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Cuonzo Martin answers media questions during a March 26 news conference announcing his coaching position at Missouri State University. Martin takes over men's basketball April 1.
Cuonzo Martin answers media questions during a March 26 news conference announcing his coaching position at Missouri State University. Martin takes over men's basketball April 1.

Businesses ante up for MSU coach

Posted online
Missouri State University’s men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin netted a $300,000 annual contract last week – due, in part, to financial contributions from 15 unidentified businesspeople in Springfield.

Martin, introduced March 26 as the school’s 16th and first black basketball head coach, will receive a $140,000 base salary, plus media deals, country club memberships and auto expenses that push his guaranteed compensation package to about $300,000. His compensation is second-highest at the school, next to President Michael Nietzel, who’s compensated $322,944, according to the university’s Fiscal 2008 budget.

During the 18-day search process after firing Barry Hinson, MSU officials put into action their desire to take the men’s basketball coaching salary to a more competitive level.

In his ninth year at MSU, Hinson’s base salary was $133,000 with total compensation of $200,000, placing it in the bottom three of the Missouri Valley Conference’s 10 schools, said MSU Athletic Director Bill Rowe.

The $100,000 pay increase comes from donors via the MSU Foundation.

Brent Dunn, vice president of university advancement, said 15 donors committed the sum each year for the life of Martin’s five-year contract. Individual donations on the high end reached $20,000 a year, Dunn said.

Dunn wouldn’t disclose the donors but said, “Every one of them has a business.”

He also dispelled rumors that contributions by businesses or businesspeople were attempting to sway the coaching decision. The most prevalent rumors had O’Reilly Automotive lobbying to replace Hinson and had trucking firm Prime Inc. working as a Hinson financier and advocate. Calls to O’Reilly and Prime officials were not returned, but Dunn said, “We’re not in a situation where people call and say, ‘I’ve got $200,000 or $100,000, and here’s the money, but you’ve got to hire this coach.’ We wouldn’t do that.”

Dunn said the 15 donors were told their contributions would go to men’s basketball and could be used to supplement a coach’s salary, but none of the donors were given names of coaching candidates.

In reaching this new deal, Rowe said he and Nietzel stole a play out of MVC rival Southern Illinois University’s playbook after observing private funds supplementing its coach’s compensation.

“We’ve got some dollars submitted to the foundation that can go to the basketball program, and then we’re redirecting them back toward our coach to get (the compensation) bumped up some from where it was,” Rowe said.

As a result, Martin’s compensation will be in the top half of the league, said Rowe, who also said they never attempted to make Martin, or any of the other five candidates interviewed for the job, the MVC’s highest-paid coach. Dana Altman of Creighton University in Nebraska reportedly makes nearly $1 million a year, though officials with the private university wouldn’t confirm. Head coaches at Southern Illinois and Wichita State each are paid about $750,000 a year, Rowe said.

MSU officials’ winning attitude is demonstrated in Martin’s performance bonuses for advancing to the NCAA Tournament and winning tournament games, according to Rowe. Performance bonuses also were in Hinson’s contract, but he never took his teams to the NCAA Tournament and finished with a 169-117 career record at MSU.

Martin is now charged with leading MSU during the basketball program’s 100th anniversary and its first year in the $67 million JQH Arena.

“This is truly a blessing to be part of this program, and I plan on being here for the next 10, 15, 20 years,” Martin said. “I mean that when I say this is not a pit stop for me.”

Gordon Elliott, a hotelier and accountant who approved Martin’s hiring as a member of MSU’s Board of Governors, said Martin should rally business boosters with charisma, work ethic, skilled recruiting and winning attitude. “I think he will put together a quality program, and that will help the business community,” Elliott said.

Jump Shots

Cuonzo Martin

• 36-year-old native of East St. Louis, Ill.

• Averaged 13.1 points per game from 1991–95 at Purdue University in Indiana

• Played four years professionally in the National Basketball Association, Continental Basketball Association and Europe

• Worked eight years as an assistant coach at Purdue, where he helped the Boilermakers to three NCAA Tournament appearances; he was promoted to associate head coach in September.

Deal Details

Martin’s contract won’t be finalized until April, according to Missouri State University General Counsel Clif Smart, but the university announced that the main components are a $140,000 base salary and $70,000 in TV and radio deals. Martin’s contract will have similar incentives to that of former coach Barry Hinson, according to Smart. Some of the perks in Hinson’s contract were:

• $37,500 (from Meyer Communications) for radio shows and $30,000 for a TV show;

• memberships to The Tower Club, Highland Springs and Millwood country clubs;

• use of a provided automobile; and

• achievement payments, including $8,000 for winning the Missouri Valley Conference post-season tournament and $7,500 per game played in the NCAA Tournament. Poll

Are you pleased with Missouri State University’s choice of Cuonzo Martin to coach the men’s basketball team? Why or why not?

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