According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the Wisconsin athletic department paid out more than a million dollars in bonuses to its coaches in 2011, including almost $750,000 to its football coaches. Bret Bielema collected $250,000, the rest went to his assistants.
Here's more on the raises:
Bielema and his assistants received 20 percent bonuses because the Badgers won the Big Ten Conference title (5 percent) and qualified for a Bowl Championship Series assignment in the Rose Bowl (15 percent).
Of the $745,409 in awards paid to the football staff, $305,100 went to assistants who are no longer employed at UW. Bielema had six aides leave for other jobs after the 2011 season, including offensive coordinator Paul Chryst ($73,200), offensive line coach Bob Bostad ($60,000), linebackers coach Dave Huxtable ($50,700), recruiting coordinator Joe Rudolph ($50,400), special teams and safeties coach DeMontie Cross ($38,400) and wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander ($32,400).
As you can see, those bonuses are performance-based and tied to percentages of overall pay, so it's not like they were arbitrary in any way; still, they've been met with consternation from some Wisconsin media members. Here's what the State Journal's sports columnist Tom Oates had to say on the matter:
Excuse me, but why do college coaches get bonuses for conference titles, postseason bids. Isn't that what they're supposed to do? #Badgers— Tom Oates (@TomOatesWSJ) July 16, 2012
Hey @THEbadgermaniac. I'd like to think just keeping their jobs given their already-inflated salaries would be incentive enough.— Tom Oates (@TomOatesWSJ) July 16, 2012
All said, there's something to the notion that your job is your job and your pay is your pay. So we get where Oates is coming from on a philosophical level.
Further, if we were asked what to do with an extra million dollars to reward the football program after such remarkable success, the answer would be "GIVE IT TO THE PLAYERS, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD," but that's not the world we live in.
Also, a point Oates didn't make is that these bonuses clearly don't have a retentive effect on assistants, since Wisconsin is replacing six after that great 2011 season. So if Wisconsin's sweetening the pot for its coaches after big years and it doesn't have any appreciable effect, what exactly is the point of it again?
But what Bielema and his assistants accomplished goes beyond merely "doing their job." If it's a coach's job to win the Big Ten and make the Rose Bowl, then 11 out of 12 coaching staffs fail at their job every year.
Sure, some coaches don't make it to next year because of poor performance, but that's usually closer to one or two a year than 11. That ratio generally holds true for assistants, too.
Further, as to whether Wisconsin's paying "market" for its coaches, this information is in fact available, thanks to Joe Rexrode of the Lansing State Journal. of the 10 Big Ten teams with publicly available coaching salaries, only three will pay their assistants less in 2012 than Wisconsin—Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue. Further, Wisconsin's two coordinators are each the second-least paid at their position in the Big Ten.
Now, one can argue that $265,000 a year is still a whole lot of money, and yeah, it is. But if the market is the Big Ten, Wisconsin's not exactly gouging itself relative to market rates. And yes, Bret Bielema's contract is in the top half of the Big Ten, but he just went to two straight Rose Bowls at a school that is neither Michigan nor Ohio State. Pay that man his money.
So yes, these bonuses are a nice move by Wisconsin. You'd like to see them generate a little more loyalty to the program in terms of assistant retention, but this staff has met some remarkable goals in recent years, and giving them some rewards for that work is what an athletic department ought to be doing.