Arkansas State Football's 'Next Level' Comes At A Cost

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Mar. 26, 2012 12:00 am  

Gus Malzahn isn’t shy when outlining his expectations for the Arkansas State University football program.

Malzahn believes Arkansas State can make last year’s 10-win season the norm rather than the exception. He envisions a day when the Red Wolves are a perennial Top 25 team.

“Buckle up,” Malzahn told the approximately 1,000 supporters who gathered for his introductory press conference in December. “We’re fixing to take this thing to the next level.”

Next-level success? It will undoubtedly come with next-level expenses.

Look no further than Malzahn’s salary for an example of how quickly things are changing in Craighead County. Malzahn will make four times the money of his immediate predecessor, Hugh Freeze, and his $850,000 salary is likely just the beginning of the increased financial commitment the Red Wolves will make in their football program.

Assistant football coaches under Malzahn are being paid from a salary pool larger than that from which Freeze and Steve Roberts before him paid their staffs. Still, those salaries leave plenty of room for growth.

ASU athletic department officials are evaluating facilities and meeting with campus leaders to put together a master plan for renovations and new construction. An early wish list includes an expanded pressbox with more luxury seating, an indoor practice facility and bigger office and meeting space.

Little Rock public relations firm Stone Ward has been enlisted to help with a statewide marketing push. Billboards have been posted on some of the state’s busiest roadways as ASU attempts to capitalize on buzz generated by a 10-win season and the hiring of Malzahn, one of the highest profile offensive coordinators in the nation.

“This movement that we’ve made was not just in a coaching hire, but in really changing the entire program and stepping it up on multiple levels,” ASU System President Chuck Welch said in an interview last month with “We feel very good about the possibilities before us.”

Those possibilities don’t come cheap.

Arkansas State will ask its ticket buyers, donors and corporate partners to increase financial support. Minimum Red Wolf Club donation requirements for parking and seating buy-ins have already increased. Season ticket prices are up for all levels outside of general admission.

Facility improvements and budget increases were already a discussion at Arkansas State before Malzahn took over in January. Freeze was making just over $200,000 when he left for Ole Miss and was in line for a raise that would have paid in the neighborhood of $500,000.



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