On Tuesday, after a hilarious social media snafu, Marquette men’s basketball officially announced that head coach Steve Wojciechowski’s contract had been extended until the end of the 2023-24 season. Officially, this is being called “a new five-year contract,” but it’s for the next five seasons and just tacking on two years to his previous deal. Wojciechowski had originally signed an extension to his original contract early in his second season, with that extension taking him through the 2021-22 season.
I think we can safely summarize everyone’s opinions on a new contract for the head basketball coach in the following manner: It is completely unwarranted and, at the same time, completely necessary.
From a purely basketball perspective, there has been nothing in Steve Wojciechowski’s first five seasons that screams “give him more years immediately.” Considering the hand he was dealt to start with, his first few seasons were fine. The past three seasons have been a little up and down in terms of consistency, and look no further than how 2018-19 ended for a clear definition of that. If Marquette was an NBA team that had lost six of their final seven regular season games to throw away home court advantage in the playoffs and then got swept in the first round of said playoffs, there’s no possible way that MU’s general manager would be interested in tacking two more seasons onto his tenure. With three years left on his deal, he would likely be allowed to return, and the idea of an extension might be revisited next year, but probably not even until the year after that to avoid going into his final year of the deal.
But this isn’t the NBA, this is college hoops, so there’s a slightly different calculus to deal with here.
By the time that we passed from April into May, it was clearly beyond a shadow of a doubt that neither the losses in six of the final seven games of the 2018-19 season nor the Hauser brothers lighting their basketball futures on fire in order to get away from Marquette was going to cost Wojciechowski his job. Quite honestly, that’s not surprising. I mean, if they had pulled the trigger, I wouldn’t have been surprised either, but facts are facts: When a team goes 24-10 and makes the NCAA tournament, it’s a poor financial decision to eat three seasons worth of buyout money in order to make the coach go away, no matter what else is happening.
So if Marquette is going to send Wojciechowski out to coach for the 2019-20 season, the fact of the matter is that they had to also give him a contract extension that, from an on-court results perspective, he does not deserve.
Right now, Wojciechowski and his assistants are out on the recruiting paths, working on bringing in high school prospects to start in the fall of 2020. Class of 2020 recruits are eligible to sign national letters of intent this November, so this spring and summer is a crucial time for that recruiting class. Without an extension, Wojciechowski’s contract was set to expire at the end of those prospects’ sophomore season. In a manner of speaking, in terms of recruiting, Wojciechowski’s contract had already expired. Quite honestly, that’s a bit of a sticky wicket when it comes to recruiting, and perhaps more importantly, when it comes to dealing with negative recruiting from other teams. “Hey, you don’t want to go there, their coach is only signed to be there through your sophomore year, my contract goes through the year after you graduate.” That kind of thing.
If Marquette believes that Steve Wojciechowski is the right coach for this program and the future of it as well, then he needed an extension to be able to bring in the recruiting class he needs to continue forward. That’s the extension he got: Two more years, enough to tell Class of 2020 prospects that he’ll be there when they’re done with college. That’s it. No more, no less.
It’s not the worst decision in the world. If you want to be an optimist and say that the Steve Wojciechowski that guided his most talented Marquette roster to date to a 23-4 record overall and first place in the Big East with a 12-2 record as of February 26th, 2019, is the coach for MU for the future, then yeah, absolutely give him the two year bump.
This isn’t a business for optimists, though. It’s a business for realists. I hope that athletic director Bill Scholl is a realist, and the “new five year contract” phrasing makes me believe that he is. “New five year contract” means that Marquette and Steve Wojciechowski agreed to throw his old contract in the trash and start fresh. That means a whole new set of payrates, a whole new set of terms, and a whole new set of clauses. Included in those terms and clauses? The most important part of any sports coach’s contract: His buyout terms.
All that matters in a coach’s contract is their buyout. How much does it take for the school to make them go away, and how much does it take for them to decide on his own to leave? Look no further than the UCLA coaching search where the Bruins got hung up in public on Jamie Dixon’s buyout and TCU’s (very justified) decision to refuse to move on the number it would take to let Dixon get away.
After the objectively disastrous end to the 2018-19 season, I would like to believe that Bill Scholl can do two things at once: Believe that Steve Wojciechowski is the right man for the job AND not want to be tied to Wojciechowski for the long term if what we saw from February 27th, 2019, onwards is a bigger indicator of his abilities as a basketball coach. I would like to believe that the buyout between now and a year from now is extremely friendly to the university. Perhaps even between now and May 2021.
That’s all guesswork, though. Because Marquette is a private school, it’s up to the university to release the details of their contract, and nothing can make them do that of their own free will. If we were talking about a big state school, a Freedom of Information Act request would have that contract in our grubby mitts sooner rather than later. Instead, we have to just cross our grubby fingers and hope that Wojciechowski’s best days as a coach are still in front of him..... and that the university protected themselves in this new contract if they’re not.