Civic Skinny

September 16, 2010

It pays to be an assistant coach at Iowa; Judge Bennett bets on the Easter Bunny


Kirk Ferentz takes care of his own.Midst the hoopla about the gazillion-dollar “contract” the football coach signed earlier this month with the University of Iowa, there was little note of Section 4 B, “Additional Compensation for Assistant Coaches.” But it’s worth noting.

At a time when the university is agonizing over whether to give faculty members a 1 percent raise or a 2 percent raise, at a time when union members and many others were forced to take five-day “furloughs,” at a time when Iowa’s parents are hit with tuition increases of 6 percent to 12 percent for their kids at the state universities, and at a time when the Legislature has been cutting back on appropriations to the universities, Coach Ferentz talked the university into giving extraordinarily high pay increases for 12 of his 25 or so assistants.


For 10 years.

The 12 coaches, who average about $190,000 a year, merely have to coach the team to a mediocre year in order to get an 8 percent annual raise. That is, they have to win just six of the 12 games, be invited to a bowl (any bowl), and make sure that 55 percent of their players graduate within six years, an easy hurdle. If the team finishes in the top 25 in the nation, the raises will be 10 percent. The scale goes up to a maximum of 20 percent if the team is the national champion.

That’s not all. If the team shares the conference championship, the twelve get a bonus of an extra half-month’s pay; if they win it outright, they get a month’s pay. If they go to a bowl, besides the pay raise they get an additional bonus of at least one month’s salary; if it’s a BCS bowl, they get a bonus of two-and-a-half-months’ salary, and if it’s the national title game, they get a bonus of three months’ salary.

There’s more. If the team is selected for even a low-tier bowl and finishes at least in the top 25 ranked teams, Coach Ferentz is given a bonus pool of $85,000 to $200,000 to distribute among the coaches and a handful of others. Also, the 12 coaches this year get to share in a $300,000 “signing bonus.”

Oh, one other thing: the coaches all get free membership in the University Club.

If the raises over the next decade average 10 percent — and that’s probably a low number — Ken O’Keefe, the offensive coordinator, will be making $675,000 at the end of Coach Ferentz’ “contract.” That’s his base. It doesn’t include bonuses that could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars over the decade.

Coach O’Keefe currently makes around $260,000, according to state records. The average faculty member at the University of Iowa makes $96,482 a year. Marilynne Robinson, a full professor who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction a few years ago, earns $141,500 a year, less than the $149,000 paid to the school’s coach of the tight ends. Norbert Pienta, a full professor of chemistry who was one of four recipients of the outstanding-teaching award this year, makes $117,000, less than half the $246,840 paid to Chris Doyle, who oversees strength and conditioning for the team. Coach Ferentz is the highest-paid coach in the Big 10. Iowa’s faculty ranks seventh in pay in the Big 10. In the fiscal year just ended, the average faculty pay increase was — zero.

As for Ferentz himself, his “contract” is no contract at all. The university has agreed to pay him a base of nearly $4 million a year for 10 years and bonuses that could total $1.7 million if Iowa is the national champion, as well as supplying him with two cars (plus insurance for them), 35 hours a year of private-jet travel for personal use, and his own box at Kinnick Stadium, and if the university decides to fire Ferentz without cause — and “cause” does not include fielding a lousy team — the coach can collect 75 percent of his annual guaranteed amount for each of the remaining years of the contract. If he gets a big-paying job elsewhere, the university still has to pay.

But if Ferentz decides to leave on his own — at any time for any reason — there is no penalty. He owes the university nothing. His new employer owes the university nothing. That’s the “contract.” ...

Judge Mark Bennett is at it again. After insulting East Coast lawyers a few weeks ago — “a total lack of civility, obstructionist discovery tactics at every turn, poor trial skills and unsurpassed arrogance” — the federal judge in Sioux City has written to lawyers involved in the antitrust litigation that prompted that original outburst. He hasn’t toned down his rhetoric. This time, he is urging early mediation.

“You all know, your clients should and need to know, the world knows, and I know that the chances of this case going to trial rival the odds of the Easter Bunny, in this year’s Super Bowl, throwing the winning touchdown pass, off a triple reverse on the last play of the game, for a come from behind victory, for the St. Louis Rams (1-15 last year). Actually, I would bet on the Easter Bunny,” the judge wrote to the lawyers. He went on: “Once you can get past the tremendous loss of millions of dollars in fees for your firms for ‘working the file’, excuse me, ‘litigating’ for the next two years, in your heart, you know this to be true, too.”

Pressing his case, he concludes, “I have nothing against the lawyers in this case becoming super wealthy. I would just rather have that happen on another judge’s watch and in another case.”

In the letter, the judge extols the virtues of two mediators — including Dick Calkins of Des Moines, “a superb scholar and one of the nicest persons on the planet.” Then, after the free ad for the two, he ingenuously adds, “I am not recommending or suggesting” either mediator. “I do not care a whit who you retain.”

Right. ...

Jumping the gun: An advertisement in a local newspaper for the O’Brien County Republican Summer Gala said: “Governor-elect Terry Branstad to headline.” Perhaps it was left over from 1982. Or 1986. Or 1990. Or 1994. ...

Reading the tea leaves: Tom and Christie Vilsack were among those at the big-hitter function before the Harkin Steak Fry on Sunday, a political event they usually don’t attend. One person’s interpretation: Christie is running for office in 2012. Another person’s interpretation: Christie is running for office in 2012. ...

Left over from last week, a couple of real-estate items.

Item No. 1: More downtown housing is in the works. The Iowa Finance Authority has approved federal and state awards totaling $4,458,617 to Hubbell Realty Co. for 91 “affordable housing units” in a onetime warehouse at 8th Street and Martin Luther King. The project will be called Riverpoint Lofts.

Item No. 2: Rod Kruse, the architect, has sold his house at 219 37th St., to John Paszek for $839,000. It was the second highest price for a home sale in Des Moines this year. The six-bedroom, 4,735-square-foot house was built in 1909 and sits on nearly 1.2 acres and is next door to the large home owned by the Episcopal Diocese and two doors from the home of Drake president David Maxwell. Kruse bought the house in 1998 for $200,000.

And this: The group of former executives who tried to buy the fledgling parent company of the Business Record out of bankruptcy failed, and the Ohio-based company now is owned by a bunch of banks and investment and insurance companies. The parent of the Business Record was deeply in debt. The new owners have hired a broker to peddle the parts, so don’t be surprised if 76-year-old former owner Connie Wimer tries to buy back the Des Moines operation — and probably for considerably less than she sold it for. CV


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