Midlands schools are home to several of the state’s highest paid coaches, according to salary data obtained by The State. Irmo’s Bob Hanna and Dutch Fork’s Tom Knotts are the state’s highest paid coaches, each with a salary of $106,214, among the schools that responded to the survey.
Through the Freedom of Information Act, The State requested salary information for coaches receiving $50,000 or more for coaching and teaching duties from 82 public school districts as well as the S.C. Independent Schools Association.
Sixty districts responded, with salary information on 910 coaches and athletics directors. SCISA officials declined to provide records because they are a private organization.
Of the 10 highest paid coaches, five are coaching Midlands programs. Hanna and Knotts are employed by Lexington-Richland School District 5. Lexington 1 is home to the other three — Lexington’s Scott Earley at $103,410; Gilbert’s Barry Harley at $96,532; and Pelion’s Ben Freeman at $96,032.
“I think it’s an important position,” said Hanna, who has been in charge of the Irmo program for 20 seasons. With nearly 700 of the school’s 1,800 students involved in athletics, he said his position is a weighty one. “I’m just happy to be in this school district that recognizes that. It didn’t start out like that.”
“It’s the athletic director part of this that’s creating the salary,” he said. “We affect almost 700 kids in this school that are involved in athletics. Tom and I, we have the same goals. It’s a lot of work, we try to do it right, it takes a lot of time and we’re here a lot of hours.
“In terms of the involvement that we have that way with the school, it’s an administrative position. Basically, we are on an assistant principal’s pay scale. I think in terms of hours and in terms of time, it was justified that way.”
All but one of the Top 10, Bobby Bentley of Byrnes, serve as both athletics director and football coach. Spartanburg District 5 pays Bentley, the former head coach and now assistant coach and AD, $98,344. Two of the five, Bentley and Stratford’s Ray Stackley, are listed as instructors, as well.
Cynthia Smith, chairwoman of Lexington 1 School Board, said the salaries are an investment in an important aspect of a well-rounded educational experience.
“It is a huge investment and a very important one. Our athletic directors wear so many hats and we do produce great results in both boys and girls sports,” Smith said.
“We’ve got two Class 4A programs, Lexington and White Knoll, and it looks like we’ll be opening River Bluff as 3A and going to 4A,” she said. “We’ve just had incredible growth, we have huge athletic programs and we’re very committed to our athletics. We’re really proud of our athletics, and for well-rounded students you’ve got to have that.”
Smith said the Lexington 1 board conducted a salary study to determine a fair and competitive salary for the athletics director and football coach position in a program that has consistently been one of the state’s top performers in multiple sports. Lexington 1’s salary for Earley topped his previous salary — at Lexington-Richland 5’s Chapin High — by a few thousand dollars.
“We did look at all the salaries across the state and we felt like what we offered was fair,” Smith said.
Lexington-Richland 5 board member Jan Hammond echoed some of that sentiment.
“I’ve just always said that we do need to be conscious of the taxpayer’s dollar, and we’ve got to balance that with the needs to be competitive,” Hammond said. “My goal as a school board member is to keep the focus on teaching and on learning.”
According to records provided, Lexington-Richland 5 has 61 coaches earning salaries of $50,000 or more. Lexington 1 has 58.
Hanna said evaluating the return on that investment is not a matter of simply checking the records.
“We’ve had a lot of success through the years in all our athletics programs and when your athletics teams are successful, the climate at the school is so much better, the atmosphere of success is more conducive to learning,” Hanna said.
“I think it’s something that the community will have to judge for itself. Our school board recognizes the importance of athletics and they made an investment in that about 10 years ago and I really think it’s paid off for them,” he said.