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Some coaches in the PSAC are worlds apart

| Sunday, June 19, 2011

When Indiana University of Pennsylvania men's basketball coach Joe Lombardi steps on the court for his team's game against Mansfield next season, he will be making nearly $65,000 more than his counterpart, Rich Miller.

The head football coach at California University of Pennsylvania, John Luckhardt, will make nearly $57,000 more than Clarion University coach Jay Foster when the teams meet this fall.

Lock Haven women's lacrosse coach Kristin Selvage is making $75,185 a year. In April, her team beat East Stroudsburg, whose first-year coach, Jane Koeniges, makes $38,344.

A Tribune-Review analysis found big disparities in pay between Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference coaches in the same sports, and the reasons are as different as the numbers themselves.

The PSAC was selected for review because 14 of its 17 members are state-supported and salaries are public record.

Asked about the pay difference and about being the highest-paid coach ($136,837) in the league, Luckhardt laughed and said, "My wife's not disappointed."

Luckhardt then turned serious and credited Cal U president Angelo Armenti for a commitment to athletics.

"He really believes strongly that a vibrant, successful (athletic) program is an attraction for the university," Luckhardt said of Armenti. "Hey, I'm 66, and I've coached for 45 years, and I'm very thankful to be rewarded."

Foster said he wasn't necessarily happy about the salary difference with Luckhardt but agreed that Cal U has made a commitment toward a strong sports program. Not only are coaches paid more, but the school offers more scholarships, which are privately funded.

"Some places put a big emphasis on certain things, and other places don't," Foster said. "Success breeds success."

Pay disparities among PSAC coaches are largely -- but not exclusively-- due to seniority and winning, conference officials and coaches told the Trib.

PSAC commissioner Steve Murray said: "There is a reward for success."

Winning pays

Hired to raise both the football profile and private funding for scholarships, Luckhardt came to Cal U in 2002 after leading Division III Washington & Jefferson to a 137-37-2 record in 17 years.

In the past six seasons, his Cal U teams are 62-14 (36-3 in conference play), finishing at least tied for first in the PSAC West each year. The Vulcans won the resurrected league championship game in 2008.

Over 18 seasons, Cal U softball coach Rick Bertagnolli has built a nationally known program. He is the 10-time PSAC West coach of the year, and his teams have reached the NCAA tournament 15 times.

Bertagnolli is paid $111,576, almost $70,000 more than West Chester softball coach Diane Lokey. Still, that did not keep Lokey's team from upsetting Cal U in the PSAC tournament last April.

Lock Haven head field hockey coach Pat Rudy is paid $104,041, or almost $64,000 more than Slippery Rock's Julie Zoolkoski, the lowest-paid field hockey coach in the PSAC among publicly available salaries. Rudy also is the only female among the 14 PSAC coaches who make more than $100,000 a year, available records show.

Two reasons for her higher salary are seniority and success. Rudy has coached at the school for 15 years, and her team competes at the Division I level in the Atlantic 10 Conference (as opposed to the Division II PSAC). Rudy's Lock Haven teams have posted a 265-67 record. Before moving up in class, they won eight Division II national championships.

But Rudy also filed a federal lawsuit against Lock Haven that contended female coaches should be paid as much as their male counterparts. In a 2008 settlement, Rudy was awarded $120,000 and received several retroactive pay increases.

The Trib analysis found Rudy's salary exceeded those of Lock Haven head football coach John Klacik ($93,195) and men's head basketball coach John Wilson ($54,148), both of whom are no longer with the university. Klacik is the new offensive coordinator at Miami University (Ohio) and Wilson's contract was not renewed.

Three members of the PSAC are private schools, so salaries for their coaches are not public record. Mercyhurst, Gannon and C.W. Post (which competes in the league only in football and field hockey) refused to provide their coaches' salaries.

But federal tax forms, which private and nonprofit entities must file with the Internal Revenue Service, show that Mike Sisti — who transformed the Mercyhurst women's hockey team into a national power — received $100,575 in 2008, the most recent year for which his salary was available.

Luckhardt makes $71,192 more than Cheyney University of Pennsylvania's Jeff Braxton ($65,645), the lowest-paid PSAC football coach based on available records. Cheyney is the oldest historically black college north of the Mason-Dixon Line and the oldest PSAC member. But with an enrollment of 1,500, it is also the smallest conference member, fielding only four men's and six women's teams.

Braxton is one of five head football coaches at the PSAC's public-supported universities who are paid less than Cal U football assistants Mike Conway and Mike Kellar, both of whom make $91,834.

IUP's Lombardi is the PSAC's highest-paid men's basketball coach at $122,170. Before he left Lock Haven, Wilson was the lowest paid among the PSAC's men's hoops coaches, available records indicate.

Cal U's Bertagnolli, men's basketball coach Bill Brown ($121,730) and women's basketball coach Mark Swasey ($101,363) are all among the conference's top-paid coaches, records show.

"I think there's an expectation of success (at Cal U)," Commissioner Murray said. "They're paying their coaches for that success."

Expectations and extras

IUP expects success after hiring head football coach Curt Cignetti ($120,000) to replace Lou Tepper, who was fired after going 11-11 overall and 4-10 in the conference the past two years. But Cignetti took a big pay cut. He spent 28 years as an assistant coach at big-time programs such as Pitt and Alabama, where he was recruiting coordinator and made a $250,000 base salary with incentives. He is the son of former IUP coaching legend Frank Cignetti.

Slippery Rock head football coach George Mihalik is being paid $107,870 in 2011 to be a full professor in health science. He has been teaching at the school since 1978. Mihalik also is making at least $27,100 to teach in the summer, bringing his total compensation to at least $134,970, according to state payroll records and university officials. The university says Mihalik does not get paid to be football coach.

Slippery Rock's Jeff Messer ($96,999) is the highest-paid PSAC baseball coach, available records show. He has been at the university for 26 years.

At the bottom of the baseball scale is Lock Haven's Paul "Smokey" Stover, whose paycheck totals $31,533 despite coaching the Bald Eagles for 19 seasons. That's because Stover worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 16 years and his baseball job was considered part-time. He no longer carries the mail, but he still receives a part-time salary.

Edinboro University's Doug Watts is the conference's highest-paid track coach by far, with a salary of $114,629, available records show. Watts has coached for 42 years, won six national titles and taught for many years before concentrating on coaching. In addition, he coaches five teams: men's and women's cross-country, and outdoor track and women's indoor track.

In football, especially, PSAC salary disparities are mirrored by scholarship differences. Both reflect to some degree the emphasis each institution places on athletics. The Cal U football program had 35.63 full scholarships last season, just shy of the maximum 36 the PSAC permits.

Although coaches' salaries are mainly funded by state money, scholarships in the PSAC are privately funded.

Beset by injuries and a lack of depth, Foster's Clarion football team slumped from 9-3 in 2009 to 4-7 last season.

"Money doesn't buy you championships, but it buys you consistency," said Foster, who is entering his sixth season as head coach. "We proved two years ago we can compete. The question is, can you compete on a consistent basis?"

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