John Adams: SEC schools not afraid to spend to win

John Adams

The SEC spring meetings don't start until Tuesday in Destin, Fla. But I know how they will end.

They will end with SEC commissioner Mike Slive announcing the conference made a lot of money this year. It's as predictable as the outcome of the Tennessee-Kentucky football game.

Last year, the league sent $17 million each school's way. Most of that was derived from the conference's lucrative TV deals, whose value can be measured in exposure as well as dollars.

Both the revenue and exposure are paying off.

The conference receives most acclaim for having won five consecutive national championships in football. But the widespread success of its rank-and-file members is another indicator of the league's prosperity.

In a football-dominated conference, the SEC's top schools are generally regarded as Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee. But you can't ignore what's going on with the other six schools, most of whom are making significant inroads and demonstrating a willingness to spend money.

Arkansas is the best example.

The Razorbacks have never won an SEC championship in football, and no one confuses their basketball program with the one Nolan Richardson built in the 1990s. But they're obviously not satisfied with their SEC status or they wouldn't have upped football coach Bobby Petrino's salary to more than $3.5 million a year and extended his contract to seven years after he led the Hogs to the Sugar Bowl in 2010. Nor would they have sent basketball coach John Pelphrey on his way and hired Mike Anderson away from Missouri for $2.2 million a year.

Arkansas already has some of the best athletic facilities in the country, and a state-of-the-art football center is scheduled for completion in 2013.

South Carolina, which, like Arkansas, didn't join the SEC until 1992, is also flexing newfound muscles. It won the national championship in baseball and the SEC East in football last year. Both were school firsts.

Such success is being rewarded. Baseball coach Ray Tanner now has an incentive-enhanced contract that could pay him as much as $750,000, and South Carolina increased the salary of football coach Steve Spurrier to $2.55 million annually.

If the Gamecocks are willing to pay for winners, they're also apt to pay basketball coach Darrin Horn to leave if his fourth season isn't any better than his last two.

Nobody pays a college basketball coach more than Kentucky, which gives John Calipari about $4 million a year. And look for him to get a raise if the Wildcats win the national championship in 2012.

Kentucky football doesn't travel in those kind of circles. But it's not mired in the past, either. The Wildcats have played in a school-record five consecutive bowl games.

Mississippi State is doing even better. The Bulldogs finished 15th nationally last season, their highest ranking since 1999, and promptly more than doubled the salary of second-year coach Dan Mullen to $2.65 million a year.

Vanderbilt isn't winning in football but it's not losing happily. Otherwise, it would have stuck with coach Robbie Caldwell, who won only two games as a rush-order replacement for Bobby Johnson last year.

The Commodores are doing famously elsewhere. Their baseball program is ranked in the top five nationally, and their next basketball team should pop up in preseason top 10s.

Ole Miss finished last in the SEC West last season in football and is apt to do so again this fall. But at least, it's not losing cheap (coach Houston Nutt makes about $2.8 million a year).

And it still has The Grove.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 11

voloffaith writes:

We spend big to....sadly alot of it is to prior coaches who have lost the glow they had or never attained it in the tenure on the Hill.

vols2#227315 writes:

Shame UT would could not spend the money to get real coaches for football, baseball, and basketball(since firing Pearl which was a bad choice). then UT could stay on top. Hamilton wants the three main programs to fail for some reasons; but nobody will fire him.

North writes:

One has to wonder why Hamilton is allowed to continue hiring these unproven no name coaches. And don't try to tell me how great of a guy Dooley or Martin is. Being a nice guy doesn't win championships!!!!!

TommyJack writes:

in response to North:

One has to wonder why Hamilton is allowed to continue hiring these unproven no name coaches. And don't try to tell me how great of a guy Dooley or Martin is. Being a nice guy doesn't win championships!!!!!

Hey North. You see any polyps up there?

givehim6 writes:

Don't forget Auburn paid good $$$$ for a top QB last year.

crimsonviper writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Hey North. You see any polyps up there?

I bwahahahaed out loud...Thanks.

murrayvol writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Hey North. You see any polyps up there?

Tremendous! :{)

CoverOrange writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Hey North. You see any polyps up there?

Text book tactical response. Bravo.

Huttdawg100 writes:

I don't think Hamilton goes cheap on UT Baseball this time. I'm hearing that Serrano will be the next baseball coach, and I fully expect the ship to turn around big time.

It's clear that Hamilton was backed into a corner with the last two hires. You've got looming NCAA sanctions in basketball and football. You've got Kiffin leaving in the middle of the night. You've got Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson leaving for the NBA. It's going to be difficult to find coaches in situations like that, no matter how much money you throw around. I'm not a Hamilton supporter, and I still don't think Hamilton survives NCAA sanctions, but when you look at the problems he was up against with the Dooley/ C. Martin hires, you can why those searches were so difficult. It looks like we went cheap, but those were the cards we were dealt.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Huttdawg100:

I don't think Hamilton goes cheap on UT Baseball this time. I'm hearing that Serrano will be the next baseball coach, and I fully expect the ship to turn around big time.

It's clear that Hamilton was backed into a corner with the last two hires. You've got looming NCAA sanctions in basketball and football. You've got Kiffin leaving in the middle of the night. You've got Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson leaving for the NBA. It's going to be difficult to find coaches in situations like that, no matter how much money you throw around. I'm not a Hamilton supporter, and I still don't think Hamilton survives NCAA sanctions, but when you look at the problems he was up against with the Dooley/ C. Martin hires, you can why those searches were so difficult. It looks like we went cheap, but those were the cards we were dealt.

Don't be deceived by the trolls and haters who disparage the hiring of CDD and CCM. Except for such pests, response to both of those hires was quite positive all across the world of sports. Just about the only valid criticism of either was that they had no proven success at the SEC level, but both were and are widely felt to have all the necessary qualities to be successful here. It may take them a few years to be champions here, but there is no guarantee that any other much more expensive "big names" could do it any faster.

The fact is that nearly every coaching hire anywhere is something of a gamble. Who really KNEW in advance that Rich Rodriguez would fail so spectacularly at Michigan? There are countless other less well-known examples. So far at least, it seems to me that CDD and CCM are well-suited for UT. Both are high-character guys with respect for our athletic tradition and community. Neither seems pretentious or arrogant. Both seem to recognize the opportunity to make history in highly-visible positions. They have ample facilities, resources, and fan support. I'm willing to take our chances with both.

shipperman#280095 writes:

in response to vols2#227315:

Shame UT would could not spend the money to get real coaches for football, baseball, and basketball(since firing Pearl which was a bad choice). then UT could stay on top. Hamilton wants the three main programs to fail for some reasons; but nobody will fire him.

Please share with us how firing Bruce Pearl was a bad choice. He has us in the NCAA doghouse. And Hamilton did not choose to fire him, it was far above him.

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