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Cashin’ in at South Carolina: Dawn Staley inks historic seven-year, $22.4 million contract

Last week, the University of South Carolina signed head women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley to a historic contract — seven years for $22.4 million. For the 2021-22 season, Staley will make $2.9 million. Here’s why she deserved this big-time pay day.

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Texas v South Carolina
Dawn Staley celebrates winning the 2021 SEC Tournament.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

A’ja Wilson got the statue, but Dawn Staley got the bag. (Unfortunately, Wilson missed out on NIL money. A statue for Staley, however, is not out of the question.)

The University of South Carolina signed Staley, their head women’s basketball coach since 2008, to a historic contract last Friday. Staley’s deal — $22.4 million for seven years — is the richest in women’s college basketball history for a Black head coach.

Staley will earn $2.9 million this season, with her salary increasing by $100,000 each year. This means, on average, she will rake in over $3 million per year. She also can increase her earnings with up to $680,000 in yearly bonuses, including $500,000 for winning another national championship.

Last Friday, Staley addressed her historic deal, stating:

I know that the very thing that people will look at is the money. I mean, the money is staggering. And it really wasn’t about the money, but it takes the money for this recognition to be something that is eye-opening and monumental.

Articulating the larger significance of her contract, she noted:

This university and this state have a rich history of racism, and I’m not going to disregard that. But this is one of the most progressive decisions they’ve ever made. They need to be recognized for being committed to leading the way in gender equity in America. This is an equitable statement and in the midst of all our inequities in our country, I hope it’s a turning point.

She continued:

I didn’t do this for me. I am an advocate of equal pay and overall, this is a huge statement for women and for Black women — and not just in sports but all over the country — when you think about how much less they’re paid on the dollar compared to men.

Why Dawn deserved this deal

In 13 seasons, Staley has transformed South Carolina’s women’s basketball, turning a long-middling program into an undisputed powerhouse that regularly claims conference titles and top-ranked recruits. During Staley’s tenure, a ticket to a Gamecock game at Colonial Life Arena also has become one of the hottest tickets in women’s college hoops, with passionate Gamecock FAMs, donned in garnet and black, filling the seats to cheer on Staley and her charges.

Her headlining accomplishments include:

  • 331 wins at a .763 winning percentage
  • 2017 national championship
  • 3 Final Fours (2015, 2017, 2021)
  • 6 SEC Tournament championships (2015-18, 2020-21)
  • 5 SEC regular-season championships (2014-17, 2020)
  • 2020 unanimous National Coach of the Year

Understandably, Staley’s success attracted outside interest, including from the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers earlier this year.

While the genuineness of NBA teams’ interest in actually hiring, and not just getting the PR boost for interviewing, a woman candidate can be questioned, Staley has suggested that the Blazers “treated me like a real candidate.”

On an episode of A’ja Wilson and Napheesa Collier’s podcast, Tea with A & Phee, Staley elaborated on the interview, sharing:

I had never had an ounce of me that wanted to coach in the WNBA or NBA, until somebody sought me out, like the Portland Trail Blazers....It was really a great experience, I took a lot of notes because if another female is ever in that position, I got the notes, and I’m going to give them everything that they asked me — how I answered it, what they said.

However, in what will please all FAMs, Staley indicated that she has no intention of leaving Columbia. Upon signing her new contract, she emphasized:

I do believe this contract extension keeps me here, it’s fair to say, for a very long time. I don’t know when my career will end, but certainly, I want this to be my last stop.

How Staley’s deal stacks up

Staley’s new deal compares to that of UConn’s Geno Auriemma, who inked a five-year contract extension in May 2021 that will total at least $15 million. For the 2021-22 season, Auriemma will take in $2.9 million, the same amount as Staley. Like Staley, he also will receive yearly raises of $100,000.

After making the move from Waco, Texas to Baton Rouge La., Kim Mulkey signed an eight-year contract to become the head coach at LSU, with $22.5 million dollars guaranteed. While the headline number slightly exceeds Staley’s, so does the number of years, meaning Mulkey makes less than Staley and Auriemma on a per-year basis. Mulkey will earn $2.5 million for the forthcoming season. Her salary will increase to $3.3 million by the end of the deal.

Because Stanford is a private university, the exact terms of head coach Tara Vanderveer’s contract are unknown. The most recent available estimate suggest the coach of the 2021 national champions is paid at least $2.28 million per year.

Adia Barnes, whose upstart Arizona Wildcats advanced to the 2021 title game before falling to Vanderveer and the Stanford Cardinal, secured a needed raise for her success. Barnes signed a five-year contract extension worth at least $5.85 million.

Along with Staley and these four, other women’s college hoops head coaches who, based on publicly available information, make more than $1 million per season are: Texas A&M’s Gary Blair, Maryland’s Brenda Frese, Oregon’s Kelly Graves, Texas’ Vic Shafer, Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer and Louisville’s Jeff Walz.