As the elevator opens to the fourth floor of the Lawson Center, the lush offices of Tennessee athletics unfurl. Expansive windows peer out over the indoor field of UT’s pristine Football Training Center.
End of the hall, last door on the left, Dave Hart stands atop a custom Vols carpet. The Tennessee athletic director gets the corner office.
As the first Tennessee AD to preside over both the men’s and women’s athletic departments, Hart is accountable for overseeing department finances and staffing, steering plans for building and improving facilities, and, of course, winning.
That first caveat — finances and staffing — is complex.
Money is the keystone of collegiate athletics. Lavish offices and facilities have become the norm and coaches’ salaries continue to climb despite stormy financial times.
Hart calls himself, “a steward of our resources.”
Among those resources is a total of $20,860,006 in athletic department salaries to 195 employees, according to records obtained by the News Sentinel through a public records request in early June. Of that sum, $13.3 million goes directly to coaches and support staff.
Discussing the numbers on Thursday, Hart said he’s “comfortable” with his department’s salary expenditures and that Tennessee is “in line” with programs of its size and stature.
Tennessee’s cash cow — football — produces 90 percent of the department’s revenue and accounts for 44.1 percent of the base salaries among university coaches. An 11-man coaching staff and 10-man support staff comes with a $5.9 million price tag.
On the bottom, football’s lowest-paid assistants — cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley and safeties coach Josh Conklin — check in at $200,000 apiece, salaries larger than six head coaches in athletics, as well as the individual co-head coaches of softball and women’s tennis.
Those numbers are similar throughout the SEC. It’s the reality of big-time football.
“When you have one program representing that much of your revenue, as an entity, it is imperative that we do all we can collectively to recover in football,” said Hart, whose salary comes to $750,000.
If that’s the case, though, then is 44.1 percent enough? UT’s 11-man coaching staff combines to make $5,215,000 per year — just over $400,000 less than Alabama coach Nick Saban is due to earn next season.
Dooley ranks ninth in salary among SEC football coaches.
“It’s hard to draw a level of comparison based on where programs are from a success rate,” Hart said.
A similar dichotomy exists in men’s basketball as well. John Calipari, coach of national-champion Kentucky, made $5.4 million last season. The entire men’s and women’s basketball staffs at Tennessee will make $3.9 million next year — combined.
Asked if that vast gulf between UT’s coaches and the conference’s two premier coaches is a concern, Hart swiftly replied, “No.”
He drew parallels to former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, long the highest paid women’s coach in the SEC.
“Pat Summitt was worth every penny she made,” Hart said. “When you win eight national titles, come on back and we’ll meet again. I’ve never been hesitant for rewarding people for performance.”
Having stepped down to a head coach emeritus role, Summitt’s salary is now $354,375.
As a result of the nearly completed marriage of UT’s men’s and women’s athletic departments, 17 staff positions were eliminated in April. Fifteen of the jobs were department employees, while the remaining two were from the development office, but working in athletics. The names of the 15 in the athletic department were provided through an open records request and UT said there were no severance packages offered.
The combined base salaries of the 15 eliminated employees totaled $714,751 based on salary records. Seven were administrative support specialists earning under $40,000. Senior associate athletics director Desiree Reed-Francois boasted the highest salary at $111,211.
Though April’s press release announcing the “reorganization” championed a projected $2.5 million in savings, Hart said Thursday that the decision was based not on dollars, but on sense. Describing the staff reduction as “layoffs” or “cutbacks,” he said, is inaccurate.
“I think that’s a misnomer,” said Hart, who voiced concern over his department’s mere $14,000 surplus and $5 million reserve nest egg during April’s UT athletics board spring meeting. “I don’t have any cost-cutting goals. I don’t. We went through a right-sizing, which was a byproduct of combining separate programs. We had an inordinate number of people in a lot of duplication.”
Hart’s executive staff consists of seven associate athletic directors. Combined with his $750,000 salary, the Tennessee executive staff earns $1.9 million.
Former women’s athletic director Joan Cronan, who now serves the athletic department in a senior advisor role, receives $355,000.
Among coaches, men’s basketball’s Cuonzo Martin earns $1.3 million, second only to Dooley. Women’s basketball coach Holly Warlick makes $485,000, while baseball’s Dave Serrano pulls in $450,000.
In the 14-school SEC, Martin’s salary ranks 10th among men’s basketball coaches, while Warlick and Serrano are each sixth in their respective sports.
Outside of the football program, the highest paid assistant coach in the department is Kyra Elzy in women’s basketball. Hired on April 26, she’s ticketed to make $225,000.
UT accounts for the highest-paid SEC coaches in women’s tennis (Mike and Sonia Patrick, $112,882 each) and in Conference USA in rowing (Lisa Glenn, $109,725), and ranks among the top three in the SEC in softball, track and field, men’s tennis, swimming and diving, volleyball and soccer.
Every program in the department except men’s and women’s golf pays out more than $200,000 for its head and assistant coaches.
“Our Olympic coaches,” Hart said, “are pretty well compensated, for the most part.”
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn