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Could shoe contract factor into UNLV coaching search?

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Steve Marcus

Nike shoes are displayed in the Coach’s Locker Room and Conference Center at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

At her March 15 press conference announcing the firing of Marvin Menzies, UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois said she had enough pledged money from outside sources to make the school’s next basketball coach the highest-paid in the Mountain West.

“We have the financing in place,” Reed-Francois said.

Most took that to mean program boosters were pitching in to raise the hiring budget. But there could be an additional factor impacting how much money UNLV will have available to spend on its next coach: the university’s apparel contract.

UNLV has had a school-wide apparel deal with Nike since 2009 (and the men’s basketball team has been a "swoosh" squad for much longer than that), but the current five-year contract expires on May 31. The university will become a free agent at that time, and with shoe companies vying to become the next exclusive merchandising partner of UNLV, it could open up new avenues for paying the next basketball coach.

When UNLV courted Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin in the spring of 2016 it was reported that the Rebels’ offer would have been heavily supplemented by Under Armour. UNLV would have paid Cronin around $1 million per year, and Under Armour would have chipped in between $1 million to $2 million per year to foot the rest of the bill — and that was when UNLV still had three years left on its deal with Nike. Now that the school is free to sign with any shoe company in a few months, the coaching opening could make UNLV a target for competing bids.

According to sources, Under Armour is eager to add an influential west-coast program to its stable of sponsored teams, and UNLV fits that description.

Shoe-company contracts can be lucrative. Cincinnati signed a 10-year contract with Under Armour in 2015 that will be worth $47 million over the course of the deal; UA will provide Cincinnati with $36 million in apparel and equipment while also paying the school $11 million in cash.

UNLV’s current apparel deal calls for Nike to provide the school with up to $1 million per year in shoes, uniforms and equipment, but no cash.

According to sources, Reed-Francois believes she has between $1.7 million to $2.8 million per year available to attract the next coach. Reed-Francois did not respond to a message seeking comment, so it’s unclear how much of that has been pledged by private donors and how much she could be hoping to receive as part of the next apparel deal.

If Under Armour (or Nike, or any other company) were to offer cash in addition to apparel/equipment, it could help offset the salary of the next coach or be put toward paying the buyout for a coach who is currently under contract to another school.

VCU coach Mike Rhoades has a $1-million buyout provision in his contract, and Buffalo coach Nate Oats has a $750,000 buyout. If UNLV can score a favorable apparel contract, those buyouts could become less of an obstacle.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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