Opinion

$100,000 for a high school football coach?

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

How much money is too much for a high school football coach? North Carolina’s second largest school district has provided something of an answer.

Last month, Vance High School coach Aaron Brand cashed in on a successful five-year run in Charlotte and accepted a coaching job at Irmo High School in Columbia. Brand will be earning $100,000, nearly twice as much as he made at Vance, and his position at Irmo will require him to teach only one class. It is, as Brand told the Observer’s Langston Wertz, a “golden opportunity,” and the talented coach should be congratulated. But it’s also money Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is unable or unwilling to pay. That, too, is good.

Brand’s move has renewed a lingering discussion about successful high school coaches leaving Charlotte for high-paying positions in South Carolina or at smaller, in-state schools. The same has happened at schools across North Carolina, perhaps no more famously than with former Independence High School coach Tom Knotts, who won six state titles at the school before heading across the border to coach at Dutch Fork (S.C.) High School.

Knotts is among the coaches who spoke with Wertz last week about how CMS can hold onto its best football talent. “If they value football,” Knotts said, “they need to pay coaches what’s comparable to surrounding areas of pay.”

But should they? Football and other athletics play a valuable role in the high school experience, and as Wertz thoughtfully noted, “sports is the ultimate drop-out prevention program.” Coaches also point to colleges like University of Alabama, which pays football coach Nick Saban more than $8 million a year and has seen a surge in enrollment and other benefits from success on the football field.

But public high schools don’t see a flood of new students because of football success, and it’s incongruous to pay the coach of an all-boys team twice as much as girls’ coaches, let alone other teachers and arts program leaders. We think all teachers should be paid more, including coaches. Certainly, individual districts should consider if and how to reward athletic success, and if a team makes a deep playoff run, schools should compensate coaches for at least part of the extra time they put in. Some suggest that CMS also could pay coaches more by allowing them to also be athletic directors, but it’s a bit of a minefield to give one coach control over other coaches’ budgets.

The reality is that there’s little CMS can do to compete with a South Carolina school that’s waving around serious cash. Another reality: The way it works now is working. Young coaches are taking advantage of opportunities and building strong programs that compete for state titles. If that means urban districts are a training ground for deep-pocketed South Carolina schools, so be it. High school coaches should benefit from the free market, too.

But CMS, at least, shouldn’t to try to compete. Football, like other sports, is a memorable and worthy part of students’ high school years. But whatever misguided sensibilities exist across the state line, football should not be a outsized priority here.

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Note: A June 4 Observer sports column and earlier version of this June 6 editorial said former Vance High School football coach Aaron Brand would have no teaching duties in his new coaching job at Irmo High School in Columbia. That information was provided by Brand to an Observer reporter. The coach will be teaching one physical education class, a spokesperson for SC school district 5 says.

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