It was reported on Thursday that Justin Fuente and Memphis have agreed to a new 5-year contract worth 1.4m in 2015 (and increasing by 25k each season thereafter). Fuente’s buyout remains relatively small at 500k.
According to USA Today’s ranking of coaches salaries in 2014, Fuente’s new contract would make him approximately the 66th highest paid coach in the country. Of course, the 2014 list does not reflect recent hirings and firings, so the ranking is not exact. Nevertheless, Fuente’s 1.4m salary appears to make him the 4th highest paid coach in the American Conference behind Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville (2.2m), new SMU coach Chad Morris (reportedly 2m per year), and UCF’s George O’Leary (1.8m). He was previously the 8th highest paid coach in the American.
Though the current cycle of the coaching carousel is perhaps winding down (Pitt and Michigan are still open), this is not a contract that will prohibit Fuente from moving elsewhere at the right opportunity. That wasn’t the Memphis administration’s goal to begin with since such a contract is beyond their capacity to produce.
Fuente has been refreshingly up-front about his approach to other jobs, saying he will listen if there is a great opportunity, but he also values what he and his staff (and players) have built at Memphis. That philosophy is not going to change, so this contract extension was really designed to reward Fuente and his staff (there is also 150k being added to the assistant pool) for a job incredibly well done. The new contract may perhaps limit the types of jobs that would seem attractive to Fuente, but not by much.
The lowest compensated “Power 5” coaches generally make around 1.5m – 1.8m per year – so you probably won’t see Fuente consider places like Pitt (now open) should they show any interest. Former Pitt coach Paul Chryst earned 1.57m in 2014 before leaving this week for Wisconsin. Going to a place like Pitt, history and tradition aside, is now arguably a lateral move at least from a financial perspective. From an intangible perspective keep in mind that the last 2 Pitt coaches have left for other “P5” jobs.
On the other hand, should Michigan be lucky enough to pry Dan Mullen from Mississippi State – that (MSU) is the type of job Fuente would have a hard time turning down. Never mind the rigor of the SEC West. Money is actually printed in the SEC, where the lowest paid coach is Kentucky’s Mark Stoops at 2.7m. Mullen currently makes 3m. Vanderbilt does not report Derek Mason’s salary.
It’s somewhat surprising that Fuente’s name, even though it’s very hot, isn’t even hotter. It would be easy to make an argument that Fuente would have been a better fit at Nebraska than new head coach Mike Riley – who is 61 years old, coming off of a losing record at Oregon State, and has never lost less than 4 games in his entire career. Fuente just turned what was one of the worst programs in D1 in 2011 into a conference champion and potential 10 win team. One would have thought that his staff’s ability to win with equal or lesser talent, not to mention his Big XII pedigree, made him a perfect fit in Nebraska, where the challenge has always been trying to overcome the lack of a natural, fertile, recruiting area. Oh well, Memphis fans are grateful for the oversight.
The only factor possibly holding Fuente back at this point is his overall record still sits at 16-20. This should not scare anyone off given the state of the Memphis program he inherited, but it probably does. After all, winning the press conference is important and it is hard to get pumped for a guy with a losing record (see Dooley, Derek). Again, Memphis fans aren’t complaining. If Fuente stays another year however, the odds are great he’ll flip that number around in 2015 and be one of, if not the hottest coaching name this time next year.