Monday, May 10, 2010


By Eric Sondheimer | LA Times |

Experienced head coaches in top private-school programs in Southern California are paid well into six digits. Critics say the resources would be better-used in the classroom.


Chaminade football coach Ed Croson sits in his office, which includes a 42-inch flat screen television, prior to a team practice session in March. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times / March 4, 2010)

May 9, 2010 | 5:13 p.m. -- In a time of budget cuts, teacher layoffs and campus closures, at least one position in high school education is in such demand that salaries are skyrocketing well into six digits:

Football coach.

Hoping to bolster school spirit and create an atmosphere that will attract new students and benefactors, private-school administrators from south Orange County to the outskirts of Ventura are digging deep to structure financial packages for coaches that dwarf those of even the best-trained, experienced teachers.

At Chaminade Prep in West Hills, Ed Croson makes nearly $100,000 to coach football while the scale for a science or math teacher with a master's degree and 10 years' experience is $53,953. And over at Crespi High in Encino, teachers are complaining that new football Coach Jon Mack was awarded a salary of well over $100,000 after instructors -- including some who make about a third as much -- were told there would be a salary freeze for the 2010-11 school year.

"The pressure is on to pay more," said Jeff Woodcock, headmaster at Oaks Christian, a relatively young school in upscale Westlake Village. "Why is [football] so important at USC? Why is it so important at top universities? It's because they know people want to be part of success. When you have a high-profile program that's successful, it has residual effects."

Oaks Christian trumpeted its sports programs from the start. When the school opened in the fall of 2000, its 18-acre campus was already dominated by athletic facilities such as a lighted football stadium, all-weather track, 1,200-seat gymnasium, 2,300-square-foot weight room, 50-meter swimming pool, and top-flight baseball and softball complexes.

To guide the football program, Oaks Christian hired Bill Redell, a veteran coach who played professionally in Canada and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame -- and he didn't come cheap.

Redell, who is paid in part from private resources not directly connected to the school, declined to reveal his salary but indicated it was comparable to what other top coaches in the Southland are now receiving -- in the area of $100,000 or more, about the same as a top large-school coach makes in football-crazy Texas.

"I'm not low-paid," Redell said.

Neither are other Oaks Christian coaches, four of whom were among the school's top five highest-paid employees in 2007, according to Internal Revenue Service records. Included was football assistant Mark Bates, who also taught math and helped direct a summer-school program for his $103,915 salary.

Whatever Oaks Christian pays Redell, it got the bang for the buck it was looking for. The coach quickly built a powerhouse that has won six California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section football championships and one state championship, and sent dozens of players to major-college programs on scholarship. Meantime, enrollment has boomed from about 160 to 1,119 for grades six through 12 at a school where the tuition next year will be $23,860.

JSerra, a newer private school in San Juan Capistrano, took a similar approach when it hired Jim Hartigan to be its football coach and athletic director in 2007, making him the school's second-highest paid employee at what IRS records show was a salary of $145,000. Hartigan had been a consistent winner in 16 years at Santa Margarita and Clovis West high schools, while in its first four years JSerra, which had aspirations of challenging Mater Dei High for sports supremacy in Orange County, had not won a league football game.

Since then, Hartigan has helped raise the school's athletic profile in football and other sports with his involvement in fundraising, summer camps and the hiring of other accomplished coaches.

"He's being compensated for doing a host of other things that are not typical job responsibilities of a football coach" at another school, JSerra President Frank Talarico said.

Still, given tough economic times, there are critics who say money for education should be invested in the classroom. Ethicist Michael Josephson, who enjoys athletics and is an enthusiastic fan, lamented that by using "resources that should be devoted to educational needs" to pursue a football coach, schools were creating "a distortion in the importance of sports."

"We're elevating athletics over education," he said.

Private schools from the upper-middle-income suburbs aren't the only ones offering lucrative job opportunities. Even in the cash-strapped Los Angeles Unified School District, which is facing a $640-million deficit next school year, veteran coaches willing to work overtime make big money.

At San Fernando High, Tom Hernandez made nearly $120,000 three years ago as dean of students and head football coach, and by picking up Z time -- extra hours of work at a year-round school during what would typically be off time. Like other public-school employees, Hernandez also enjoys health and retirement benefits that are among the most generous of any education system in the nation. That's another reason salaries are soaring, experts say, as private schools jack up their offers to compete.

Croson benefited from that competition last year, deciding to leave his $82,000 LAUSD post as coach and physical education teacher at Birmingham High in Lake Balboa because Chaminade offered a substantial raise. And James Adams, Chaminade's president, said the school was lucky to hire Croson when it did -- before the going rate for a top coach took another jump.

The football coach's salary is now nearly three times that of a first-year teacher, but neither administrator nor coach offered apologies.

Compared with a teacher, Adams said, a football coach's "amount of responsibilities are greater and their hours are greater." Said Croson: "I have 20 adults who work under me and 150 kids. I work Sunday. I work Saturday. I watch film in the middle of the night. I don't think you can compare it."

Exactly how much some private-school coaches are making remains a well-guarded secret because church-affiliated organizations are exempt from filing an IRS 990 Form. However, several sources with knowledge of the situation said that about $100,000 was the going rate for an experienced head coach at a competitive program.

Mack, the new Crespi coach, left a similar post at Ventura College that paid him $111,630 last year, according to information released under the California Public Records Act. He won't say what he's making at Crespi, but it has co-workers grumbling about priorities -- especially with the school also considering the purchase of a Jumbotron scoreboard at a cost of more than $200,000.

Mack contends everyone at the school will be better off if his program can provide what administrators are hoping for. "If we can build something special, teachers will be more secure," he said.

Crespi has been a fixture in its Catholic community for decades, but even for schools that enjoy firm bases of support, having a successful football program is viewed as a staple.

"It generates excitement," said Pete Bowen, president of Anaheim Servite, a pillar of the Orange County Catholic community. "It reconnects alumni. It encourages people to contribute to the overall success of the school."

And the coaches, just as long as they win enough, benefit even beyond their salaries.

Croson, who taught five classes at LAUSD's Birmingham, teaches one at Chaminade. Mack's teaching load at Crespi is two weightlifting classes -- a situation required, school officials contend, because of the time it takes to plan practice, develop off-season training programs and promote players during meetings with college recruiters.

Crespi this year had seven senior football players earn scholarships and, "The number of college recruiters that come on a daily basis is phenomenal," Crespi spokesman Rob Kodama said. "We'd be putting in a substitute teacher for [Mack] all the time if he were teaching four classes."

Some private schools offer facility and accessory perks as well.

At Birmingham, Croson said he used to wheel around a shared overhead projector and was told he'd have to replace its $500 light bulb if it broke. At Chaminade, he shows video in a media center that has a 14-foot screen in a room with 150 cushioned chairs. He also uses a telestrator and computer software that breaks down each play. In his office are three televisions -- two 42-inch flat screens and a 65-inch plasma.

Of course, his previous post offered color television too.

The set was 36 inches and he moved it around on a cart.

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