SportsPulse: Tom Schad discusses the findings within USA TODAY Sports’ analysis of college football assistant coaches compensation.
Amid the vast economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the Tennessee athletic department — like dozens of others across the country — approached its assistant football coaches this fall and asked if they would take temporary pay cuts.
Running backs coach Jay Graham and wide receivers coach Tee Martin agreed, with the latter describing it as “the right thing to do.”
The eight other full-time assistants declined.
“I am very grateful to all the athletic department employees and families that have taken a salary reduction and are showing support to our department during such a difficult time,” Tennessee athletics director Phillip Fulmer said in a statement at the time.
“Unfortunately, there were some contract employees who did not agree to a reduction for their own reasons.”
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Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt was not asked to take a pay cut after forgoing a raise provided in a contract extension. Two of his assistant coaches have taken cuts this season. (Photo: Randy Sartin/USA TODAY Sports)
Similar situations have unfolded in athletic departments across the upper echelon of college football. According to documents obtained by USA TODAY Sports as part of its annual analysis of assistant coaches’ compensation, there are at least 10 Power Five football programs in which one or more assistants took a pay cut, and one or more did not.
Those schools make up roughly 20% of public schools in the Power Five and span conference affiliations, from Cal to Florida State to Rutgers.
At Oklahoma State, for instance, nine of the 10 full-time coaches on Mike Gundy’s staff did not take a pay cut. And at Texas, three assistants’ salaries are not being reduced — while the others signed amendments stipulating that they will be repaid before their contracts expire.
USA TODAY Network reporters contacted administrators at three schools where at least one assistant coach is not taking a pay cut. An Oklahoma State spokesperson did not reply to a request for comment. Rutgers spokesperson Hasim Phillips declined comment.
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Meanwhile, at Tennessee, head coach Jeremy Pruitt — who was not asked to take a pay cut after forgoing a raise provided in a contract extension — said in November that assistant coach pay reductions were “a fluid situation.” But when asked last week if any of his assistants had reversed course and agreed to take a pay cut, he demurred.
“We’ve really been focused on what’s going on right now,” Pruitt said, “and we’ll focus on that when the season is over with.”
The school confirmed that Graham and Martin remain the only assistants who have accepted the pay cut.
All of Tennessee’s assistants have made a separate concession, however. They agreed to forgo bowl bonuses in the event the Volunteers (3-6) make a postseason appearance.
The school’s athletic department, which is facing a projected revenue shortfall of $40 million due to COVID-19, implemented a tiered pay-cut plan for employees making $50,000 or more, beginning on Nov. 1 and continuing through June 30. Spokesperson Tom Satkowiak said the cuts affected 155 at-will employees.
While athletic departments can unilaterally implement pay cuts for most of their workforce, some of their highest-paid employees — such as football coaches — are insulated by their contracts.
In most circumstances, the school must amend a coach’s contract to legally reduce their pay. And the coach has a right to refuse.
“I think people have a hard time wrapping their minds around, when you get to Division I basketball and football, it’s a completely different world,” said agent Bryan Blair, who represents Tennessee tight ends coach Joe Osovet, among other college coaches.
“Everything comes down to the contract. You don’t go messing with the contract unless we’re renegotiating the contract, in my opinion.”
At least one school has revised its contract language since the start of pandemic to allow for potential reductions.
Agreements between Texas A&M and its assistant football coaches, which were signed in October, included sections specifically titled “COVID-19 Provisions.” In addition to waiving incentive bonuses for a fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2021, the coaches acknowledge that the school may need to make additional financial cuts, and if that occurs, they agree to “negotiate in good faith to implement an appropriate salary reduction” and to “participate fully” in such negotiations within 14 days of the university providing notice of the need to negotiate.
Blair, meanwhile, said he did not advise Osovet on whether to accept Tennessee’s request for a pay cut. The tight ends coach is in the first year of a two-year contract and due to make $225,000 this year.
“It’s my place to give advice, but it’s not my place to tell (a client) he should take less money for really no reason,” Blair said.
“If I’m going to take less money now, it would be for something on the back end – maybe another year guaranteed on the contract. But there’s got to be some give and take. It’s never just give, no matter what the situation is.”
Contributing: Chris Iseman and Berry Tramel
Follow the reporters on Twitter @ByBerkowitz, @Tom_Schad and @btoppmeyer.
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