WHEN THE staggering numbers came tumbling out in regard to Dana Holgorsen's football coaching contract with West Virginia University, I couldn't help but think of one particular man.
It's a man who spent Tuesday in the Fort Myers, Fla., area, taking a stroll, awaiting shoulder surgery. Former Mountaineer coach Don Nehlen, you see, took a spill recently and tore a rotator cuff.
I remember, however, when the coach was back in Morgantown. When I sat in his office. When we spoke off the record about his salary.
It was then that Ohio State coach John Cooper was making a guaranteed annual salary of $675,000 - before bonuses - and Nehlen was making approximately $250,000, counting the money deposited for him via an athletic endowment fund. Cooper received a Nike shoe contract share that amounted to $209,550. Nehlen received $15,000 from Nike. ("I only got that," Nehlen said at the time, "because the folks at Nike like me.")
No, Nehlen didn't expect the money from WVU that Cooper received from the larger, richer OSU. And, honestly, he didn't get much sympathy from me. ("Hey pal," I said, "you should see my paycheck.") But I understood his point. He'd lifted WVU's program from mediocre-to-poor to good-to-terrific. He did a wonderful job. To me, he'll always be the father of Mountaineer football. He felt he was underpaid.
So I was prompted to catch up with him again Wednesday and recite some of the figures headed Holgorsen's way. A guaranteed $10.675 million over the life of a six-year deal. A possible $14.275 million with incentives.
No, it's not Nick Saban-Alabama-like money, which is around $5.9 million annually. Still, the breakdown is enough to make the common West Virginian break down. Playing in the Big East, considered by many the weakest BCS conference, Holgorsen will get $25,000 extra for nine regular-season wins, $100,000 for 10, $125,000 for 11 and $200,000 for 12. He was given $1 million to pay for his four offensive assistant coaches. Robert Gillespie and Bill Bedenbaugh will each be paid $250,000.
"Heck,'' Nehlen chuckled, "the assistants are making more money than I did."
Don't misunderstand. I'm not criticizing WVU's deal with Holgorsen. Not one bit. The university, through the years, chose to play with the big boys. This is the price to play. If that price isn't right, well, it's on the hands of those who paid the price: school president Jim Clements and athletic director Oliver Luck. They believe the money will be well spent. Good luck to them in their venture.
Also, understand Nehlen isn't griping. He's comfortable. He's fine, except for that shoulder. But the figures do take one aback.
"Things have really, really, really changed," said the ex-coach. "I don't begrudge anyone money. But you have to ask, where does it stop?
"What worries me is the friction I think [the salaries] will cause with teachers. If you're a great chemistry teacher and you see that, how do you feel?"
Remember, Nehlen was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. His record in 21 years at the school was 149-93-4. Twice the Mountaineers finished the regular season undefeated.