South Carolina coach Don Staley has a long history of elevating women’s basketball. Now, he’s done it again.
On Friday, the South Carolina Board of Trustees approved a new seven-year, $22.4 million contract for Staley, making her the highest-paid black coach in women’s basketball. The deal, which will pay her $2.9 million this season, puts her on par with UConn’s Zeno Auriemma, the highest-paid coach in women’s basketball. That’s an increase of $800,000 for Staley, who was set to make $2.1 million this season before his new contract was approved on Friday.
“Credit where it’s due,” Staley said. “There’s a rich history of racism in this university and in this state, and I’m not going to disregard it. But it’s one of the most progressive decisions they’ve ever made. They need to lead the way in the path of gender equality in America.” This is a just statement and amidst all our inequalities in our country, I hope this marks a turning point.
Under the new contract, Staley’s base salary would be $1 million per year, with external compensation starting at $1.9 million in the first year and increasing to $100,000 per year thereafter. Her 2021-22 compensation starts at $2.9 million, with the final year topping out at $3.5 million. The contract includes opportunities for additional performance compensation of up to $680,000 per year.
Staley and Auriemma are now the highest paid women’s basketball coaches in public institutions. About a dozen coaches in the women’s game, including Adia Barnes (Arizona), Gary Blair (Texas A&M), Brenda Frise (Maryland), Kelly Graves (Oregon), Kim Mulkey (LSU), Vic Schaefer, $1 million a year or earn more. (Texas), Vivian Stringer (Rutgers) and Jeff Walz (Louisville). (Salary numbers are not available to private school coaches at Stanford like Tara VanDerweer, the defending national champion, and Lindsey Gottlieb of Southern California, who was recently kicked out of the NBA.)
Staley’s contract comes just months after the NCAA Tournament—he led Gamecocks to his third Final Four—where the disparity between men and women was highlighted and heavily criticized. Staley said there was a tremendous disparity in his mind when he began negotiating the contract.
“I didn’t do it for me,” Staley said. “I am a supporter of equal pay and overall, this is a huge statement for women and black women – and not just in sports but across the country – when you think about how little they are paid in comparison to the dollar. Male.”
Staley, 51, has built South Carolina into a women’s basketball prowess in her 13 seasons at Columbia. She led Gamecock to the 2017 national championship—just the second black female coach to do so in NCAA basketball—and took them to three final fours in the past six tournaments. They often lead the nation in attendance, averaging over 10,000 fans per game.
This summer, in her first stint as head coach of the USA women’s basketball team, Staley led America to a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. As a player, the Hall of Famer was a three-time Olympic gold medalist (1996, 2000, 2004) and won two Naismith trophies (1991 and 1992) while in Virginia.
“Don Staley is one of the top coaches in the nation, regardless of the sport,” South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner said in a statement. “She’s built our women’s basketball program from the ground up, and her teams have produced champions, both on and off the floor. The ability to have Coach Staley at the University of South Carolina is great news for all gamecocks. I look forward to seeing the great achievements with fans who will continue to produce his program in the future.”
Staley grew up in projects in North Philadelphia and is one of the most decorated players and coaches, male or female, in the history of the sport. She knows this covenant has the power to resonate, especially in the black community.
“Often when black people are in these positions” [of leadership] We’re afraid to risk it all,” Staley said. “But I wasn’t afraid to lose. I agreed in my belief that, I have done enough… Money is the thing that attracts people, it is the highlighter, but for me, it is about equity. It is being able to know your worth, knowing that you are an asset to something and getting what you deserve. And it’s not a favor, it’s earned. “
In the past few years, especially since the WNBA announced a new collective bargaining agreement in January 2020, conversations about investing in women’s sports, especially women, have increased. Staley said that the guys who are struggling to keep women down, “they’re on the ropes — and we keep punching. At some point, they’re going to throw in the towel.
“We have to keep fighting,” she said. “The time has come for us to take women’s sports to where they deserve. It is long overdue, but we are moving in the right direction – and have the momentum to keep up.”