There is something about losing five straight football games and giving up an average of more than 50 points a game that gets taxpayers interested in learning just how much it costs to lose like this. The answer is a lot.
After KU’s 45-0 loss at Iowa State on Saturday, the knives are out for both the offensive and defensive coordinators, the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of this troubled Elsinore on the plains. Offensive coordinator Doug Meacham is paid $520.000 a year. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen makes $500,000. Each has a contract through 2019 that guarantees him his salary minus whatever he might make elsewhere if fired based on performance.
The reality is that if KU had hired Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry at those same positions–both, in fact, worked together at those position for the 1950s Giants–it is unlikely that KU would be doing any better this season than they are right now. The team has not won more than 3 games since 2009. In the last two years, KU has gone 2 and 22. Who better to scapegoat than a couple of overpaid subordinates?
Overpaid they are. Thinking perhaps that money can buy success, KU raised the salary of its nine assistant coaches a whopping total of $731,400 coming into the 2017 season. A new hire, Meacham is making nearly 50 percent more than his predecessor while Bowen received a $100,000 raise despite KU’s awful record the last two seasons. In other words, the assistant coaches on average received a raise greater than the salary of the average assistant professor.
The anxiety over salaries is due in no small part to the fact that the university has launched a $350 million five-year fundraising effort called “Raise the Chant” for no greater purpose than to improve the school’s football facilities, particularly the stadium. In his plea for funds, Kansas chancellor Douglas Girod offered the uninspired rationale, “A competitive football program benefits the entire university and is important for KU to continue being a strong member of the Big 12 Conference.” For $350 million, one would hope to be more than just “competitive.”
Yes, the money is being raised privately just as the football salaries have independent financing, but it is money not going to programs more worthy. Investment guru David Booth, for instance, has already chipped in $50 million. Booth, however, gave $300 million to the business school at the University of Chicago, which seems to be doing okay despite its lack of a football team.
This Saturday KU plays conference leader Texas Christian University on national TV. KU is a 37-point underdog. Expect the cry to fire a coach, any coach, to get louder. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern aren’t dead quite yet, but there are plenty of fans ready to bury them. It will be an expensive funeral.