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The CMS coaches pay dilemma and how to fix it

Vance High football coach Aaron Brand leaving CMS

Vance High football coach Aaron Brand discusses why he's leaving for a job at a S.C. high school
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Vance High football coach Aaron Brand discusses why he's leaving for a job at a S.C. high school

Former Independence High football coach Tom Knotts thinks that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will always have a problem holding onto its best coaches unless it addresses a few things.

And he’s right.

“If they value football,” Knotts said, “they need to pay coaches what’s comparable to surrounding areas of pay.”

Knotts notes that Vance High football coach Aaron Brand nearly doubled his salary when he accepted a job at Irmo High School in Columbia in May.

“He got (the) pay raise, and no teaching,” Knotts said. “That’s also important. Teaching a full load is unheard of down here in South Carolina. They value quality of football and they know what it takes for coaches to be prepared.”

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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools needs to take a hard look at how it compensates coaches and think about relaxing a rule that prevents anyone who coaches sports in the system from also becoming an athletics director. Doing so would allow the system to potentially pay strong football or basketball coaches more money.

Another issue is how coaches are paid here.

Many North Carolina counties now are paying based on years of experience. In CMS, a first-year coach makes the same as a 30-year coach. And if a team advances deep into the playoffs, the coaching staff doesn’t get any additional money for the extra hours it has to put in during the postseason run. Having a tiered pay system could allow for, say, a playoff bonus in the revenue sports.

“I remember once, Tommy (Knotts) and I were playing in the state semifinals,” said Kannapolis Brown’s Mike Newsome, who coached against Knotts at Butler High School. “We had played four extra weeks, him with the winningest program in the state and me with probably the second winningest. And we’re making the same amount as some other schools not winning a game.”

What seems to be happening now is a cycle of young coaches coming into CMS, learning the craft, building a name in a big media market and then they starting looking south (or to smaller, in-state systems) for better financial opportunities.

It’s a hole that CMS needs to plug quickly.

In many ways, high school football coaches are as valuable as principals. Sports is the ultimate drop-out prevention program and there’s no high school sport as big as football. Having an elite football coach should be valued. And apparently it is at many schools across the border.

So, a few thoughts:

CMS should look at a tiered pay scale based on experience. It should consider performance bonuses in revenue sports.

It should allow coaches to also be athletics directors, which would allow CMS to pay a star coach more. Those ADs should not have to teach, to allow time for coaching and paperwork.

It should even consider allowing a school with an administrative-level opening, to move a star coach to that job and that pay level, equal to an assistant principal, with the athletics and administrative responsibilities woven in.

That would allow, say, a head football coach here to make a salary rivaling some of his best-paid peers in South Carolina while also giving his school an athletics director with time enough to properly handle the job.

Some may view this position as placing more emphasis on athletics than education. But athletics can be and is part of a student’s education and helps keep many kids coming to school in the first place. You can’t learn if you aren’t there.

And such an administrative/athletic position would probably have kept Brand — as good a coach as has worked in Mecklenburg County since Knotts left in 2009 — at his current school.

“It’s like the University of Alabama paying Nick Saban what they pay him,” Newsome said. “It’s a state university and they pay the guy 8 million a year, and every year that president has said ‘Paying his salary is an investment for us.’ The better the team does, the more kids they get applying to their school. So take someone who builds a quality program at a high school. Is he worth more money, too?”

In the end, Knotts thinks CMS will always find the next football coach. He just wonders if it will continue to find the right football coach.

“There’s always going to be somebody to take Brand’s spot, to take my spot,” Knotts said. “But the powers that be have to decide if it’s important to them. I know academics always come first, but football sets the tone for every school. You can ask anybody that. Every principal, some begrudgingly, they all will admit it.”

And he’s right about that, too.

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