ASU ramping up coaching investment under Anderson
JUL 03, 2014 3:14p ET
Ray Anderson has been on the job for five months as Arizona State vice president for athletics, but the former NFL executive already made three head coaching hires, including one for the school's most historically successful program.
While results will ultimately be the true measure, it looks on paper as though Anderson is 3 for 3.
With three high-profile hires, Anderson has displayed ASU's commitment to investing in coaches within a college athletics landscape where the cost of paying and keeping coaches is rising all the time.
"When you're talking about the best experience for our student-athletes, in my view, that means you get them the best coaching and staffing available," Anderson said.
ASU has not been shy about paying up. With its most recent hire, ASU lured Indiana baseball coach Tracy Smith to Tempe. With a College World Series appearance and back-to-back Big Ten Coach of the Year awards on his resume, Smith wasn't going to come cheap.
Pending Arizona Board of Regents approval, Smith's five-year contract will pay him $375,000 annually, before bonuses. That's close to double the $200,000 his predecessor, Tim Esmay, made last season, his fifth at the helm of ASU's winningest program. Further terms of Smith's contract are not yet public.
Prior to that, Anderson landed ASU alumnus and USA Wrestling National freestyle coach Zeke Jones. A silver medalist himself and a coach in four Olympic Games, Jones starts at ASU with a $215,000 base salary -- a far cry from the $81,800 predecessor Shawn Charles made in the 2013-2014 season before he was let go following another disappointing performance from a program that had two national champions in 2011.
With his second hire, Anderson plucked Rene Lyst away from Arkansas to lead ASU's women's gymnastics program. Lyst, who helped launch the Razorbacks' program and took it to two NCAA Super Six team championships, will make $135,000 annually. In his final year before retiring, John Spini made $120,400.
But the three new coaching hires cannot be judged simply by salaries. The financial commitment showed ASU's willingness to pay for top-flight coaches. The coaches' resumes display ASU's commitment to creating a winning culture across all sports.
"We don't want to settle in terms of what we're able to do with our coaches within reason," Anderson said. "If we settle then at the end of the day we're not presenting (student-athletes) with the head coaching and other support personnel that will make them maximize their potential."
Smith is tasked with rejuvenating the strong tradition of ASU baseball, and he made clear at his introductory fan base that he understands the high expectations that come with the job. The Sun Devils haven't been to the College World Series since 2010, and Smith appears a coach capable getting them back there.
At Indiana, Smith built up a program with no baseball tradition in a conference full of roadblocks to sustained success in the sport. In 2009, he took the Hoosiers to their first NCAA Tournament in 13 seasons. In 2013, he took Indiana to its first College World Series, snapping a 29-year drought of Big Ten teams at the event.
Smith was the Big Ten's best after back-to-back regular-season and conference tournament titles in 2013 and 2014. His hiring was unanimously lauded by national college baseball writers, the apparent consensus being ASU could hardly have done much better.
"We think we have brought to ASU the absolute best person for this position," Anderson said.
Of course, Anderson would likely have said that about whomever he hired. But his other picks come with impressive track records as well.
“When you're talking about the best experience for our student-athletes, in my view, that means you get them the best coaching and staffing available.”
Jones, now a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, was a three-time All-American and Pac-10 champion at ASU and a member of ASU's last NCAA championship team in 1988. After coaching stops at West Virginia, ASU and Penn, Jones helped USA Wrestling earn a place among the top tier of national wrestling programs. He coached Olympians to two gold medals and a bronze at the 2012 Olympics and a gold medal and two silvers at the 2004 Olympics.
"In the sport of wrestling, when you say Zeke, you don't have to say Jones, and that's worldwide," senior associate athletic director Don Bocchi said. "That says something to his accomplishments both as an athlete and as a coach."
In 12 seasons leading Arkansas, Lyst took the program to 11 NCAA Regionals and seven NCAA Championship appearances. The program had five top-10 finishes in that span and has not ranked outside the top 13 nationally at the end of the season since 2005.
Wrestling, women's gymnastics and baseball are, of course, non-revenue sports. ASU made coaching investments in its revenue sports as well the past few years -- football coach Todd Graham's salary rose from $2 million upon his Dec. 2011 arrival to $2.7 million and the pool fro his assistant coached is at an unprecedented level -- but Anderson stresses a need to elevate non-revenue sports to reduce their annual operating loss.
That's part of Anderson's vision for a self-sustaining, profitable athletic department. If the revenue sports succeed, the non-revenue sports benefit. And if the athletic department is increasing revenue, it can invest more in the coaching of those programs.
ASU also wants to invest more in additional academic staff, counselors and support personnel as its budgets grows, but the commitment to first-rate coaching is step one in the process.
"To give the maximum educational and athletic experience, it costs money to support that," Anderson said. "That's why we need to produce more so that we can reinvest back into our student athletes and coaches."