Poor Pay Turning Prep Coaching into ‘Dying Profession’
Mike Gosz said the saying goes “a quarter an hour.” Or perhaps a “dime an hour.” That’s how it works when calculating the stipends paid to coaches in prep athletics.
“If you do it right, I think, (the coaches) have a passion for it and they want to give back,” the Hamilton athletics director said.
Those sentiments are the universal response when asking different athletic directors and coaches about the pay scale at the high school level. Jay Christiansen, who coaches multiple sports at Mukwonago, said coaches of football and basketball should expect to have a commitment to their sport throughout the year. Coaches are expected to commit 40 hours a week during the season and around 12 hours a week outside of the season. The end result might not be a dime or quarter per hour, but it’s low. After collecting data for the 2013-14 school year at schools in the coverage area (Mukwonago, Oconomowoc, Kettle Moraine, Pewaukee, Arrowhead, Sussex Hamilton), most coaches are bringing in between $2 and $5 per hour.
“The (sports) that are different pay are going to relate to the longevity of the sport,” said AHS athleticsdirector Kevin Flegner. “There are some sports that are longer. You take fall sports, for example, most of those coaches are starting already in the first week of August and if they’re successful, they’re going into November, so that gets to be a long season. I think definitely the length of the season determines how much money each of the sports are being paid.”
Title IX has also been huge, as sports with both a boys and girls component naturally feature equal pay for both coaches.
The Club Conundrum
“If you’re not employed as a teacher and you have the choice between getting involved with the local high school and coaching or getting involved with an area club, I think you would be crazy to take the high-school job,” said Christiansen.
The obligations of a high school coach and a club sports coach are two very different things. High-school coaches must aid in the overall mission of the school, with academic considerations as important as wins and losses. The higher levels of pay relate to longevity in the position and not track record of success.
“We do have a scale that’s based on experience to get extra money, and we try to retain those coaches, obviously,” said Gosz. “If you look at any program in any district, those coaches that have been there the longest probably have the most success because of a lack of turnover. When you turn a coaching staff over, you set your whole program back a whole 2 to 3 years.
“I think when coaches that decide to switch over to the club, pay is part of it,” said Flegner. “I think having more latitude to work with the elite athlete and then not having all the restrictions put on them, like schools have restrictions on certain contact dates I think there are different pieces to that.”
When an athletic director does decide that a coach deserves a pay raise, that determination is usually made based on what is happening around the district. The athletic director then takes the request through different channels, including the principal, superintendent and school board, to gain approval for the new contract.
“We try to stay competitive with what our neighboring districts do and I think every district is similar,” said Gosz. “Before they do any proposed increases, they’re going to do a survey on what everybody else is doing so that they’re in line.”
Most of the schools that were contacted had incentives based for longevity.
“Most schools are tied into the master contract,” Flegner said. “Most of these pay scales have been around for a long, long time.”
A balancing act
“You have to be flexible,” Gosz said. “I’m not a micromanager. I allow the coaches to set up their practices and their game schedules.”
The best coaches for the job are no longer only coming from the school district. Now, coaches can come from other schools or jobs outside of education. This can make the job more difficult for athleticdirectors. However, Gosz said they sometimes need to loosen their restraints on coaches for the benefit of the kids and the school district.
” (Coaching) is becoming a dying profession,” said Flegner. “It’s harder and harder each year for usathletic directors to get coaches just because of the pay, the time constraints, family, jobs; there are so many X-factors that go into it and you really have a (full-time) job. You need a boss who understands what high school athletics is all about and is willing to be flexible in allowing their folks to leave early or come into work late. It’s getting harder and harder every year, but at the end of the day, we have to do our very best to seek out the best coaches.”
Coaches are asked to balance a full time job with their coaching responsibilities and a social life and for the most part, it comes down to the individual coach to maintain that balancing act. However, Flegner said schools have had to become more flexible over the years in terms of being flexible with practice schedules and other obligations.
“When you’re married, your spouse needs to know up front that you’re putting in 70 or 80 hours in a week and you’re not going to be making that much money to do it,” said Christiansen. ” (Working) 80 hours a week, you better both enjoy athletics and from my perspective, I’ve been lucky enough to have a wife that enjoys that, but it’s a tough balancing act, it really is. It takes a special situation to make it work.”
Gosz and Flegner stressed that high school sports are educational based and thus they would not base a coach’s pay on a wins and losses base.
“Sometimes some parents believe that there is a line from here to Timbuktu for coaches that are willing to coach, and that is not the case,” said Gosz. “Parents sometimes are taking the life out of coaches, and the pool is getting to be less and less.”
Gosz said they have to stay within their budgets and cannot just throw $15,000 into a stipend for coaches, adding that for the time that coaches put in, the pay is minimal.
“It’s something that I think about all the time,” said Christiansen. “You better enjoy what you are doing because it’s definitely not about the money.”
Average stipend pay for head varsity coaching positions (starting pay) by sport during the 2013-14 school year. Schools surveyed include Oconomowoc, Arrowhead, Mukwonago, Kettle Moraine and Sussex Hamilton (Pewaukee bases its pay on percentage of base salary and is not included in these numbers):
Cross country: $3,362
Track and field: $3,974
Considerations for differences include amount of time spent coaching (including length of season), as well as specialized skills required.
On the clock
Counting first week of practice through first week of WIAA playoff participation, a look at estimated wage per hour for fall varsity head coaches, operating on estimate of 30 hours per week during season and 10 hours per week outside season.
Girls golf (8 weeks in season): $4.39/hr
Girls tennis (9 weeks): $4.51
Boys soccer (9 weeks): $4.96
Girls volleyball (10 weeks): $4.71
Girls swimming (13 weeks): $5.41
Football (12 weeks): $6.06
This article was republished with permission from the contributing author, JR Radcliffe. The original author of the article is Joshua March and it was published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.