As they unveiled a $185 million athletic building campaign Friday, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt and president Duane Nellis used the word “bold” to describe their plans for the department’s future.
Not to diminish Tech’s ambitions, which are admirable and show vision, but college athletic departments nationwide are building jillions of dollars worth of stuff all the time.
One thing they’re not doing much is giving out contracts longer than five years.
That’s why the really bold move Hocutt made Friday was awarding Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury a seven-year contract that will put him among the top 20 highest-paid coaches in the nation. Going seven years and more than $3 million a year on a fellow who’s been a head coach for 14 games, now that’s daring.
“I believe in what Kliff is doing,” Hocutt said Tuesday. “I’ve had the opportunity for a year and a half now to watch how he instills confidence in these young men and the type of program that he’s installing, and I believe in what he’s doing.
“At the same time, I believe in being as proactive as a situation will allow you to be. I believe this is the beginning of something that’s going to be a very special time here at Texas Tech University. When you find the fit and the passion and the love for the university like we have with our head football coach, we can do special things.”
In some ways, it’s reminiscent of 1990 when T. Jones gave Spike Dykes — coming off a 4-7 season, but 9-3 the year before — a 10-year contract. Average home attendance had jumped from 31,000-plus in 1987, Dykes’ first full year, to 43,000-plus in 1990.
Dykes’ fit and passion and love for the university were unquestioned.
So Jones gave his coach a rousing endorsement.
Now Hocutt’s done likewise with the longest contract for a Tech football coach since that one.
It’s worth noting that, as a player, Hocutt got in on the ground floor of Bill Snyder’s renaissance at Kansas State. Maybe he sees traits in his young coach that reminds him of his old one.
Kingsbury’s contract, which took effect Monday, totals $22.9 million through the 2020 season. Add in the $1.3 million that he’d already made this year, and we’re talking $24.2 million in a seven-year window. Of that, an enormous $17.1 million is guaranteed, meaning if Kingsbury’s teams don’t win big, Tech must dig deep to buy him out.
Kingsbury’s agent Erik Burkhardt is doing the work of an all-America left tackle in protecting him. The first deal he struck for Kingsbury was 89 percent guaranteed money, the latest about 75 percent — a ton of insurance compared to the 16 percent guaranteed money in Mike Leach’s last contract.
Kliff is going to get his, no matter what.
Hocutt is betting big that Tech gets equal value.
To some extent, it already has.
Tech’s set school records for season-ticket sales and for annual giving to the Red Raider Club while increasing donor membership by more than 3,000 accounts in the past year.
“So the coach Kingsbury effect,” Hocutt said, “has been significant for athletics.”
Hocutt’s also working with a bigger budget. You wonder if Tech could have done the same deal before the Big 12 TV contracts, signed two years ago, that provide about a $20 million annual infusion for each school.
With more money, though, comes higher expectations. In the years ahead, Tech will pay Kingsbury to at least contend for championships, if not win some.
Look at the context.
Jimbo Fisher, head coach of national champion Florida State, recently got a five-year deal through 2018 worth a reported $21 million. Gus Malzahn, who led Auburn into last year’s national title game, is signed for six years through 2019 for $26.85 million.
Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy signed an eight-year, $30.3 million contract in early 2012.
During his 21 months back in Lubbock, Kingsbury’s never spoken of coaching his alma mater as anything less than his dream job, which is why the length of the new contract raised some eyebrows.
Typically, five years tells players and recruits that a school backs its coach.
“I would say I’m very familiar with the market,” Hocutt said, “and I think five-year contracts seem to be the norm in the profession. However, no two situations are ever the same as well, so you hate to compare it to others out there, because we believe in what we’re doing, believe in the leadership we have in our football program, and we make the decisions that are in the best interests of Texas Tech University.”
No one knows what the next seven years will bring, except this: Kirby’s hitched his star — and a good portion of what will be his legacy — to Kliff.
Bold on the front end, hoping for brilliant down the road.
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