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Over the Top

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Putting Mark Stoops in the same salary range as Michigan State coach Mel Tucker
might not seem shocking.

However, seeing only  Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and LSU’s Brian Kelly along with Tucker as the only college football coaches with higher annual salaries now as part of a contract extension through the 2030 season that will pay Stoops $9 million annually starting in 2023.

Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, who is having a forgettable season, has an annual salary in the $9 million range per year.

What makes Stoops’ contract extension/raise a bit perplexing is that after Saturday’s 16-6 loss to Georgia, UK has lost five of its last seven games. And Kentucky did not announce the deal that was actually signed by Stoops on Nov. 11, one day before the Cats lost at home to Vanderbilt.

News about the contract broke when Lexington Herald-Leader football writer Jon Hall found the information posted to UK’s Office of Legal Counsel website along with the rest of the athletic department contracts. A news release dated Nov. 18 was also posted on the website but the release was not sent to media members.

Maybe UK planned to release the information after the Vanderbilt game — before the Cats lost. Maybe UK officials were hoping for a win over Georgia. Now maybe they were waiting and hoping for a win over rival Louisville in the final regular-season game this Saturday.

Stoops was already making about $6.35 million annually. HIs new deal includes just two performance bonuses — $100,000 any time his team participates in a non-New Year’s bowl and Stoops gets $300,000 if UK is in a New Year’s Six bowl game or any college football playoff game if the field expands. If UK makes the national semifinals he gets an additional $500,000 and $800,000 if Kentucky wins a title.

Again, knowing UK is 2-5 in the last seven games, those championship performance bonuses are not likely to happen.

One also has to wonder why any coach making about $9 million per year needs a performance bonus. Isn’t he being paid to win?

“We have been working on this for over a month and are glad to have it finalized,” Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart said in the press release that was not sent to the media. “Continuity has become more and more important in today’s landscape, and make no mistake about it, the job that Coach Stoops has done is well known and highly regarded throughout the college football world.

“This extension also recognizes what Coach Stoops has done over the past decade, with unprecedented achievements in the history of Kentucky football, and reinforces his commitment to UK as we strive for continued success in the future.”

Stoops, 58, has had two 10-win seasons at Kentucky — 2018 and 2021. He’s won four straight bowl games. Kentucky had its first winning SEC season since 1977 in 2018 and then did it again in 2021. He’s 65-58 overall and has passed Paul “Bear” Bryant as UK’s all-time winningest coach.  He’s also 28-30 in SEC play over the last seven seasons.

“As Mitch said, we’ve been working on this for a while, as I wanted to reaffirm my commitment. I’ve loved it here and am excited about our future,” Stoops said.

That future could be why Barnhart did what he did. Kentucky went into this season hoping to contend for the SEC East championship and was No. 7 nationally after a 4-0 start. Since then, the offense has not been good enough.

Speculation has started about other schools making offers to UK’s top players to entice them to enter the transfer portal to earn more NIL money and UK’s current recruiting class is barely in the top 50.

This commitment to Stoops for that long and that much money shows Barnhart is serious about wanting to maintain a high level program and is willing to pay to do it.

Larry Vaught
Larry Vaught is a seven-time winner of the Kentucky Sportswriter of the Year award and has covered University of Kentucky sports since 1975. Larry now has a syndicated UK sports column appearing in 34 newspapers across the state as well as http://www.yoursportsedge.com/, and http://www.cameronmillsradio.com/. Larry also joins Mark Buerger and Anthony White on WLAP Sunday Morning Sports each week in Lexington as well as appearing each Tuesday with Tom Leach on The Leach Report.

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