Bob Davie’s Big Blinds

By Daniel Libit

Now is the time of year when the high-flown rhetoric of capitalism and meritocracy starts swirling around the nation’s college football fields. That is to say, we hear a lot about Coach So-And-So “deserving” a raise. And so it may soon be for the University of New Mexico.

Over the course of five seasons, Bob Davie has brought the Lobos football program from Dead-Sea depths to respectability. Prior to the start of the season, Davie was given a two-year contract extension and a $50,000 annual raise — his reward for taking last year’s team to the program’s first bowl game since 2007. The bump in pay brought his base salary to $422,690, and his total annual compensation to $823,940.

That, according to USA Today’s tabulations,  ranked Davie 78th among college football coaches this season, and sixth in the Mountain West Conference (just ahead of former UNM, and current San Diego State coach, Rocky Long). Given the way these things are typically construed, it may well seem that Davie “deserves” more money, what with back-to-back bowl bids.

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Rocky Long

But, as this website has most recently noted — and will belabor ’til the cows come home — the economic fundamentals of the Lobo football program are under water. The program has systemically proven incapable of making budget without the beneficence of ESPN, a revenue stream that is especially unreliable. Unlike the tenures of Long and Dennis Franchione, the fan base has thus far forsaken the Davie renaissance. Whatever energy had been cultivated with similarly successful records in the ’90s and the aughts is not there to be tapped. Short of a BCS birth, it now figures difficult to imagine what reasonable achievements the program can muster to consistently fill University Stadium with full-paying fans.

Given that, it’s arguably more problematic for UNM to have a successful coach whose program can’t draw fans, than it is for them to have an unsuccessful one. At least then, there’s no pressure (internal or external) to pay money the school clearly doesn’t have. But executive compensation is kind of what college sports is all about. And UNM has already set a dangerous precedent for itself, having given a $200,000 per annum raise to Craig Neal after his first season, when he led a team with two NBA prospects to a first-round NCAA Tournament loss.

There’s much more to say about that decision, on its own, but one thing is that it protrudes into football. The Neal raise not only rankled members of UNM’s salary-freezed faculty, but evidently caused a strain with Davie, according to an internal email obtained by NMFishbowl.com. Neither UNM Athletics Director Paul Krebs nor Davie responded to questions about the coach’s current or future compensation.

“Coach Davie has done an outstanding job and very recently signed his extension that he received after last season,” UNM athletics spokesman Frank Mercogliano told NMFishbowl.com. “We are looking forward to our second straight bowl game and look forward to many more years with Coach Davie leading our program.”

Davie still makes $125,000 less than Neal, who reportedly leveraged a prospective offer from South Florida for his 27 percent bump. At 62, in the last act of his career, Davie has publicly maintained his commitment to UNM throughout the season, while occasionally alluding to an expectation for more in return. Consider his  comments during a press luncheon on Oct. 25:

“Collectively, let’s all, if we really want this, if we really want this here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, then let’s collectively all work together to make it as good as we can make it, and bring college football to Albuquerque… I’ve given five years, every ounce I have, to do that. It’s not perfect. It’s not there yet. But it’s hard to have expectations for anybody without commitment, right? It’s hard to say what the expectations should be if you haven’t made the commitment. And I think all of us ought to keep that in mind as we move forward.”

Meanwhile, the last two years have overseen a dramatic spike in Mountain West Conference football coach salaries. Wyoming recently announced a $550,000 pay increase for head coach Craig Bohl, bringing his annual compensation to $1.4 million. (Bohl beat out Davie for this year’s MWC Coach of the Year award, although the Lobos easily defeated Wyoming in their matchup on Nov. 26.) Long, who is in the final year of his current contract, is likely due a hefty raise at the end of this season. The conference’s highest paid coach is new Fresno State hire Jeff Tedford, who was lured to the Bulldogs last month with a five-year, $7.9 million contract. Tedford’s salary just eclipsed that of second-year Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo, who earns $1.45 million a year.

Last year, Krebs told the Albuquerque Journal about UNM’s commitment to a “coach-driven” philosophy.

“We’re committed, and we’ve talked about it internally, our salaries for our head coaches are going to be at or near the top of the league,” Krebs said. “We want to get the best coaches, and we want to try and keep them here, retain them.”

By the start of next season, at least five MWC head football coaches will be earning seven-figures. The blinds are not going to get any smaller.

(photo credit: NMFishbowl.com illustration/Riverrat303)