Fundraiser seeks to boost Ragin' Cajuns coaches’ pay

Ragin’ Cajuns fans will have a chance to rub elbows with coaches next month in a major fundraising event aimed at filling the coffers used to keep those coaches at the university.

After an incredibly successful year for Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns athletics, local fans and University of Louisiana at Lafayette coaches are getting together to party Aug. 23 at this year’s annual Ragin’ Cajuns Athletics Celebration.

The fan-organized event aimed at boosting coaches’ salaries — to be held at the Cajundome Convention Center — gives fans a chance to eat, drink and socialize with the school’s coaching staff.

“People are fired up after this season, and they’re ready to show that they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is,” event organizer Ken Meyers said. “That’s what this event is for. It’s to secure funding for competitive coaching salaries.”

With three New Orleans Bowl championships in three years, head football coach Mark Hudspeth’s success seems to be paying dividends.

Replacing former coach Rickey Bustle in 2010, Hudspeth’s initial contract earned him a base salary of $360,000 that year.

Much of that came from private funders.

Hudspeth’s recent contract renewal secured the coach a guaranteed base salary of $950,000, with an unchanged state-funded $175,000 combined with $775,000 from the Ragin’ Cajuns Athletic Foundation.

Hudspeth can earn even more money based on his team’s success on and off the field in RCAF-funded bonuses.

Head basketball coach Bob Marlin’s $400,000 salary is second highest, with $180,000 coming from the state, according to ragincajuns.com.

A portion of both salaries came from the proceeds of the first two RCAF celebrations.

“We’re trying to build a fund outside the general fund just for the coaches,” Meyers said. “If we want to have the highest paid coach in the Sun Belt, we can’t go to the community and just ask for money. We have to be set aside money for that. Top talent takes top money.”

More than 60 sponsors, including local law firms, oil field companies and banks, have bought tickets and pledged money and auction items to the event.

Meyers said the celebration is the only one where fans can socialize with their all their favorite UL-Lafayette coaches.

“(UL-Lafayette’s) coaches are targeted from programs all around the country,” said committee member Brad Pellegrin. “If one of our coaches were to be taken from us, we would have enough money to secure another quality coach.”

The first two years of the athletics celebration raised about $350,000, and Meyers says he is confident about good turnout at this year’s event.

More than 2,000 attendees are expected, he said.

“We have anywhere from a thousand any year; this year we’ll go to two. We have a hundred tables this year, and 60 have been sold,” Meyers said. “I’m expecting that by the night of the event, there will be no corporate tables left.”

A silent auction will take place during the festivities, allowing fans to bid on items like fire pits, ice makers, a UL-Lafayette-themed golf cart and even signed memorabilia donated by former UL-Lafayette athletes.

A raffle will be held for an international cruise, and Hudspeth is scheduled to deliver a speech.

“He’s the master motivator,” Meyers said. “He’s awesome.”

Meyers said these fundraising events are also a chance to strike while the iron of athletic success is hot.

“I don’t know if we could have pulled this off 10 years ago without this broad success,” Meyers said. “There’s no way we could have done this without the success we’ve had on the field. It’s a testament to our coaches.”

UL-Lafayette’s athletic programs have enjoyed arguably the most successful season in the school’s history.

The Cajuns fielded a No. 1-ranked baseball team last season, a football team with three consecutive New Orleans Bowl championships, a softball team that made it to the Women’s College World Series, a Sun Belt champion basketball team and a tennis team that made it to post-season play.

Next month’s fundraising event comes as one phase of a major expansion of Cajun Field is wrapping up before the start the fall football season, including the addition of about 7,000 seats in the south end zone that will increase capacity to nearly 38,000.

Tickets for the fundraiser are $150 for two people and can be purchased at ticketmaster.com.

All proceeds go directly to the RCAF.