Providence Journal

Men's basketball: URI opens the vault to keep Baron on board

Coach gets 10-year, $4.3 million pact


Journal Sports Writer

SOUTH KINGSTOWN -- Jim Baron, a blue-collar kind of guy, is entering a distinctly white-collar neighborhood, at least according to his paycheck.

The University of Rhode Island men's basketball coach, who appeared to be on the verge of being wooed away by Virginia Tech, yesterday agreed to a major restructuring and extension of his contract.

He signed a memorandum of agreement on a 10-year pact worth $4.3 milion.

The agreement came after two days of what both sides described as tough negotiating by Baron and his agent, Rob Ades, with school officials. The deal adds five years to the coach's contract and an additional $100,000 to his $155,000 base salary, bringing the value to about $430,000 annually.

It is a commitment school officials were willing to make, especially since Virginia Tech seemed poised to hire him away, reportedly for an even larger annual salary.

"It was time to get some stability," said athletic director Ron Petro. "Everybody felt he was the right guy. We asked the president if he would consider it and he said sure."

Robert Carothers, the school president, was in Washington, D.C., yesterday for Atlantic 10 conference meetings. The school was represented at the negotiations by Petro, Tom Dougan, the vice presidnet for student affairs, and Louis Saccoccio, the university counsel. They kept in contact with Carothers by telephone. Carothers made it back in time for a press conference at

the Ryan Center last night to announce the agreement.

"In some ways, it's a business decision," Carothers said. "You need to be able to fill this arena. You need to be able to pay the bills to support the program and you need a person who will do that for you over the long haul.

"The feeling was that Jim was more than a basketball coach, that he was an educator, that he was an ambassador in the community, that he represented the kind of values we want the institution to stand for, so it's a pretty good match."

Baron, 49, admitted he was flattered -- and interested -- when Virginia Tech, from the Big East Conference, expressed a strong interest in him. Speaking yesterday with his wife, Cindy, and sons Jimmy, 16, and Billy, 11, at his side, Baron at times became emotional.

The support he has received since coming to Rhode Island two years ago, support that continued even after reports surfaced that he might leave, helped sway his decision to stay, he said.

"We love the state of Rhode Island. We love the people in Rhode Island," he said. "The community is absolutely fabulous. It's fantastic. It's great to know we're going to be here and you want us."

A number of players who helped Baron's team post a 19-12 record this season, after winning a total of 20 games in the previous three years, attended the press conference and were thrilled to learn their coach was staying.

"I'm ecstatic," said freshmen center Jon Clark. "My decision to come here came down to having a coach with stability, a coach who would be here a long time.

"He's a great man. He's a father figure to me," Clark added. "He's a great coach. He's knowledgeable. He knows the fundamentals and teaches them to you. He's patient. He's concerned about academics. He keeps me on my toes at all times. I have nothing bad to say about him."

Beyond the salary increase, the fact that the school was willing to implement several off-court projects the coach had been seeking gave Baron another reason to stay.

His team will have a new weight room he has been pleading for, improved academic facilities, renovations to the basketball office and new video equipment. Boosters will be asked to fund the off-court improvements. The school will have to find a way to come up with the additional money for Baron's salary.

"It's a university decision," Petro said. "The university budget is so complicated and huge. . . . It's a commitment by the university, so that's what we'll do."

"I'm just going around with my hand out," Carothers said with a smile. "One of the things (that will help) is that a lot of athletic boosters have paid off their pledges to the Ryan Center, or will this next year, so there's going to be some money out there that the last few years had been commited to the Ryan Center."

Last night, the focus was much more on celebrating the fact that Baron will stay than worrying about where the money will come from.

"Jim has done an excellent job of re-establishing the credibility of the basketball program," Carothers said. "He's brought back to URI tremendous pride in the program, enthusiasm for the game, and the stability that will see us through the next decade."

"It's a great opportunity for us to continue the short legacy of what we've put together here," Baron said. "We want to continue to see it grow and see our student-athletes continue to develop.

"It wasn't that difficult of a decision," he added, "because we love it here."