UPDATE: Pikiell’s four year contract extension was approved with full terms here.
As Selection Sunday looms, Rutgers is set to approve a contract extension for men’s basketball head coach Steve Pikiell at Friday’s Board of Governors meeting. It was first reported by Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press and then soon after reported by James Kratch of NJ Advance Media. It will be the third extension for Pikiell since being hired in April 2016. Terms have not been reported but he was extended through 2026 two years ago after leading the program to its first 20 win season in 37 years.
Pikiell is currently making $2.6 million this season and was set to increase to $3 million for next season. He was scheduled to max out at $3.75 million for the final year of the deal in 2025-2026. The highest paid coaches in the Big Ten this season are Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Nebraska’s Fred Hoiberg, both of whom are between $3.9 and $4 million.
Whatever the terms of the new deal ultimately are, the keys are the length of the extension and an increase in the buyout. Adding years benefits recruiting in sending a clear message that both Pikiell and Rutgers committed in the long term. Increasing the buyout makes it harder for other schools to seriously pursue Pikiell.
In regard to the buyout, it was down to $3 million when Pikiell was extended two years ago and increased to $5 million. However, the buyout was slated to drop by a million dollars every year so it would be back to $3 million for this offseason.
Two years ago, UCLA passed on Tennessee’s Rick Barnes in part due to a $5 million buyout. That figure is typically a threshold that prevents most schools from pursuing a candidate with those terms in place.
After a disappointing start to the season, Rutgers is on the cusp of making back to back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in 46 years. The turnaround was fueled by becoming the first unranked team in college basketball history to beat ranked foes in four consecutive games.
Pikiell would have led Rutgers to the NCAA Tournament in 2020 if it weren’t for a global pandemic cancelling March Madness. That season the Scarlet Knights won 20 games for the first time in 37 years.
Last season, they went dancing for the first time in three decades and won the program’s first NCAA Tournament game in 38 years. This season, Scarlet Knights finished with the best record in Big Ten play since joining the league at 12-8 and earned the No. 4 seed for the conference tournament, also it’s highest ever.
The news of Pikiell receiving an extension is good news on several fronts.
Ensuring stability for a program that has had more success in a three year period since the late 1970’s by locking up Pikiell is essential. Rutgers is one of just six teams to win 10 or more regular season games in Big Ten play in that timeframe. Committing to him for the future without dragging out any process and getting it done now proves they’re serious. Showing loyalty to a coach of Pikiell’s integrity will continue to pay dividends with him leading the program.
Rutgers is showing a strong commitment to being successful in the long term with men’s basketball. This was not the case for many years prior to the arrival of athletic director Pat Hobbs. Building the APC was a huge first step for the entire athletic department and brought the basketball program into modern times. Coupled with Pikiell’s ability to coach and develop talent, it’s been a steady rise ever since. Fostering that success with further support is key to having future success.
Tom Young led men’s basketball to unprecedented success in the late 70’s but ultimately left due to a lack of investment by Rutgers. The program suffered for it for over 30 years until Pikiell arrived on the banks.
The proactive approach by Hobbs is also a sign that Rutgers is operating differently. For so many years across multiple areas across the University, decisions were made on a reactionary basis. Instead, along with the buy-in and full support of President Jonathan Holloway, the athletic department is investing in its own success to ensure it not only is sustainable, but has the ability to progress.
Holloway’s recent declaration to the Rutgers community that the university was fully committed to investing in Athletics gave transparency to the long term goals. The recent success across many sports programs is not a coincidence. It’s part of a master plan that is committed to making the athletic department as successful as any in the Big Ten.
Rutgers finally gets it.
After decades of floundering due to self-inflicted mistakes and incompetency caused by disorder at the highest levels of the institution, there is now true order. Alignment from the top down has positioned Rutgers Athletics to continue to rise moving forward.
Stepping up and bringing Greg Schiano back to lead football was a necessary commitment to show Rutgers was serious. Securing the future of men’s basketball by eliminating any possibility of a more storied program tempting Steve Pikiell this offseason is another sign. Pat Hobbs has positioned the athletic department overall in a strong manner with so many positive hires in recent years. The Olympic sports have more support than ever and are flourishing as a whole like never before.
Rutgers is no longer a sleeping giant. It’s starting to walk and with decisions like the one to extend Pikiell proactively, it’s only a matter of time before it starts running on all cylinders.