When Todd Grantham turned down the Cincinnati Bengals last month, it wasn’t surprising to learn that Florida had quietly given the UF defensive coordinator a hefty raise a month earlier.
The University Athletic Association — first under Jeremy Foley and now under Scott Stricklin — has been bold in rewarding its most successful coaches through the last two decades.
It’s why there are four UF coaches with 10-year contracts. And it’s a big reason why only two head coaches have left Florida in the last three decades for other college coaching jobs. (Women’s track coach Bev Kearney left for Texas in 1993 and basketball coach Lon Kruger for Illinois in 1996. Three other coaches left for professional jobs).
“You have to have great coaching,” said Foley, the athletic director emeritus who put together the four 10-year deals. “We were proactive with every coach I can think of.
“You don’t want coaches to feel unappreciated. You want to be the one who knocks on the door first.”
It’s a policy Stricklin has continued as the Florida AD, taking care of coaches who have proven themselves over the years.
And what AD wouldn’t be happy inheriting coaches such as Kevin O’Sullivan, Mike Holloway, Roland Thornqvist and Tim Walton? Stricklin signed off on some of those deals put together by Foley.
“Regardless of who came in as athletic director, Jeremy wanted to create some stability with coaches any AD would be excited to have,” Stricklin said.
Foley also put in place what he called “an aggressive bonus structure” and longevity clauses that pay bonuses for coaches who stay at UF.
By the end of this academic year, Florida will have paid $1,083,000 in retention bonuses if all of their head coaches stay on the job.
“That has two purposes,” Stricklin said. “Give them a carrot to stick around and also get the contract to a certain level.”
The retention pool doesn’t include the biggest retention bonus of them all: football coach Dan Mullen receives $12 million if he is let go.
“That was an outgrowth of when Dan and I worked together before (at Mississippi State),” Stricklin said. “His guarantee money was based on the number of years he had left in his contract so it always created this unnecessary urgency to get him extended.
“We said, ‘Let’s take a different approach. We want you here, you want to be here. We don’t anticipate ever letting you go, but for the sake of the contract we have to think about it. Let’s just put a flat fee in there and it doesn’t matter how many years are left on the contract.’”
The Sun obtained the contracts of all of the head coaches at Florida, including bonuses and perks. The numbers tell an obvious story — you win championships here and it pays off. In the cases of four coaches, you get the security that comes with 10-year deals.
That plan came about when Foley was negotiating with O’Sullivan to keep him from going to Texas in 2016.
“That contract was all done and I thought it would be good for stability to do the same thing for some of our other most successful coaches,” Foley said. “The head coaches at Florida know we’re going to take care of them. We think we have created an environment where coaches can thrive.”
The contracts reveal wide disparities in the salaries, which is not unusual for any school. The football coach is always going to make a lot more than the swimming coach.
“All of it is market based, look at what’s out there with other coaches,” Stricklin said. “You want things that make sense. We don’t have the highest paid coach in any sport, but they are all in the top three or four.”
The base salary is only a part of the contracts these coaches have signed. The bonus structure allows coaches to supplement their incomes depending on their levels of success. A national title brings a bonus of 30 percent of annual pay. If Holloway wins a national title in both men and women’s track and field, he would get 40 percent because he coaches both sports.
But go win an SEC Tournament? Nada.
“You want things to line up with expectations,” Stricklin said. “Coaches don’t get bonuses for winning SEC Tournament championships. The focus here has always been to win SEC Championships and NCAA Championships and reward for a certain distance you go in the NCAA Championships.”
For example, Mike White gets a 10 percent bonus of his $1.15 million base salary if his basketball team makes March Madness, 15 percent if it gets to the Sweet Sixteen or 25 percent for making the Final Four.
Coaches get dealer cars (sometimes two) for their use, some of them get access to the UAA planes and Mullen gets seats on the team plane for away games.
Florida over the years has used creative ways to structure the contracts. The UAA gets millions of dollars from Nike and IMG and uses that money boost coaches’ contracts.
“It’s just different buckets, how the money gets structured,” Stricklin said.
For example, O’Sullivan receives $340,000 for “equipment” which is basically money that came from Nike and $120,000 for “talent” which comes from IMG indirectly. Added to a $150,000 retention bonus he receives every year and the $4,000 academic bonus each coach receives as long as his athletes are in good standing in school, and O’Sullivan’s contract is over $1 million a year.