Comparing Kenny Payne’s New Contract with Musselman Era Salaries is Startling

Kenny Payne, Arkansas basketball
photo credit: Louisville Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — Kenny Payne became the first person on John Calipari’s first staff with the Arkansas basketball program when he was officially announced as the associate head coach Thursday evening.

The former Louisville head coach and long-time Calipari assistant at Kentucky is another splashy hire for the Razorbacks — and he will be compensated as such.

According to a copy of his employment agreement obtained by Best of Arkansas Sports via a Freedom of Information Act request, Payne signed a three-year deal that will pay him $900,000 annually.

Also included in the agreement are two $50,000 bonuses he can obtain each year. The first is triggered with an NCAA Tournament appearance and the second one kicks in if Arkansas reaches the Sweet 16.

Unlike the bonus structure for many coaches on campus, those bonuses are cumulative, meaning he’d make $100,000 if the Razorbacks make it to the second weekend of the Big Dance. That would then bring his total income for that season to $1 million.

There is a non-compete clause included in Payne’s agreement, as well, which prohibits him from leaving to take an assistant coaching position elsewhere in the SEC. He can, however, take a head coaching position within the conference.

If he is fired for convenience, Payne would be owed the remainder of his contract. That buyout would be offset by his next job, though, and it’s worth noting his deal includes a “duty to mitigate,” meaning he must actively search for a comparable position. Calipari’s deal does not include that clause, but Payne is eight years younger than his boss.

If Payne leaves for another job, he would owe the UA a buyout of just 20% of his remaining contract.

What it Means for Arkansas Basketball

If there was any doubt before — and there shouldn’t have been, considering what John Calipari is being paid — Arkansas’ financial commitment to the basketball program is no longer in question.

Not only are the Razorbacks making Calipari the second-highest paid basketball coach in the country, but Kenny Payne is now one of the highest paid assistants in college basketball.

There is no public database with that data, but he is believed to be the highest paid assistant in UA history.

For perspective, it wasn’t until former head coach Chad Morris hired John Chavis as his defensive coordinator in 2018 that Arkansas ever paid seven figures for an assistant coach in football.

Payne is knocking on the door of that threshold and would make $1 million in years Arkansas reaches the Sweet 16. Even if the Razorbacks miss the NCAA Tournament entirely, he’d still be making more than double their highest paid assistant coach last season, when Keith Smart made $400,000.

In fact, Payne’s annual salary is nearly more than all five of last year’s assistant coaches combined, according to contract details published by HawgBeat last November.

The NCAA increased the limit of assistant coaches in college basketball from three to five before last season and here’s how much each of them made:

  • Keith Smart: $400,000
  • Anthony Ruta: $184,000
  • Michael Musselman: $150,000
  • Todd Lee: $120,000
  • Ronnie Brewer Jr.: $100,000

Add those up and it comes out to $954,000. If the Razorbacks simply make the field of 68, Kenny Payne will nearly match that — and he’d easily exceed it with a couple of wins in the NCAA Tournament.

It will be interesting to monitor how much Arkansas dishes out to the rest of the staff, which will include four more assistants.

One name that has been rumored to be following Calipari to Fayetteville is Orlando Antigua. His salary at Kentucky last season was $900,000, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Considering his recruiting prowess, he’ll be a highly coveted assistant and new Kentucky basketball coach Mark Pope is reportedly trying to retain him. So Arkansas probably wouldn’t get a discount just because he wants to stay with Calipari.

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