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Price is right for Schmidt Bona's new coach gets rich contract

Despite a below-.500 overall record and no trips to the postseason in his six years as a head coach, Mark Schmidt became the highest-paid coach in the Big 4 Tuesday.

Schmidt hit the jackpot when he moved from Robert Morris to replace Anthony Solomon at St. Bonaventure but Bona officials hardly spent their money foolishly.

They had no choice, given the spiraling state of college basketball salaries the last few weeks.

"We made a long-term commitment to Mark, you could even say a very long-term commitment," Bona athletics director Steve Watson said after Schmidt was introduced Tuesday in the Reilly Center. "That's part of reaching for success now to get the right guy for St. Bonaventure."

Bona officials disputed media reports in Buffalo and Pittsburgh that Schmidt signed a seven-year deal worth $300,000 per season and no one, including Schmidt, would reveal details of the contract. But sources maintain the contract runs seven years with a total in the $2 million range. University at Buffalo basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon has held the thickest wallet in the Big 4 with a base salary of around $230,000.

Solomon made $167,000 last season and it's clear Bona made a big bump in its salary in the wake of Connecticut assistant Tom Moore getting $350,000 from tiny Quinnipiac and Xavier's Sean Miller becoming the Atlantic 10's highest-paid coach at $700,000 per season.

"They've made a huge commitment, a big commitment to me," Schmidt said. "They want to get this thing going and be successful. They made a commitment to me and to the program. . . . You need resources and the commitment to winning. If the school's not behind you, you're not going to win.

"It's a long-term commitment that gives me and my family stability. You need continuity. You can't have a coach who comes in here and leaves after three years and this allows us to have continuity."

Schmidt's resume is far better than his 82-90 record at the suburban Pittsburgh school.

First off, Northeast Conference schools play few nonleague home games so overall marks have to be taken in perspective. Schmidt took over a team that was 7-22 -- the same record Bona had in Solomon's final season -- and improved to 17-11 this year. He plays a fast-paced style (the Colonials averaged 75.2 points last season) and he spent seven years as an assistant at Atlantic 10 rival Xavier, recruiting big names such as former national player of the year David West.

"This is a perfect time to be the head coach at St. Bonaventure," Schmidt said. "[The program] is down but I didn't take this job to lose. We're going to have some patience but we're going to build this thing brick by brick and we're going to do it right."

"This place is not a graveyard. This is a place where you can win. They won with Bob Lanier. They won with [former coach] Jimmy Baron. And we're going to win here."

After Albany's Will Brown spurned Bona March 30, Watson and Schmidt spoke at length during the Final Four in Atlanta and again last week in Olean. Watson said he had a "gut feeling" that Schmidt was the best choice over former Iona coach Jeff Ruland and St. Francis' Brian Nash, a former Bona assistant.

"We feel great about where we are and about where we're going," Watson said. "I was a little more thorough than most people will be. It's not like we've got this thing rolling and someone has to just step in and keep it going. We've got to build this and do it together."

Schmidt met with his current players Wednesday and has already opened the process of speaking with the team's three signed recruits, including standout guard Malcolm Eleby of Philadelphia. Among returning players, rumors are widespread that forward A.J. Hawkins is likely to transfer.

"First impression guys get from him are going to be a big thing," said Bona guard Tyler Relph. "They want to stay, they stay. They want to leave, I wish them the best. They'll always be my teammates. A.J. and I are close and if he wants to stay, we'll try to turn this around this year."

Solomon was criticized for his reliance on junior college players, a sensitive subject in the wake of Bona's 2003 recruiting scandal. Schmidt said he would not be reliant on them.

"We're going to build this right. We're not going to bring in 25 jucos," he said. "We're going to bring in high school kids, prep school kids and sprinkle [jucos] when you need a final piece of the puzzle.

"We're going to bring St. Bonaventure back. . . . It's going to be an exciting place to be. You're not going to come here because there's just a basketball game. You're going to come because it's an event. This is a new era."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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