Benefit #37 of making the move to doing this full time. A thing can happen, and I can just sit down and write about it. Today's thing: Brad Underwood (and all of his assistants) getting extended - Underwood through 2026, assistants through 2022.
My initial reaction is one of "the world of college athletics is rather insane". Underwood needs to win both games this week just to get to .500 in his three years in Champaign. Currently he's 46-48. And the fact that 46-48 can earn you somewhere around $20 million dollars, well, that's rather crazy. I get it - he tore everything down (which is why he was 12-21 last year), and now it's building back up very quickly (we're a lock for the Tournament and have a top-15 recruiting class on the way), and as an Athletic Director, you have to act on that or risk doing what Oklahoma State did with Underwood. So don't get me wrong: good decision.
But it's still rather insane, right? Say we go 1-1 this week, 1-1 in the Big Ten Tournament, and 1-1 in the NCAA Tournament. That means he'd have 49 wins in three seasons, and for that he receives... a massive contract extension that runs through 2026. I just don't see how this current coaching salary explosion is sustainable.
Let's back up and go through the details listed in the press release. Here's the paragraph with the details:
Underwood's new contract moves his base salary to $3.4 million, which ranks in the upper quartile of the Big Ten Conference and in the Autonomy Five conferences. He will receive annual increases that will grow his salary to $4.0 million for the 2025-26 season, the last year of the extension. Underwood is also in line to earn a new $750,000 retention bonus if he concludes the contract's new term as the Illinois head coach. If Underwood were to accept a coaching position elsewhere, he would owe the university an $8 million buyout, which will decrease each year of the agreement. The contract also allows for a series of subsequent extensions each time the team reaches the NCAA Tournament from 2022 to 2025, with the potential to extend the agreement through 2030.
So $3.4 million in 2021 with annual increases moving it to $4 million in 2026. If it's the same increase every year that's something like:
2021: $3.4 million
2022: $3.52 million
2023: $3.64 million
2024: $3.76 million
2025: $3.88 million
2026: $4 million
So that's $22.2 million dollars over the length of the deal plus a retention bonus plus other incentives that could add years to the deal all the way out to 2030. I will be 57 years old in 2030 and worrying about the location of my teeth. Man, the 20's better belong to the Illini.
I need to say it once more and then I'll move on: $22.2 million dollars - million - for one 7-seed season. I get it, and we had to do it to keep him off the market, and I do think the trajectory is pointing up and up. He can recruit using this and build the program even further. Good call, and the very call that Oklahoma State should have made in 2017 - because they didn't it allowed Josh Whitman to swoop in and steal Underwood away. If they liked it then they should have put a ring on it.
But $22.2 million is, like, buy a yacht money. And it's crazy you can get there just by signing a few recruits and winning a few basketball games. It's crazy, right? It's crazy.
+ Locking up the assistants is a good thing. I think all three proved their worth this season. Chin Coleman has kept the MIF/MP connection strong, adding Adam Miller after Ayo (plus recruiting the west coast well, adding Tevian Jones and Coleman Hawkins). Orlando Antigua has kept the east coast connections strong, adding Kofi and Andre Curbelo (and having a hand in Giorgi and Alan, I believe). Stephen Gentry was brought in to be the scheme assistant, and given the changes they've put in this year (and how well they've worked), I don't think you can argue with that extension either.
Basically, this keeps the whole machine together and humming. The recruits in the stands yesterday know that this entire staff would be here when they arrive and the head coach will still be here when they graduate. This staff will be out there selling an NCAA Tournament appearance this summer (and maybe something as high as a Sweet 16 appearance), so it's great to do that with extensions in hand. Continuity is key.
+ It occurs to me this is the first "we're winning, so let's extend the coach" extension since Ron Zook and the Rose Bowl. We did a few kick-the-can-down-the-road extensions with Bruce Weber, and Lovie has gotten a "keep recruiting alive but this really doesn't change the buyout structure" paper extension, but I think this is the first "we're going to make it so other teams can't hire you away" extension since Zook and the Rose Bowl.
Well, I need to research that for a minute. Did Groce get a "you're our guy, here's an extension" after the 7-seed his first season? Let me look it up....
Looks like Groce got a one-year extension and a $200,000 raise after leading the team to the NCAA Tournament his first season. And then another one-year add-on after his second season. So yeah, just cosmetic extensions. Nothing like this monster deal announced today.
So yes, this is our first investment in a coach in either sport in 13 years. Pause for just a moment to think about that. It's a stunning statistic.
+ Feels like this might make Lovie's seat a little bit hotter? After the Eastern Michigan loss this fall, with the basketball team coming off a 12-win season, I saw an "if Whitman can only afford to fire/hire one coach after this school year, is it Lovie or is it Underwood?" discussion somewhere. And it's a valid point. If both coaches failed, Lovie after his fourth year and Underwood after his third (which is when you typically cut bait on postseasonless head coaches in those two sports), could Whitman afford to replace both?
Both coaches then made that a moot point by going to a bowl/going to the Tournament. And Underwood's team is currently ranked and fighting for as high as a 5-seed or maybe even a 4-seed with a BTT win, so that's why he's already earned a massive deal.
So now the focus turns to Lovie. He made a bowl, and now he has the senior-heavy team he's been building towards. There's no complications on the basketball side with the coach locked up through 2026 and revenue starting to build (five sellouts the last six games). That engine is started already, so all focus turns to the north side of Kirby. Time for Lovie to win big and get an extension of his own (or, possibly put Whitman in the position of looking elsewhere after this extend-or-fire season).
+ One last thing. I just wrote a paragraph there where I talked about bowl game and an NCAA Tournament. I still can't believe that it actually happened. I made that "30 minutes until The 20's Belong To The Illini" joke on New Years Eve, but, uh...