Is Pat worth $1.3 million?

Judging from Knoxville's talk-radio shows, a lot of people seem mystified by the University of Tennessee's decision to award Lady Vol basketball coach Pat Summitt a six-year contract extension that averages $1.3 million per year.

I'm not mystified at all.

Is Pat Summitt worth $1.3 million per year? No. But men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl isn't worth $1.3 million, either. And football coach Phillip Fulmer isn't worth $2.05 million per year.

So why is UT paying The Big Three these exorbitant salaries? Simple: People don't pay you what you're worth. They pay what it takes to keep you. I learned that through personal experience.

After 17 years as a sports writer for The Knoxville Journal, I had worked my way up to one of the better salaries on the staff. When The Journal folded in 1992, I did free-lance work for a couple of years, then took a job with a weekly newspaper … at exactly HALF the wage I made my last year at The Journal.

I was married at the time and unable to support my wife on the meager salary I was making, so I asked about a raise. No chance, I was told. A few months later, two key events occurred: (1) My wife divorced me and (2) Rocky Top News offered me the editor's job. The salary would be nearly double what I was making, so I quickly accepted and turned in my two week's notice at the weekly.

I'll never forget my final day on the job. The editor called me into his office and asked what salary I would be making in my new job. When I told him, he nodded and replied: "And what are we paying you?" When I told him, he actually gasped.

The editor smiled. "If we match the Rocky Top salary will you stay?" he asked.

"No," I replied.

The editor raised the offer. I declined. He raised it again. I declined again. Suddenly, he wasn't smiling anymore.

"How much will it take to keep you?" he asked.

"It's not just the money," I said. "I'm tired of the long commute to work every day."

The editor nodded. "OK, we'll let you work from home on a personal computer. You won't have to come to the office anymore. You can spend more time with your wife."

"My wife left me," I said. "I wasn't making enough money here to support her."

He nodded sympathetically, then said: "So what can we do to get you to stay?"

"Nothing," I said. "I don't want to work here anymore."

The meeting ended but an hour later the assistant publisher took me into another office for another meeting.

"We don't want you to leave," she said. "What will it take to keep you?"

"Like I said before, it's not just the money," I explained.

"I know," she said. "We'll let you work from home. What else do you want?"

Realizing I was being offered a blank check, I felt truly powerful … and truly angry. The bosses obviously realized they'd been grossly underpaying me for 11 months but they were only willing to up the ante AFTER I had lost my marriage and was halfway out the door to another job.

"I want to be in charge," I said. "Rocky Top News is hiring me to be the editor. For the first time in my life, I'll be giving the orders instead of taking them."

The assistant publisher nodded thoughtfully. "If we make you editor and let you work from home, then how much money would it take to get you to stay?"

"I'm sorry," I said, "but you don't have enough money to get me to stay."

The next day I started at Rocky Top News, where I worked six years without getting a raise. When the boss found out I had applied for another job, however, he immediately gave me a pay hike.

Again: People don't pay you what you're worth. They pay what it takes to keep you.

That's why Pat Summitt will make $1.3 million each of the next six years. If UT didn't pay her that much, she just might feel slighted enough to leave for another women's program … or take over a men's program … or move to the WNBA… or become a motivational speaker … or run for political office.


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