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How Much Is Birmingham Worth?

What’s a man worth?

Ray Joseph Birmingham Jr., head coach of the UNM baseball team, will get a raise effective July 1.

It’s part of a 2010 revision to his contract and bumps his annual base salary from $96,900 to $121,900 a year. And that doesn’t include the $28,100 a year he gets for “appearances as a representative” of the university.

He’s going to get some more money, too — thanks to athletic director Paul Krebs and an incentive clause in his contract.

“The actual amount has not yet been determined,” Krebs says, and UNM has until the end of this month to process the payment.

This is a remarkable era for UNM baseball.

The Lobos have made three straight NCAA Tournament appearances after having made none since 1962. Lobo Field is getting a major overhaul thanks to a combination of state money, private donations and a $1 million loan.

Good, dedicated men like Vince Capelli and Rich Alday tried to take UNM baseball to the next level and for a variety of reasons didn’t quite get there.

Then along comes this guy from Hobbs.

Krebs often tells the story of how Birmingham called him in 2009 and said he was the guy who could guide Lobo baseball, not only to the NCAA Tournament, but to Omaha, Neb., site of the College World Series since 1950.

Krebs says he thought the guy was crazy, but Birmingham won him over.

It’s not all charm; Birmingham can coach, too. He won a national junior college title at New Mexico JC and has an MWC regular-season crown to go along with two MWC tournament titles and four 30-win seasons at UNM.

So how much is a guy like that worth?

Baseball does not have the potential revenue power of men’s basketball or football. The Lobos averaged 1,618 fans a game this season, ranking them 38th nationally. So we’re not talking numbers that will rescue an athletic department’s budget.

Some coaches at UNM have specific incentives built into their contracts. Women’s basketball coach Yvonne Sanchez, for example, gets an extra $22,000 a year if her Lobos win the MWC regular-season title.

Birmingham’s contract is more vague. Incentives are up to the discretion of Krebs.

Krebs, of course, has an entire athletic department and a $30 million-plus budget to worry about. So if he decided he couldn’t afford to hand his baseball coach more money, he is within his prerogative.

In rewarding Birmingham for this season, the athletic director says “availability of funds is not an issue.”

San Diego State’s Tony Gwynn earns $115,000 in base salary. Of course he makes a lot more outside the university, befitting his Hall of Fame career. The Aztecs have not had the success of and do not draw as well as the Lobos.

TCU does better in attendance (4,112) and has made three super regional appearances in four years. But it’s leaving the MWC, so who cares?

Incoming Fresno State draws as well as UNM and has a strong baseball tradition. Coach Mike Batesole made $125,000 in 2008, the year he led the Bulldogs to a national title.

So how much is a college baseball coach worth?

Attendance numbers aside, baseball has always seemed to have an important place in New Mexico. UNM once tried to kill the program as it wrestled with budget issues. But fans rallied, and the school relented.

Birmingham has yet to fulfill his Omaha promise, just as he failed in his guarantee that UNM would beat Creighton in the NCAA Tournament. And who would have predicted Stony Brook would make the College World Series before UNM would?

Still, the coach has endeared himself to the community. His fervor for New Mexico and New Mexicans is unmatched among coaches in Lobo history.

There was concern when rumors surfaced that Birmingham may have had interest in the Texas Tech job. Should he leave for another Division I program, Birmingham would owe UNM $75,000.

Say Krebs gives him $25,000 for winning the league and another $25,000 for going to the NCAA Tournament, Birmingham has a head start on that $75,000 should he ever decide to go that route.

But he may have a more pressing need for that extra cash.

Birmingham is preparing to be married in July.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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