Washington’s 5 highest-paid state employees in 2019 were college coaches

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — Continuing what has been a trend for years, a newly-updated state salary database shows the five highest-paid employees in Washington last year were university coaches. Only two of them are still coaching in the state.

Now-former Washington State University football coach Mike Leach was the highest-paid state employee in 2019, earning $3,964,600. He left for Mississippi State in January.

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Following close behind at $3,949,600 was now-former University of Washington football coach Chris Petersen. He stepped down in late December to take an advisory role within the athletic department.

UW basketball coach Mike Hopkins was the third-highest paid at $2,485,000. Ernie Kent was the fourth highest-paid employee in the state in 2019. He earned $1,401,300 last year and was fired from WSU in March. He’s receiving a buyout of his contract from WSU.

Kent’s replacement, Kyle Smith, was the fifth-highest paid Washington employee in 2019, earning $1,357,400.

The website on which the database is published clarifies how those coaches are paid. “No state taxpayer dollars are used to pay the salaries of any UW athletic department employees, including coaches. The UW’s Intercollegiate Athletic Department is responsible for generating all the revenue it needs to operate its programs and maintain its facilities. No General Fund tax dollars or any other tax dollars support the program. Nor are there any other institutional funds going to the program. And unlike many universities, there are no student fees or tuition dollars going to support athletics. All the department’s revenue comes from ticket and gate receipts, television and radio contracts and philanthropic gifts. The only state contributions are a limited number of legislatively authorized tuition waivers granted years ago to help the state’s colleges and universities achieve gender equity in their athletic programs.”

As for WSU, the website says “No state funds are used to pay salaries for any WSU athletic department employees.”

Most of the top 10 on the salary list for Washington last year were employed in higher education. They include Keith Ferguson, who is the chief endowment officer for UW; UW athletic director Jennifer Cohen; UW professor Christopher Murray, who is an expert in public health; UW President Ana Cauce; and UW Vice President Constance Kravas.

According to the website, “The UW competes for exceptionally talented people with advanced degrees of specialization in a very competitive international marketplace, as do the other public institutions of higher education. Many of the highest-paid employees at the UW, for example, are in high-demand, high-paying fields such as medicine, computer science, genome sciences and other fields in which the market determines the salary scale. As one of the nation’s preeminent research institutions, it is essential that the university attract and retain people at the top of their fields. In these disciplines, salaries tend to be higher than those in other areas of state government. Salaries for the vast majority of UW employees in such fields as medicine and research are not
paid from state taxpayer dollars or tuition.”

The only five employees who made more than $1 million last year were the coaches named above.

Gov. Jay Inslee earned $179,600 in 2019. His salary and those of many other elected officials are determined by the Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials.

According to the state website that publishes the database, doing so is not required by law and is simply done as a public service.

You can read and search the full database here.