OMAHA — Virginia baseball coach Brian O’Connor and the school have had preliminary discussions about a contract extension and a deal likely will be completed at some point this summer, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.
O’Connor just led the Cavaliers to their second appearance in the College World Series in the past three seasons. The 2011 Virginia squad finished with a 56-12 record, which marks the most wins in a single season in program history, and was eliminated Friday by South Carolina in a 13-inning loss. The Cavaliers have re-set the program’s single season win record five times since O’Connor’s first campaign in 2004.
O’Connor’s current contract — which last was amended in 2009 — runs through July 6, 2014 and pays him $240,000 in guaranteed annual compensation. The university also annually pays O’Connor undisclosed income received from its contract with the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company.
Under the terms of his contract as it currently stands, O’Connor, 40, will be paid a one-time longevity bonus of $225,000 on June 22, 2012. Should O’Connor and the university agree on a contract extension, his eligibility for a longevity bonus may be adjusted.
When reached by phone Saturday morning, O’Connor declined to comment about his contract status. When asked via text message Saturday morning whether preliminary discussions with O’Connor on a contract extension had been had, Virginia Athletic Director Craig Littlepage responded: “Our season ended less than 12 hrs ago. Your question is inappropriate.”
While it is unclear how O’Connor’s compensation compares to that of his ACC baseball coaching brethren, it falls near the bottom when matched up against the guaranteed income of coaches in the Southeastern Conference, which is widely considered the premier conference in college baseball.
According to a May 2010 report in the Birmingham News, at least five SEC baseball coaches make $500,000 or more in guaranteed annual pay. At least 11 SEC baseball coaches make $225,000 or more per year. Vanderbilt, the SEC’s lone private institution, did not provide the Birmingham News with contract information on its baseball coach.
Louisiana State pays Coach Paul Mainieri $625,000 per year. The Tigers won the national title in 2009 and have made three College World Series appearances since 2004. Mississippi — which has not played in the College World Series since 1972 — pays Coach Mike Bianco $580,000 per year.
Under the terms of O’Connor’s current contract, he is eligible to earn a maximum of $56,666.67 in annual incentives. If all bonuses were met, O’Connor would make just less than $300,000 per year.
The Washington Post obtained a copy of O’Connor’s contract — as well as those of his top two assistants, hitting coach Kevin McMullan and pitching coach Karl Kuhn — via a Freedom of Information Act request. McMullan and Kuhn joined the Virginia staff as assistants the same year O’Connor was brought on board.
Keeping Virginia’s coaching staff intact has been a crucial component of the program’s recent rise to national prominence. In a recent interview, Kuhn called the staff continuity “the sole reason” for the Cavaliers’ continued success under O’Connor.
School officials have recognized as much, choosing repeatedly to upgrade the annual compensations paid to McMullan and Kuhn in an effort to keep them in Charlottesville. Other schools have pursued both assistants in recent years.
Kuhn signed a one-year contract June 7 that will pay him $95,000 in guaranteed compensation, which is an increase of $24,700 from what he made this past year.
Eight days later, McMullan signed a one-year contract that will pay him $135,100. That marks a $20,000 raise from what he made in 2010-11.
“The administration has been great,” Kuhn said. “The administration has done everything they could for our families, and they make you feel wanted, and they make you feel needed. Our head coach does that. Our head coach makes you feel wanted and needed every day. I feel like I work with Coach O’Connor, not for him. The buck obviously stops with him, but it’s a great collaboration.
“So there’s really nowhere to go until you get that dream opportunity like Coach O’Connor had when he got to come to Virginia. The thought never crosses my mind to go anywhere else and be a pitching coach.”
Under Kuhn’s guidance, Virginia has posted the lowest earned run average in the nation over the past eight seasons. The Cavaliers led the country with a 2.24 ERA in 2011.
McMullan, who was named the national assistant coach of the year in 2009, has overseen a Virginia offense that led the ACC in batting in 2009 and 2010 and ranked second this past season. The Cavaliers also ranked in the top 10 in the nation in hits and runs in 2011.
McMullan also serves as Virginia’s recruiting coordinator and has played a large role in adding considerable depth to the Cavaliers’ roster in recent years.
He said in a recent interview that when he speaks with prospective high school recruits who also stand to draw significant interest from major league teams, he tells them that while Virginia would be a good fit for them, they should consider any “life-altering” professional offers that come their way.
So when recruits ask McMullan about his job prospects at other schools, he answers them with a similar message.
“Hey, if there’s life-altering opportunities then I have to consider it,” McMullan said. “Right now, I’m committed to this cause. This place has been so loyal to us as a staff that it’s tough to pull you away unless it’s life-altering.”
Thus far, no such opportunities have come along, which bodes well for the steady rise of a program that little more than a decade ago was on the verge of being cut or demoted to club status.
“I think [McMullan and Kuhn] kind of realized that what they have there is a good thing,” said Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who played at Virginia from 2003 to ’05. “So if it’s a good situation, you know, obviously the school has to continue to realize how valuable they are.
“And obviously, if they’re turning down coaching jobs on other ends, [Virginia is] going to have to compensate them a little bit better each year, which obviously it’s been proven that it’s worth it every year. So it’s kind of cool to see that and kind of cool that the school realizes that and allows them to stay there.”