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The 10 highest-paid coaches in Silver State history

Lon Kruger
Lon Kruger was the first $1 million coach in the state of Nevada. (AP file)

When it comes to coaching in the Silver State, it pays to be UNLV’s basketball coach. That’s what T.J. Otzelberger, the latest man to lead the Rebels, learned this week. Otzelberger became the highest-paid coach in Silver State history when he inked a five-year deal with UNLV. Here is a look at the 10 highest-paid coaches in the state of Nevada.

1t. T.J. Otzelberger, UNLV basketball, $1.1 million

UNLV went big with its basketball hire this week, handing Otzelberger a five-year, $6.5 million contract that will pay him $1.1 million this season and run up to $1.5 million for his last season at UNLV. That will make him the highest-paid basketball coach in Mountain West history, surpassing Steve Alford, who maxed out at $1.3 million before leaving New Mexico for UCLA. The $6.5 million deal even surpassed the five-year, $5.75 million pact UNLV gave to Chris Beard three offseasons ago before he bounced to Texas Tech after a couple of weeks. That contract isn’t included in this break down given he never logged a season with the Rebels.

1t. Lon Kruger, UNLV basketball, $1.1 million

Kruger was the only first coach in the state’s history to break the $1 million mark. He earned it. The former NBA coach is the only man to lead four schools to the Sweet 16, doing so at UNLV in 2007. He was 161-71 in seven seasons at UNLV, with four NCAA Tournament appearances and two NITs (he left a strong roster that reached the NCAAs the two years following his departure). Kruger was eventually lured away by Oklahoma's big bucks, a move that didn't have UNLV fans heartbroken. Many fans thought he maxed out with the Rebels; clearly they were wrong.

3. Eric Musselman, Nevada basketball, $1 million

After two seasons at the cut-rate price of $400,000 per season, Musselman cashed in with a record-setting deal that pays him $1 million annually through the 2021-22 season. That's the most a Wolf Pack coach has ever made and was the second most of any coach in state history prior to Otzelberger’s higher, which could earn Musselman an even more lucrative deal. This season, Musselman became one of the fastest college coaches in the modern era to reach 100 wins and he’s bagged four MW titles and three NCAA Tournament berths in his first four seasons at Nevada, including a Sweet 16 run in 2018 and a national rank as high as fifth this season.

4. Rollie Massimino, UNLV basketball, $886,000

The most controversial contract in the state's history paid Massimino $886,000 annually – only few people knew that. His approved contract paid $511,000 per year, but he received another $375,000 unknown to the Nevada Board of Regents. He was forced out after two seasons, the contract being used as the scapegoat following a 15-13 season and plummeting attendance. Massimino, who won a national title at Villanova but couldn't fill Tarkanain's shoes after replacing the legend, got a $1.8 million settlement to go away at UNLV. This contract was a complete disaster.

5T. Marvin Menzies, UNLV basketball, $700,000

Menzies wasn’t UNLV’s first choice for three offseasons ago, with the Rebels trying to lure Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin and then hiring Beard before he bounced for his alma mater. UNLV eventually settled for Menzies, who was given a contract that paid him $700,000 in guaranteed money in each of his first three seasons on the job, with that number rising to $800,000 in 2019-20 and 2020-21. Unfortunately for Menzies, he didn’t make it to 2019-20 after being fired following this season.

5T. Dave Rice, UNLV basketball, $700,000

Kruger's successor, Rice, posted a good record. He was 98-54 at UNLV, a 64.5 winning percentage, with two NCAA Tournament appearances and three 20-win campaigns in four full seasons. But his teams struggled in the MW, where Rice was 37-32. He was fired three games into conference play in 2015-16 and got a $900,000 buyout (and eventually was an assistant at Nevada). Oddly, the Silver State has paid its basketball coaches more than its football coaches, with hoops coaches taking the top six spots on this list. It’s usually the opposite with Division I schools spending more on football, the big cash cow.

5T. Bobby Hauck, UNLV football, $700,000

The first football coach on the list, you probably didn't finger Hauck as the highest-paid gridiron coach in Nevada's history with Chris Ault and John Robinson having led teams. But Hauck somehow got a $700,000 per year deal after posting a 13-38 record over his first four seasons at UNLV. He was rewarded with that nice extension after his lone bowl appearance before going 2-11 in 2014, a season that got him fired. Hauck (15-49) had just two wins in four of his five seasons, but he cashed a good amount of money before being fired.

8T. Jerry Tarkanian, UNLV basketball, $600,000

The best coach in Nevada's history maxed out at $600,000, but that was a lot of money in the 1980s. Tarkanian, who was forced out at UNLV in 1992 amid pressure from NCAA investigators. He went 509-105 in 19 seasons with the Rebels and put UNLV on the national map (he also raised expectations to a level that haven't been matched nearly three decades later). Tarkanian's teams made 12 NCAA tournaments, including four Final Fours and one national title (in 1990). He was hired by the NBA's Spurs after his run at UNLV but lasted just 20 games before getting a $1.3 million settlement.

8T. Bill Bayno, UNLV basketball, $600,000

Bill Bayno made the same annual salary as Jerry Tarkanian! Crazy! Bayno was UNLV's fourth coach in five seasons when hired in 1995 at age 32. Bayno was 94-64 in five-plus seasons with two NCAA Tournament appearances and UNLV's lone MW regular-season title. On the court, he did well. Off the court, UNLV was entangled in an NCAA investigation based on the recruitment of Lamar Odom, which resulted in Bayno's pink slip seven games into the 2000-01 season. The NCAA cleared Bayno of wrongdoing; UNLV gave him a $400,000 settlement. Seven of the top-nine coaches on this list coached Rebels basketball. UNLV doesn’t mind spending in basketball, although it hasn’t always led to a lot of wins.

10. Tony Sanchez, UNLV football, $600,000

And we've reached the 10th spot on this list with only one entry from Nevada (that being Musselman). It shows you which Silver State school sprinkles more money around (with mixed results). Sanchez earned $510,00 per season when he was hired from the high school ranks by UNLV prior to the 2015 season, but he was moved up to $600,000 following an extension in 2017. Sanchez is 16-32 overall, 11-21 in the MW and has yet to finish higher than third in his division. He also hasn't reached a bowl game. That has made his fifth season at UNLV a crucial one if he wants to remain the Rebels' coach.

The next five

11. Brian Polian, Nevada football, $585,000

12. Mark Fox, Nevada basketball ($545,000)

13. Jay Norvell, Nevada football ($500,000)

14. Chris Ault, Nevada football ($493,000)

15. Mike Sanford, UNLV football ($425,000)

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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