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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Jon Hale

Mark Stoops signs contract extension with Kentucky that includes raise, increased buyout

One day before Kentucky football’s loss to Vanderbilt earlier this month, the school signed head coach Mark Stoops to a contract extension that would keep him as coach through the 2030 season.

Stoops’ previous contract was set to expire after the 2027 season but included a clause that triggered an automatic one-year extension any time Kentucky won seven games and a two-year extension anytime Kentucky won 10 games. That clause is deleted from the new deal, which instead guarantees a $9 million per year salary starting in February 2023 through June 2031.

The previous deal would have paid Stoops $7 million next season and increased his annual salary by $250,000 per year through the end of the contract.

At $9 million, Stoops’ salary would rank sixth among all college football coaches, according to a USA Today database. Only Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Georgia’s Kirby Smart, LSU’s Brian Kelly and Michigan State’s Mel Tucker are set to be paid more this year. Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher’s salary is also $9 million this season.

Some coaches paid less than $9 million this season are likely to also receive contract extensions to pass that number in the coming months. For instance Ohio State Coach Ryan Day agreed to a new deal worth $9.5 million per year that is not yet reflected in the USA Today database.

The extension would at least temporarily also make Stoops UK’s highest paid coach, passing men’s basketball coach John Calipari, who is set to earn $8.5 million per year through the 2024-25 season. Calipari’s salary increases to $9 million annually starting in July 2025.

As part of the new deal, the buyout Stoops would owe Kentucky for leaving for another job would increase dramatically.

Stoops’ previous deal specified he would have to pay Kentucky $1.75 million if he left the school at any time when five or more years remained on his contract. Now, Stoops must pay Kentucky $4.5 million if he leaves prior to June 30, 2023. The buyout then decreases by $500,000 per year through June 2030.

While Stoops, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and university President Eli Capilouto all signed the contract on Nov. 11, one day before Kentucky’s shocking 24-21 loss to Vanderbilt that snapped the Commodores’ 26-game SEC losing streak, the university did not announce the extension publicly.

The contract was posted to UK’s Office of Legal Counsel website along with the rest of the athletic department contracts last week. A news release dated Nov. 18 that has not been sent to the media was attached to the document online.

“We have been working on this for over a month and are glad to have it finalized,” Barnhart said in the release. “Continuity has become more and more important in today’s landscape, and make no mistake about it, the job that Coach Stoops has done is well known and highly regarded throughout the college football world.

“This extension also recognizes what Coach Stoops has done over the past decade, with unprecedented achievements in the history of Kentucky football, and reinforces his commitment to UK as we strive for continued success in the future.”

Various media reports have mentioned Stoops as a candidate for the open jobs at Nebraska and Auburn in recent weeks, but those reports came before the Vanderbilt loss. Kentucky followed that performance with an improved showing in a 16-6 defeat to No. 1 Georgia on Saturday, but now must beat archrival Louisville in the Governor’s Cup rivalry game or win its bowl game to clinch a winning season.

Earlier this season, Stoops passed Paul “Bear” Bryant as Kentucky’s all-time winningest coach. Stoops has since extended his record win total to 65.

He has led Kentucky to two 10-win seasons in the last five years. Prior to 2018, Kentucky had not won 10 games in a season since 1977. Stoops also holds the program records for most home wins (45), most SEC wins (32) and most seasons coached (10).

Kentucky has won four consecutive bowl games and reached a bowl in seven consecutive seasons. The Wildcats hold the nation’s longest active non-conference winning streak at 19 games.

“I’m very appreciative of Dr. Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for the relationship we have and the consistent commitment they have shown to the program,” Stoops said in the release posted online. “The continuity we’ve had has been crucial to our growth and is even more important as we move forward with the changes in college football.

“As Mitch said, we’ve been working on this for awhile, as I wanted to reaffirm my commitment. I’ve loved it here and am excited about our future.”

The contract extension includes a new incentive structure that represents the raised expectations for the program.

Previously, Stoops received a $250,000 bonus for each win starting at No. 9 in a season. He also could receive bonuses for winning various Coach of the Year awards, reaching the SEC championship game and varying levels of bowl games.

The extension includes just two performance-based incentives.

Stoops will now be paid $100,000 anytime his team participates in a non-New Year’s Six bowl game. That bonus increases by $50,000 if Kentucky also wins at least eight games.

Stoops will be paid $300,000 if Kentucky participates in one of the current New Year’s Six bowl games or any future bowls added to the College Football Playoff. If Kentucky reaches the playoff semifinals, the bonus increases to $500,000. If the Wildcats reach the national championship game, that bonus jumps to $650,000. Winning a national championship would earn Stoops $800,000.

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