The stories had been circulating on a yearly basis whenever a big job in women’s basketball became available. Arizona’s Adia Barnes was a hot name. It was more than media chatter, especially this year.
“It wasn’t the first time I had been talked to,” Barnes said. “I want to do something special here. I think when you do something great, you do it the right ways, I think the money and all the other stuff come.”
The money certainly came.
Barnes was in consideration for the job at Baylor that had been recently vacated by Kim Mulkey. What do you do to keep the coach who has led your program to its highest point in program history? One of only two coaches in the Pac-12 to have led her team to a national title game? It’s an especially big question when faced with a challenge from a program with deep pockets and three titles.
If you are committed to the program and the coach who has become a star for your department, the answer for Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke turned out to be that you try to pay as close to market value as you can. What is the market in women’s college basketball today?
Barnes’ new terms have her making $5.85 million in base salary over five years. That averages out to $1.17 million per year, although the exact structure of the deal is still unknown. The incentives will remain the same as the deal Barnes previously agreed to in March. That makes the base salary the big news.
As it stands, that per-year average will make Barnes the third-highest paid coach in Pac-12 women’s basketball on a yearly average basis. Just last year, she sat with five other Pac-12 coaches among the bottom ten among major-conference coaches. When she arrived at Arizona, she was the lowest-paid in the Pac-12. Now, only two coaches in the league will make more than she does.
The last public records available for Tara VanDerveer’s salary are Stanford’s 2016 tax filings, which were published by ProPublica. As reported by Yahoo, those filings indicated that she made $2,279,608 in 2016. How much of that was base pay and how much consisted of incentives is unclear.
Barnes will also be edged out slightly by Oregon’s Kelly Graves, who has also been to a Final Four but not a title game. Graves signed a new deal in January that runs through May 31, 2029. It started him with a prorated salary of $1 million this year and tops out at $1.3 million, averaging $1,205,556 per year over its nine-year term.
The trio will be the only seven-figure coaches in what has been one of the best conferences in the sport for several years.
“Obviously Tara is like a different playing field,” Barnes said. “It’s like Tara, considering the stuff she’s done. And then for Kelly Graves to have a new contract, it helps all of us. It helps all of us because it’s just the Pac-12 is growing. I mean, we are light years behind the SEC. It’s not even comparable.”
The difference for Barnes is that she’s heading into her sixth year as a head coach. VanDerveer has been a head coach at three schools stretching back to 1978 and has won three titles. Graves started his head coaching career at the juco level in 1989 before getting his first Division I gig in 1997 at Saint Mary’s, then moving onto Gonzaga before landing at Oregon.
Does being in the same financial league as coaches who have that much seniority on her intimidate Barnes? The answer to that is the same as to most questions about whether Barnes finds something intimidating.
“It’s not at all,” she said. “That’s funny because that’s the second time I’ve been asked that today. I didn’t even think about it. I thought more about what we’ve done here and just the opportunity.”
When compared to some of the other salaries in the league, it isn’t a stretch to pay the three coaches that much, anyway.
Tina Langley was just hired by Washington after winning this year’s WNIT at Rice. She will make $650,000 her first year with the Huskies in what is just her second head-coaching position and first above the mid-major level.
Langley’s salary rivals that of Oregon State’s Scott Rueck, who is due to make $662,088 next year and has been to a Final Four, and UCLA’s Cori Close, who earns in the same neighborhood three years after taking her team to the Elite Eight. Charli Turner Thorne, who has taken ASU to the Tournament 14 times with two Elite Eight finishes, lives in the same sphere at just over $600,000 per year.
Barnes was scheduled to move slightly below that tier of coaching salaries under the deal brokered back in March. She would have made $580,000 next season in base salary and topped out at $770,000 in 2025-26. It was good money, but, as she mentioned, not anywhere near what some in other parts of the country are making to coach women’s college basketball.
Dawn Staley, who has one title, is making $1.7 million at South Carolina. She is also eligible for incentives that pay $100,000 for SEC regular-season and tournament titles and $400,000 for a national title. In 2019, before Vic Schaefer went to Texas, they were two of four SEC coaches making at least $1 million. A fifth coach made $750,000.
In the Pac-12, even the incentives are more modest. Graves, for example, gets $150,000 for a national title and $25,000 for winning the Pac-12. Barnes was paid $85,000 in bonus money for reaching the Final Four this season with about half of that for advancing to the Final Four itself and the other half for getting through the first three rounds.
While Barnes’ Arizona deal won’t put her anywhere near the $2.27 million per year that Mulkey was reportedly earning to coach the Lady Bears, it does put the Wildcats’ coach at a price point that makes it more difficult for anyone to argue that she’s significantly underpaid relative to the market.
That’s not the only thing Barnes considered, though. There’s something that Arizona had that Baylor did not.
“I was thinking about my happiness, my quality of life,” she said. “All those things are really important to me. So, for me, I love Arizona. I love the fact that this is a place where I can write the story. With the players and the staff and all the support I have, I write the story here. I don’t have to follow behind someone. We kind of do it together. We leave our legacy and build it. And my challenge is to build it into a powerhouse.”
The story of Sean Miller may not have been too far from her mind, either.
“I think it’s a similar situation here at Arizona,” she said. “If you go behind Lute, it’s a really hard thing because you’re compared on the court, off the court, all those things, so it’s challenging. Doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I don’t feel like there’s anywhere I couldn’t go and be successful.”
Now Barnes can turn her attention back to making Arizona something more than a Cinderella story from 2021.