is unusual, in that his head-coaching contract folds in assistant-coach/staff bonus money and annual pay raises based on performance and are doled out at his discretion, with athletic director approval. Those numbers are included here, as well.
$825,000 in bonuses
- $125,000, final top-25 ranking
- $100,000, bowl berth
- $500,000, eight wins or more (9-4)
- $100,000, academic incentive (80% GSR).
$1,024,000 in bonus pay for assistant coaches/staff
- $814,000 for reaching a bowl game with a $3 million-plus payout (Outback Bowl), equivalent to 1.75 months' salary
- $85,000 for a top-25 final ranking; and $125,000 for other staff members for reaching seven wins and bowl participation.
- $549,500 in assistant-coach pay raises — A 10% increase was achieved by a top-25 ranking and GSR minimum (67.5%) for the 10 on-field assistant coaches plus the top two strength and conditioning coaches and director of football operations. That takes Iowa's salary pool for those roles in 2019-20 up to $6,044,500.
$5,525,000 in total pay for Ferentz alone in 2018-19
- $2,570,000 in base salary
- Four supplemental payments of $370,000 each
- $650,000 longevity bonus paid Jan. 31.
Lisa Bluder, women's basketball
$260,000 in bonuses
- $35,000, NCAA Tournament appearance
- $50,000, Sweet 16
- $50,000, Elite Eight
- $50,000, 65% win rate or better (29-7 record, 80.6%)
- $25,000, Big Ten Tournament title
- $25,000, academic incentives
- $25,000, national coach of the year (Naismith).
- 15% raise, two-year extension — By reaching the Elite Eight, Bluder's new base pay rises from $568,288 in the 2018-19 season to $653,531 for 2019-20. By reaching the NCAA Tournament and winning the Big Ten Tournament, her contract was automatically extended by two years through the 2024-25 season.
$1,093,288 total pay for 2018-19 season — Includes a $150,000 longevity bonus to be paid June 30 and $115,000 from shoes/apparel/camps.
Fran McCaffery, men's basketball
$105,000 in bonuses
- $30,000, NCAA Tournament bid
- $50,000, NCAA round of 32
- $25,000, 20 wins or better (23-12)
$2,150,000 in additional pay raises
- McCaffery's base pay goes up 17.4% next season by reaching the NCAA Tournament, instead of 2.2% if he had not.
Future guaranteed income (before bonuses):
- 2019-20, $2.7 million
- 2019-20, $2.8 million
- 2021-22, $2.9 million
- 2022-23, $3 million
- 2023-24, $3 million
$2,405,000 total pay for 2018-19 season*
- $1.4 million in base pay
- $900,000 as consideration for radio/TV, speaking appearances, apparel and camps.
- (*—Does not include up to $100,000 in academic incentives, to be determined this spring; McCaffery earned $75,000 in this category last year.)