When Houston Nutt was introduced as the new University of Mississippi football coach on Nov. 28, there were certainly reasons for some to be surprised.
Less than a week after firing Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss had hired a guy who only days before had been coaching a rival school, Arkansas.
And Ole Miss would pay Nutt $1.7 million for his first year, nearly double what Orgeron made, and a minimum of $7.4 million over the life of a four-year contract.
That was quite an upgrade for Ole Miss, which has one of the smallest athletic budgets in what is the most competitive league in the country, the Southeastern Conference.
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But the real stunner was that Ole Miss actually announced what it would be paying Nutt. For years, Ole Miss and Mississippi State athletic officials have declined to give The Clarion-Ledger complete compensation information for its coaches, specifically the supplemental income provided by the Bulldog Foundation at Mississippi State and the UMAA Foundation at Ole Miss.
They have always provided base salary information, what the school pays the football coaches through their state College Board salaries, but that base salary was dwarfed by the booster supplements - extra income needed by the schools to keep up as salaries shoot off the charts. (Last year, Nick Saban signed an eight-year deal to coach the Alabama Crimson Tide for $4 million a year.)
But because the supplements are funneled through the foundations, private 501 © corporations, the schools have declined to give out the information, citing exemptions in the Mississippi Public Records Act pertaining to private foundations.
Until now. At least with Ole Miss.
The day Nutt was hired, athletic director Pete Boone spelled out for Clarion-Ledger reporter David Brandt the details of his contract: $1.7 million the first year, $1.8 million in year 2, $1.9 million in year 3 and $2.0 million in year 4. There is an option for three more years worth a total of $6.6 million. Additionally, Nutt can earn up to $380,000 more per year if incentives are reached.
School officials have maintained for years that because the money came from private donations, the amount given to the coaches should not be public.
The newspaper has argued for years that because the football coaches are employees of public universities who wouldn't be in a position to earn such large sums if they didn't work for that public university their entire compensation packages should be a matter of public record.
Now that Ole Miss has announced details of Nutt's contract, it should take the next step and make the entire contract available to the public.
Nearly every other public school in the country makes the entire contracts available. Go to www.coacheshotseat.com and click the link to coaches contracts and salaries and you can download PDF files on most of those contracts, including the 32-page, incentive- and clause-filled contract for Alabama's Saban.
If the schools want to keep the names of the donors who help fund their salaries private, that's fine. But the total compensation - plus complete contracts, spelling out incentives and buyout clauses - for the football coaches should be a matter of public record.
MSU officials have said that football coach Sylvester Croom, coming off the school's first winning season and bowl trip in seven years, will soon receive a new contract and raise.
When that news is announced, MSU athletic director Larry Templeton should follow Boone's lead and release the total compensation figures, plus incentives.
It's the right thing for a public university to do.