Ala. Coach's Salary Raises Questions

The Associated Press
Thursday, January 4, 2007; 6:33 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The $4 million-a-year salary offered to the University of Alabama's new football coach has some questioning the priorities in a poor state that often ranks near the bottom nationally for education.

Many Crimson Tide fans, hopeful for another championship title, cheered the hiring of Nick Saban who took a cut from his $4.5 million salary to leave the Miami Dolphins. His compensation at Alabama, though, makes him the highest paid college coach in the country, well ahead of Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, who makes about $3.4 million.

The reported salary is more than most CEOs make in a state that ranks 46th in the country in household income, with a median of $37,502. It also is nearly seven times what the university's president, Robert E. Witt, earns, according to an executive-compensation database compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The hiring announced Wednesday also came on the same day Education Week magazine released a study showing Alabama ranked 45th nationally in giving public schoolchildren a chance for success.

"You couldn't have a more stark picture of education priorities in the state of Alabama," said Jim Carnes, communications director for Alabama Arise, a coalition that represents the poor. "We put that kind of money into a college football coach and leave our younger children at the mercy of inadequate schools and underpaid teachers. We strongly need a priority adjustment."

University officials the coach's salary would be paid from the athletic department budget, which is supported by ticket sales and licensing agreements.

Deborah Lane, executive director of public relations at the university, said the program is "self-sustaining" and does not include taxpayer funds.

Athletic director Mal Moore said Saban, who won a national championship at LSU, was "a crucial hire for this program."

Finis St. John IV, chairman of the trustees' athletics committee, said the university president, Robert Witt, "thinks it's important for student recruitment, for donor giving and for the momentum that he's built trying to attract excellent students and make this the finest university he can."

Faculty senate president, chemistry professor John Vincent, also supported the university's decision.

"The money doesn't come out of the academic side of the university," he said. "Of course I would like to see these kinds of benefits available on the academic side, but this hiring offers much to the university."

But Cleo Thomas, a former member of the board of trustees at Alabama, said spending millions on a football coach makes the public cynical, particularly when politicians talk about raising taxes for education.

"How do you make the claim for more public funds, which are scarce, if there are surpluses that permit $4 million coaches salaries?" he asked.

State Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, chairman of a House committee that writes the education budget, agreed the lofty salary sends the wrong message. "I think we've let it get out of hand."

© 2007 The Associated Press