May 24, 2004 TALLAHASSEE On the surface, it may appear that Florida State basketball coach Leonard Hamilton's recent three-year contract extension doesn't quite measure up financially, at least not to the rest of the ACC. No, Hamilton is not going to get rich by adding $7,200 annually to the new pact, which runs through the 2009-10 season. Heck, even with the increase of his compensation to $738,019 a year second only to FSU football coach Bobby Bowden on the state of Florida's payroll he still ranks in the bottom third of ACC coaches in that regard. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina's Roy Williams reportedly double Hamilton's annual income, while Maryland's Gary Williams and Wake Forest's Skip Prosser also are members of the million-dollar club. Virginia's Pete Gillen ($900,000) is close to the same neighborhood, and Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt will join it as soon as post-Final Four deal is completed. In short, only second-year Clemson coach Oliver Purnell makes less among last season's nine ACC head basketball coaches, though Hamilton will climb a couple spots in the pecking order with the upcoming additions of Miami's Frank Haith and Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg to the conference. Nevertheless, Hamilton isn't consumed by that ranking within his coaching circle. In fact, he's quite comfortable in his own skin. That's part of the reason why he recently appropriated a majority of the dollars available for raises in the direction of assistant coaches Stan Jones, Mike Jaskulski and Tony Sheals. "I think it's obvious that as a staff we appreciate the administration showing a level of confidence," Hamilton said. "More than anything else, it makes a statement that there's a strong commitment by the university to our basketball program, that they want to give us the necessary support. That's important." In some respects, Hamilton can afford to be on the lower rung of ACC hoops salaries. He's still collecting a sizeable supplement from the NBA's Washington Wizards. On top of that, he realizes that in order to keep the Seminoles climbing up the ACC charts, providing stability for his assistants is a top priority. According to university sources, Hamilton did exactly that, allocating a far greater percentage of the lump-sum raise for the men's program to his assistants. That's especially important with Jones, who is well-positioned to join the short list of assistants near the top of the pay scale. While Jones' name was floating about as a potential candidate for head coaching vacancies following last season, that noise will become greater in the coming years. With Hamilton on board through the end of the decade, keeping his staff in place is vital. Hamilton, too, could be mentioned for other jobs in the near future, after delivering FSU its first winning record in six seasons. His reconfigured contract comes on the heels of a 19-14 finish, including a second-round NIT appearance.
FSU athletic director Dave Hart, however, isn't worried about losing the coach he handpicked to succeed Steve Robinson. "(Hamilton) is locked up, trust me," Hart said, a day after the deal was done. Hamilton, 55, has guided the Seminoles to a 33-29 record in two seasons since succeeding Robinson. FSU was 14-15 in Hamilton's first season and followed that up with its greatest success since Robinson's 1997-98 team finished 18-14 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. "In extending and transforming Coach Hamilton's contract to a six-year agreement, we are rewarding him for the outstanding leadership he continues to provide," Hart said. "We are also re-inforcing the message that we view him as the right person to lead our men's basketball program to a level of excellence within a 12-team Atlantic Coast Conference, and nationally as well." Still Working On Class Of 2004 Hamilton has made significant in-roads over a short period of time. His 2002-03 signing class (led by Von Wafer, Alexander Johnson and juco Diego Romero) was ranked No. 1 nationally by a number or recruiting analysts, and his current class is considered among the best in the ACC. The Seminoles signed a trio of top-rated guards Isaiah Swann, Jason Rich and Ralph Mims while picking up a commitment from 6-9 forward Jerome Habel, whose long-awaited addition to the class still hadn't been announced by the end of the spring signing period. While the late period ended May 19, potentially with two scholarships left to fill, Hamilton definitely hasn't stopped his recruiting efforts for the coming season. "We do intend on having some other announcements in the future," Hamilton said. "We still have a couple more positions we would like to fill, and I'm sure we will." Hamilton said he wasn't worried about the close of the late signing period without more signed national letters of intent, and specifically without one from another big man. "The first day of class is Aug. 22," Hamilton said, essentially acknowledging that he has a few tricks left up his sleeve. One of those tricks could be luring prominent junior college forward Jamal Nichols to Florida State. Nichols reportedly signed his letter of intent with DePaul but didn't get it in the mail in time to meet the NCAA deadline. The Seminoles quickly jumped back into the recruiting fray, along with St. John's, hoping that Nichols would consider penning a non-binding scholarship agreement with FSU at some point in the coming weeks or months. Public financial incentives aside, Hamilton plans to carry his summer recruiting right to the wire. That's where the tireless work of his assistants will have the greatest impact. Hamilton knows this and has properly rewarded them, not solely for the job they've done, but also for the work he'll expect from them to keep the program moving forward. Consider it an investment, much as Hart views the new length of Hamilton's deal and the recent upgrades to the school's basketball facilities. Is Rix Finally Coming Around? Saddled with an unofficial tag as Florida State's least-popular quarterback in recent memory, fifth-year senior Chris Rix appears as if he's making an honest attempt to change some perceptions before hitting the field for his final season in Tallahassee. The first sign of change for the only four-year starter in Bowden's tenure was Rix's decision not to return home to California this summer. That will sit well with quarterbacks coach Darryl Dickey, who for the past two years has had to deal with some non-conforming habits Rix picks up while working out with his quarterbacks coach back home. Rix's tendency to sail passes a throwing kink that's directly linked to many of his 33 career interceptions is the result of poor mechanics. The hope would be that by staying at FSU, working out and studying film, he could rid himself of those bad habits. Off the field, Rix has been seen in the company of his teammates at other FSU sporting events. That's a marked change for a player who has not endeared himself to his teammates, preventing potential communication gaps from being bridged. At the end of spring practice, when Rix picked up his second consecutive most valuable offensive player award, Bowden praised Rix for what he believed were signs of growth and maturity. "I think he has matured," Bowden said. "I think he is where he ought to be. He has gone through the normal growing process and now he's a senior. He acts like a senior and plays like a senior." Initially, those words were dismissed out of hand by Rix's many skeptics as Bowden simply maintaining his blind loyalty to a player who has alternately been brilliant and baffling. But while the ultimate measure of Rix's progress and maturity can only be gauged by his performance on the field in big games (and he won't have to wait beyond the Sept. 6 opener at Miami), any signs of growth prior to the season's onset certainly can't hurt.