Perhaps for the first time ever, there simultaneously is serious coaching movement within each of the state’s four Division I men’s basketball programs.
Lon Kruger’s retirement was followed one day later by Frank Haith’s University of Tulsa contract extension.
As expected, it was announced on Monday that Oklahoma State’s Mike Boynton has been rewarded with a deserved and significantly more lucrative contract. He now is the highest-paid basketball coach in OSU history.
At Oral Roberts University, an ongoing situation centers on the contract of Paul Mills, the Golden Eagles’ suddenly hot head coach. An extension and raise seem imminent.
After a 10-year run of representing OU in an A-plus manner, Kruger has reached the finish line of a Hall of Fame career. It’s one of those stories to which you respond with a “wow,” but his retirement decision wasn’t shocking.
As a head coach at six schools and with the Atlanta Hawks, he was involved in 1,297 games. At 68, he has earned a break.
Joe Castiglione’s candidates list should be lengthy and include surprising names. Kruger made $3.4 million this season. Would OU be willing to pay $4 million for the right guy? Or might the COVID-19 impact on finances compel OU to stay in the $3 million neighborhood?
On Friday, 15 days after the end of a terribly disappointing season, TU announced a contract adjustment for Haith. The 2021-22 season will be his eighth with the Golden Hurricane.
TU still hasn’t recorded an NCAA Tournament victory since 2003, and now crosstown rival ORU has the momentum of having been an Ohio State- and Florida-conquering 15 seed that came up one bucket shy of eliminating Arkansas in the Sweet Sixteen.
The Haith extension was announced at a weird news-dump sort of time: 6:06 p.m. on Friday, or slightly more than 24 hours before the ORU-Arkansas game.
Details provided by TU: none.
The length of the extension — whether it was for one year or two or even three — is not yet known, and neither is Haith’s salary. The press-release quote from TU athletic director Rick Dickson: “We believe coach Haith can lead our program back to competing for a conference championship and postseason competition.”
If TU is proud of the extension and really believes that Haith is the best person for a program that currently lacks energy, then the university should stop hiding behind its private-school wall and be transparent with a basic detail like the length of the contract.
Boynton just completed the best of his four seasons. He is young (39), a charismatic force in recruiting and could be considered for other jobs, so it was presumed that his contract status would be a high-priority project for Oklahoma State administration.
Apparently, it was.
On Monday, Oklahoma State did provide details: “Mike Boynton has signed a seven-year contract extension . . . through at least the 2027-28 season. The new agreement increases Boynton’s compensation to $3 million annually.”
This season, by nearly $500,000, Boynton was the Big 12’s lowest-paid coach. Even at $3 million, he still would be eighth on the 2020-21 ranking of Big 12 salaries.
However, the move to $3 million is a sweet milestone for Boynton and an important commitment statement from OSU.
Before there was a 25% pandemic pay cut in 2020-21, Boynton was to have been paid $1.85 million. In Travis Ford’s final season with the Cowboys (2015-16), he made $2.4 million.
It was time for an expression of appreciation from OSU for Boynton — just like it’s time for something comparable for Mills at ORU.
Oklahoma State moved quickly on a new deal for Boynton, and it is believed that ORU will do the same for Mills.
When Scott Sutton was fired in 2017, his ORU salary was believed to have been slightly beyond $400,000 a year. I have no idea what Mills was paid when hired or what he’s making today. I do know that over the last two weeks, he drove ORU to a possibly unprecedented position of national prominence.
As I mentioned in a March 19 column written immediately after the Golden Eagles bounced the Buckeyes, the most important victory in ORU history was the first-round upset of Ohio State: “There are a million more sports-media platforms today than in 1974. The most talked-about Friday event in American sports will have been an Oral Roberts basketball game.”
During a span of 10 days, Max Abmas, Kevin Obanor and Mills were noticed and discussed by everyone in the basketball world. Unless Abmas and Obanor dive into the transfer portal or choose a jump to pro basketball, they return next season. I’m told to expect impressive results from Mills’ current recruiting efforts.
Within a span of 35 days in 2017, OSU and ORU rolled the dice on new head basketball coaches who had no head-coaching experience. Today, within their respective fan bases, each man has an extremely high approval rating.
As Boynton gets a big money bump and the security of a seven-year extension of his relationship with Oklahoma State, Mills appears to be on the brink of a very nice “thank you” gesture from ORU.