Hudspeth set to become Sun Belt's highest-paid coach

by Dan McDonald

UL officials plan a big boost to the Ragin' Cajun football coach's salary package after this year's success, but will that ward off other schools' interest?

Collegiate football success can be a double-edged sword, but UL coach Mark Hudspeth and director of athletics Scott Farmer did everything they could Monday to dull the edge off that blade.

With the Ragin' Cajuns' unprecedented success in the 2011 season a first-ever trip to a Division I bowl game only two hours away, at the end of an eight-win regular season it didn't take long for rumors of Hudspeth's interests in other more prestigious jobs to surface.

Hudspeth put the clamps on some of those rumors Monday, during what was scheduled to be a media opportunity to discuss the just-announced selection of San Diego State as UL's opponent in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

"I'm definitely staying here, now and next year," Hudspeth said when asked about other schools coming to call. "I'm a Ragin' Cajun."

"I want to put an end to the speculation. I could not be more proud to be the head coach of the Ragin' Cajuns, and I want to put all the speculation aside so we can focus on the game."

That had to sound good to Farmer, who was in attendance. But the statements probably had more to do with a contract revamping and extension that both Farmer and Hudspeth say is a work in progress.

"We've met, we've talked about the pros and cons, and obviously this year there are a lot more pros," Farmer says. "We would like coach Hud to be our coach for years to come, and we want to make him one of the top paid coaches in our conference.

"It's going to entail more money and another year or years we're still going through the fine details."

Farmer says that his current upgraded contract offer would make the first-year Cajun boss the top-paid coach in the Sun Belt Conference, compared to 2011 season salaries. If that's the case, that's an incredibly hefty boost.

Hudspeth's current base salary is $360,000 not including incentives, many of which have been met or could be met by season's end to boost him near the $400,000 mark. That's still well short of the reported $588,780 that Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill earned this year, according to a listing of coaches' salaries nationally compiled by USA Today (Stockstill's MTSU team finished 2-10 this year and ended the year with six straight losses).

Hudspeth ranked sixth among the nine Sun Belt coaches in that listing, and his listed salary was less than all but nine of the country's Football Bowl Subdivision public schools (there are 120 FBS members, but a handful are private schools and are not required to disclose salaries).

That apparently ends soon.

"We're working on renegotiation as we speak," Hudspeth said Monday. "We're in the process of putting that together. I want to thank Dr. Savoie (UL president E. Joseph Savoie) for making a commitment to the program and making us feel like this is a place we can call home. Right now, this is where we want to be."

Just like in any other business and anyone who thinks college football isn't a business is mistaken things can change in a hurry. There has been no shortage of schools with coaching openings already this year, many of them with ties to Hudspeth, and others will continue to pop up.

Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne was the AD at Mississippi State when Hudspeth was a successful coordinator there and interviewed him for that head job before Dan Mullen was selected. Hudspeth pulled his name from the running for the Ole Miss job  one that Arkansas State coach Hugh Freeze claimed on Monday after his Mississippi upbringing and heavy background in the state made him a popular name in that search.

The most serious attraction for Hudspeth may be to come. Mullen is one of the top candidates for Joe Paterno's old job at Penn State, and if Mullen takes that job, Hudspeth's name will be very prominent in the MSU search after two very successful years on the Bulldog staff before coming to UL.

Hudspeth was asked about that post on Tim Brando's national radio show last week, but said he was committed to preparing the Cajuns for the bowl game at this point.

"He's given us a commitment," Farmer says. "I wasn't as concerned about it as a lot of other people were, because we're moving in the right direction. I can't worry about every single position that comes open."