On the surface, the USF athletic department’s recent push for across-the-board stability came with a disparity.
Longtime women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez, whose program is seeking its sixth NCAA Tournament berth in the last seven years (not counting the pandemic-shortened 2019-2020 season), got a significant raise. But so did less-successful men’s peer Brian Gregory, 63-79 in his fifth season.
In fact, Gregory will continue to earn more than Fernandez, raising eyebrows — and some ire — among the fan base.
But a deeper look reveals pre-pandemic contract negotiations with Gregory (when the Bulls were coming off a 24-win season), some far more favorable apples-to-apples comparisons, and a desire for continuity at a time when college athletics is being turned on its head.
Adding more perspective to the salary gap is the simple reality that men’s basketball continues to generate far more revenue than the women’s game (thanks primarily to the NCAA Tournament).
Gregory, 55, signed a three-year extension in October that will pay him $1.6 million a year through 2026, once his initial six-year, $6.58 million deal expires at the end of the 2023 season. The contract was provided by USF upon a public-records request.
Clouding the optics is a 15-28 record since the start of the 2020-2021 season, a mass roster exodus in the offseason, and the dismissal of veteran assistant Tom Herrion last summer after an independent review concluded he committed misconduct by making inappropriate comments to players.
But prior to that, Gregory had led the program to a mini-resurgence. The Bulls men totaled 48 wins in the five years prior to his arrival (five fewer than the women had amassed in the half-decade before Fernandez’s hiring), and were saddled with self-imposed sanctions (following a lengthy NCAA probe) upon his hiring in March 2017.
In only his second season, Gregory led USF to a school-record 24 wins and the College Basketball Invitational title. The 2019-20 team went 14-17 despite losing reigning American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year Alexis Yetna to a preseason knee injury and posted its highest cumulative spring-semester grade-point average ever (3.45) in May 2020.
Additionally, the program has posted an Academic Progress Rate (which tracks student-athletes’ chances of graduation) of 962 or better each of the last four years after falling below 900 (and facing NCAA penalties) before Gregory’s arrival.
“The wins are really important,” Kelly said Thursday. “But the fact of what they both (Gregory and Fernandez) inherited, and the fact they’ve both done really well in terms of the academic mission, that’s really important.”
It was in early 2020 that Kelly began talks with Gregory about re-tooling his deal, then among the AAC’s lowest. The coronavirus put the talks on hold, however, and ultimately led to furloughs and temporary pay reductions across the athletic department.
But the new extension puts Gregory in the middle of the pack financially compared to other league coaches, Kelly indicated. And despite the on-court struggles, the team again posted a GPA above 3.0 last semester.
Additionally, Gregory’s salary increase (to $1.6 million annually) doesn’t kick in until the 2023-2024 season, and no guarantee exists he’ll still be coaching the Bulls then.
Fernandez, who recently earned his 400th career triumph, signed a new six-year, $4.3 million deal that tops out at $800,000 a year. While noticeably less than Gregory’s deal, Fernandez, 50, is the highest-paid women’s coach in the AAC, and among the highest-paid in the entire Group of Five.
Fernandez led the Bulls to the program’s first conference title — and the second round of the NCAA Tournament — last season. This year’s team (16-5), ranked as high as No. 13 at one point, earned consecutive wins against top-10 programs Oregon and Stanford in a four-day span at a Bahamas event in late November.
“I’m very fortunate to have the support of Michael and the university,” Fernandez said. “The commitment to my staff, program and myself in continuing to lead this program shows the investment in women’s basketball here at USF.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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