Steve Alford is sporting a smile quite a bit lately.
Why wouldn’t he?
His New Mexico Lobos men’s basketball team, ranked No. 19 in the country and assuredly moving up when Monday’s polls are released, is off to its best start since the 1998-99 season, is sitting pretty at 16-2 overall and in first place in the Mountain West Conference with a 3-0 league record.
Colorado State at No. 19 New Mexico, 6 p.m., The Pit
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 770 AM
UNM fans are packing the Pit and will likely average better than 15,000 for the remaining six home games this season. They have already purchased the school’s allotment of Mountain West Tournament tickets.
All that success isn’t only adding wins to Alford’s coaching résumé, it piles stacks of cash in his bank account.
Alford’s contract with UNM is an incentive-rich deal that rewards team successes on the court and in the classroom. The most recent addendum to his contract, signed in November 2011, allows for more than $625,000 in bonuses even after his base salary and other compensation package pays him more than $1 million ($324,200.04 in base salary, $600,000 in “other compensation” and $100,000 annually in deferred compensation paid into a retirement account).
And it’s more than worth it to UNM, says athletic director Paul Krebs.
“I am a big believer in incentivizing performance,” Krebs said in an email to the Journal. “Coach Alford has done and continues to do a remarkable job on and off the court.”
Many of Alford’s bonuses, ones accounting for tens of thousands of dollars, are almost done deals for the season and some have already been met.
For instance, should UNM win just four of its remaining 13 regular-season games and reach the 20-win plateau, Alford will receive $10,000.
Barring a complete collapse from where the team now sits, he’ll also hit the following benchmarks: an NCAA Tournament berth ($20,000), a final RPI ranking in the Top 50 ($10,000; UNM was ranked No. 9 in the RPI as of Saturday), a final strength of schedule in the top 100 ($10,000; UNM’s schedule strength was rated No. 6 on Saturday morning).
And in the classroom, should the Lobos post a cumulative grade-point average of 2.7 for the academic year, which they’ve done consistently in recent years, Alford will get another $15,000.
Alford has already pocketed $30,000 for his Lobos knocking off two teams ranked in the Top 20 in either The Associated Press or USA Today Coaches Top 25 polls. UNM beat No. 8 (in both polls) Cincinnati on Dec. 27 and No. 19 (in the USA Today Coaches poll) UNLV on Jan. 9 in the Pit. Alford gets $15,000 for every win over a team ranked in the Top 20.
UNM will likely have at least three more regular-season games against ranked teams – at San Diego State on Saturday, at UNLV on Feb. 9 and vs. San Diego State in the Pit on Feb. 27.
UNM’s Nov. 19 win over Connecticut for the Paradise Jam championship in the U.S. Virgin Islands launched the Lobos into the national rankings themselves, but just missed out on another $15,000 as the Huskies were ranked that day No. 21 in the AP poll and No. 23 in the coaches poll.
While the victory didn’t meet the Top 20 criteria for the Alford bonus, it and ones like it pay huge dividends for UNM, Krebs says.
“The national exposure for the University of New Mexico that comes with our national rankings and success, the impact on the state and community in terms of pride spirit and enthusiasm of alumni and student body, and increased tax revenues via the consistently large crowds all speak to the value of a strong, vibrant athletic program in general and … the importance of Lobo basketball,” Krebs said.
Of course Lobo fans know that the program’s huge hurdle has historically been reaching the elusive Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. Should that happen, Alford will be rewarded handsomely with $50,000. He’ll get another $50,000 for an Elite Eight appearance, $100,000 for a Final Four appearance and $250,000 should UNM win the national championship.
In terms of league success, Alford earns $30,000 for a regular-season league title and $30,000 for a Mountain West Tournament championship.
A coach of the year award in the league would mean $10,000 for Alford, while a national coach of the year honor would net $25,000.
Should all those things happen, UNM would certainly be opening up its pocketbook to reward Alford this season, but Krebs isn’t worried about seeing the return on investment.
“The progress made by the program in the classroom, the community and on the court are real and measurable,” Krebs said. “In my opinion any incentives earned by the coach are well deserved and are supported by additional revenues generated by our successes.”
Read about 14 bonuses Alford is eligible to receive
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal