Head coaches from 20 area high schools were paid more than $950,000 in stipends for the 2019-20 school year, according to the numbers obtained by the Bristol Herald Courier.
Nearly 300 head coaches — including those who coach multiple sports — from nine school systems were involved in a study that began earlier this year. They included both Bristols — Virginia and Tennessee — and Norton, along with all high schools from Russell, Smyth, Washington and Wise counties.
In addition, two of four Sullivan County schools, Sullivan Central and East, and two of three Tazewell County schools, Richlands and Tazewell, were included.
The records were obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.
The nearly $1 million last year in stipends were for head coaches alone. That figure doesn’t include compensation for athletic directors, assistant coaches and other athletic personnel.
Leading the way among the three city schools is Tennessee High, the largest school in the area, which paid nearly $95,000 for head coaches. County schools were led by Wise, followed by Smyth, Russell and Washington.
The highest paid coaches are those involved with the more profitable sports, including football, followed by girls basketball, and then boys basketball.
Making a difference
Coaches get satisfaction from a job well done in many ways.
For many college and professional coaches, a large salary helps make it well worth the effort. The pay at least compensates somewhat for the long hours and never-ending drama that comes with the position.
High school coaches put in the same effort, but the financial benefits are limited. They have other motivations.
“What makes them tick is just the opportunity to make a difference,” Virginia High Athletic Director Brad Harper said. “I think there is still some competitiveness there from being an athlete in the past or wanting to compete or making a difference, but I think when you really look at it what really determines the success of a lot of our coaches is the impact they make on kids.”
According to Harper, stipends are calculated in different ways by various school districts, with much determined by coaching and teaching experience. Most coaches are also teachers, or have other jobs outside the school system and choose to serve as coaches on the side.
“Nobody is coaching high school sports for the money,” Harper said. “If that is their intent then they are probably not going to be in it very long. …We have people that they feel like they have something to offer and just want to have that opportunity to make a difference in young people and be role models and just have an impact.”
Harper, a former coach who was influenced by his own coaches in the past, continues to see the impact that former Virginia High coach Barry Reed had on his wife, the former Carmen Jones, who played for Reed on the Bearcats’ girls basketball team.
“She would still try to run through a wall for him to this day,” Harper said. “That is just the type of impact these people have had.”
As one of the highest paid coaches in the area, Tennessee High eighth-year football coach Mike Mays figures he spends more time in the offseason with his Vikings than during the season in the fall.
“I feel like that is what it takes. You have to get commitment from the kids and I think that is where you build the commitment in the offseason is who is going to be in there when it hits the fan,” Mays said. “Kids show up every day and they work and they understand the process.”
Nothing brings more satisfaction for Mays than watching a freshman develop into a productive senior, such as current standout Jaden Keller. He was 6 feet tall and weighed 165 pounds when he arrived at the Stone Castle four years ago. He is now 6 feet, 5 inches tall, weighs 215 and is an NCAA Division I football prospect.
“That is what I like,” he said. “I like that process of taking kids like that and looking at what they look like in four years when they walk out of here.”
Few coaches in Southwest Virginia have been more successful than Robin Dotson, the girls basketball coach at Wise County Central. Dotson has been in coaching for 36 years, 33 as a head coach, winning six state titles and finishing second three other times.
He certainly hasn’t stayed in it this long for a small stipend.
“Coaching has been a calling for me,” Dotson said. “I love the kids and the interaction with them, and I love competition. It is very rewarding and keeps me motivated and goal-oriented.”
Out of nearly 300 coaches in a number of sports — counting the multi-sport coaches — among the 20 schools profiled in the analysis, 84 are women and many coach more than one sport at their respective schools.
Men make the overall highest stipends, comprising all 40 football and boys basketball coaching positions, and 15 of the 20 girls basketball slots in the region.
Volleyball and cheerleading are the only sports dominated by women’s coaches in the area. Softball has 12 men and eight women’s coaches, while tennis includes nearly an equal number of men and women coaches.
There are 211 men’s coaches and 84 women’s coaches. Stipends total $702,216 for men’s coaches, with the average stipend as $3,328. Stipends for women’s coaches total $247,931, with an average $2,951 stipend.
No matter the gender, Harper said the reason coaches roam the sidelines at the high school level is about so much more than a few extra bucks.
“I think it is just trying to make a difference for young people …,” he said. “I think coaches have the ability to have a tremendous amount of influence on young people.”
Sullivan East athletic director Kim Carrier can certainly relate. A three-sport participant with the Patriots, Carrier’s career path was strongly influenced by longtime Sullivan East girls basketball coach Mickey Forrester.
“He was probably one of the most important people in my life,” said Carrier, a former police officer who later switched to counselor and assistant coach. “I have always, always wanted to coach. Even through law enforcement, I wanted to coach.
“I just thought if I could ever have half the impact on some players like he had on mine than I would feel like I was a success.”
Harper stresses that high school coaches strive to have a positive influence on the young men and women they help develop, not only as athletes, but as future leaders in their communities.
The extra pay helps, but that isn’t the reason they coach. The payoff might come decades down the road, according to Harper, who stresses that a new Virginia High School League initiative preaches the hiring of transformational over transitional coaches, which leans toward having an influence on student-athletes that will last far into the future.
“The winning and losing is great, the competition is great, but one of the questions asked is, ‘How does it feel to be coached by me?’” Harper said. “What would you want them to say [about you] 20 years from now?
“That is really going to be our focus moving forward is really being that transformational coach and making a difference well beyond the court or the field or whatever the case may be.”
Developing lifelong success
There is so much more to coaching than just showing up for games. The list of responsibilities, from practices to those games, is nearly endless. Most also have to prepare for and teach classes, and they still have to find time for their families.
“As a young coach, we spend a lot of time up here just trying to be a better coach,” said Mays, who teaches weightlifting, and as he said, work ethic every day. “When I was a younger coach, I feel like I spent a lot more hours. I have learned to work smarter, and I think my wife has helped me with that.”
Finding a mixture of family and sports can be difficult, but understanding spouses play a key role in success on and off the field.
“You look at every one of our wives on our coaching staff, they are great women that support us and if you don’t have that you really can’t do this job, unless you are not married,” Mays said. “They all understand the commitment we have got to make and what we are trying to do.
“As young wives for these young guys when they understand what that coach is doing for that kid, it is a lot easier to let your husband go for 80 hours a week.”
Especially when what comes out of those efforts are successful adults in life.
“We have got kids we never thought would graduate and through football we were able to graduate them and they are successful,” Mays said. “We were talking about a kid that played for us in 2010 that has got his own business, he is remodeling houses. We were kind of nervous about what he was doing in life. I love when kids have success and I feel like when we are part of that it is even more special.”
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