Elson agrees to contract

Joe Lord

Head football coach Dave Elson will be minus one distraction as he takes his Hilltoppers to spring practice for the first time today.

He signed his contract with Western on March 25, one that pays him $96,192 a year and will keep him on the Hill for at least four years.

The contract gives him the possibility of a one-year extension. In addition, Elson can earn one month’s salary for making the Division I-AA playoffs, advancing in the playoffs and winning a national championship. He can also earn $5,000 if he is named named National Coach of the Year.

“I’m not complaining, that’s for sure,” Elson said.

His predecessor, Jack Harbaugh, was paid a salary of $96,188 in his most recent contract; a one-paragraph deal signed Aug. 18, 2001.

Elson’s contract is 16 pages.

Harbaugh had the same bonuses in his contract, and earned all of them in the 2002 season.

Less than three months after winning his first Division I-AA National Championship in 14 seasons at Western, Harbaugh unexpectedly resigned.

He could not be reached for comment for this story.

Elson said he appreciated Harbaugh for building the position up to a level of prominence that gives such pay.

Elson’s contract does provide one provision that Harbaugh’s does not, addressing an issue the former coach expressed concern about after winning the national championship in December.

According to the contract, Elson’s assistant coaches will get bonuses of half of a month’s salary for advancing in the tournament. They’ll get the money only if funds are available in Western’s football enhancement fund.

Harbaugh’s contract didn’t make any bonus provisions for his assistants.

Although Elson will be paid more than his predecessor, he’ll still make less than another head coach taking over a prominent program in Kentucky.

Eastern Kentucky’s Danny Hope, who replaced longtime head football coach Roy Kidd, signed a contract Dec. 19 paying him a base salary of $130,000 a year, according to a copy of his contract obtained by the Herald.

Elson’s contract was not renegotiated after it was offered to him on his hiring date, Athletic Director Selig said, but there were some words changed.

“We told him what the position paid and that was it,” Selig said. “He was very, very pleased with the salary and the compensation.”

Selig said the salary was the most money the university was willing to pay its head football coach. Elson’s experience was not taken into account when determining the salary offer.

This is Elson’s first head coaching job.

“It’s more a commitment to the program than looking at the individual,” Selig said. “We’ve been committed to positioning our head football coach toward the top of the pack in the Gateway Conference and all of I-AA football.”

Elson was an assistant coach under Harbaugh for seven years. His most recent position at Western was as defensive coordinator and chief recruiter – jobs he left in early February to become safeties coach at West Virginia University.

Hired as head coach on March 5, Elson said he’d been sitting on the contract since it was offered to him.

“To be honest, it just took me a while to sit down and read it,” Elson said.

If Elson is successful, Selig said he expects other schools to come knocking on the coach’s door.

“I’d be disappointed if they didn’t,” Selig said. “Then he’s not doing a very good job.”

Selig said he wouldn’t mind someday hearing Elson’s name mentioned alongside such coaches as Jim Tressel, who took Ohio State to a Division I-A National Championship after coaching Division I-AA’s Youngstown State.

But Selig may have less to worry about than he realizes.

“I really enjoy I-AA football and, like I said, I really enjoy Western Kentucky,” Elson said.

Reach Joseph Lord at [email protected]