Coaching in high school makes no economic sense

Coaching in high school makes no economic sense

It is tournament time in the high school basketball season, and that is perhaps the best time of the year.

Every weekend we see upsets, heroics, elation and heartache. With each passing weekend, we also take another step toward the impending doom for many coaches.

In the weeks following tournament time every year, coaches get shown the door or have to fight to keep their jobs because anything short of a trip to the state tournament — at least — is unacceptable for many fans, parents, administrators and school board types.

That begs the question, why would anybody want to coach high school sports in the first place?

Why would you want to put yourself up for the constant judgement by so many who should not be in position to judge?

When you look at it from a purely economic standpoint, you’d have to be certifiably crazy to be a coach.

For example, let’s look at the pay given to Butte High boys’ basketball coach Luke Powers, who is not a teacher in the district. His yearly stipend is $4,200 to lead the Bulldogs.

That is the lowest pay for a basketball coach in the Class AA, but it’s a lot more than some high school coaches receive. It’s about $4,200 more than some coaches.

Basketball tryouts start before Thanksgiving, and the season runs about 17 weeks. Conservatively speaking, the coach, who also has a day job, puts in about 30 hours per week on practice, film, game and practice prep and games. If you factor in travel and phone time with parents, you’re looking at about 600 hours.

Again, that is very conservatively speaking. Most coaches probably put in more time than that.

For the sake of argument, though, let’s say it is $4,200 for 600 hours. That means the coach is paid roughly $7 per hour. Divide that pay by at least two and half if you factor in the time the coach puts in during the off season.

In case you haven’t noticed, coaching a high school sport — any sport — is a year-round job, and, if you factor the work done in the offseason, the example coach makes about $2.80 per hour for such a thankless job. That translates to about $4.20 per game, give or take.

Since minimum wage is $8.30 per hour in Montana, there is no question that the coach would be much better off economically if he flipped burgers for his second job.

By contrast, referees are paid $60 per game for varsity games in Montana. A typical game lasts about an hour and a half, so officials are making about $40 per hour plus travel. And they get a paid 10-minute break at halftime.

Granted, you’d have to quadruple that pay to get me to consider refereeing a high school sporting event.

Officiating sports — particularly high school sports — is also a very thankless job. Officials have definitely earned our gratitude and respect.

But when it comes time for canonization, the men and women in stripes take a back seat to the coaches they get to tell to sit down.

When the game is over, and the crying has just begun, officials get to go home to Neflix and chill. Coaches are left to wallow in the agony of what they should have done differently — even after a win.

And they have to deal with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Coaches have all kinds of parents to deal with, too. There’s the helicopter parents who think you’re killing their 5-foot-9 white son’s chance of playing in the NBA.

There’s the passive aggressive parents who smile pleasantly at you while they rally support to stab you in the back as soon as they get the chance.

Then there’s the travel coach parent. He/she undermines the coach at every turn because three years ago he/she led a junior high team to a tournament title in Anaconda.

All these parents have one thing in common: They know beyond certainty that the coach doesn’t know what he’s doing.

It doesn’t matter how successful the coach has been, either. All coaches of high school sports are subject to this.

One year when coach Jim Oberweiser was about to win yet another Class C state football title, fans ridiculed the coach behind his back. As the 35-point mercy rule kicked in to run the clock continuously, a couple of fans loudly talked — within earshot of the players — about how the coach had no clue what he was doing.

True story.

Everybody is an expert, too. I wish I had a quarter for every time I’ve had a grandmother go out of her way to tell me how little the football coach knows, as if she has the first clue to how to attack a cover-2 defense.

In September of 2013, I had a dad go on and on about how Arie Grey should be fired as the coach of the Butte High football team. At the time, the Bulldogs were two games into the season in which they were trying to repeat as state champions.

Grey, by the way, also makes about $2.80 per hour (or less), and his thanks was the dad who started a fake Facebook account so he could go on the team’s Facebook page and let the world know that the coach is incompetent.

Believe it or not, coaches want to win. If they are not playing the player you think should be playing, perhaps it is possible that the coach knows more than you. The coach, after all, is at every practice and open gym. You and grandma, are not.

Every coach wants to win. If your grandson was really good enough to help the team win, the coach would play him. Really, he would.

Nobody is saying we need to pay these coaches more in these times when agreeing to pack a weapon in school is apparently the only way teachers can get a bonus. Plus, if you times their salaries by 10, it still wouldn’t be worth it.

Of course, there are rewards to coaching. It’s watching a player give everything he or she has for the team. There’s the moments when a me-first player starts to buy into the program. There’s the wins that should not have been won.

There must be a million reasons why coaches coach, and that is why so many good men and women dedicate their lives to making other people’s children better.

Just don’t think for a second that any of them are doing it for the $2.80 per hour.

— Bill Foley, who doesn’t have the first clue how to attack the cover-2 defense, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on Email him at Follow him at

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