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Forbes racks up thanks to Bucs’ record-breaking year

Joe Avento • Mar 28, 2020 at 1:30 PM

JOHNSON CITY — East Tennessee State’s success on the basketball court brought a smile to Steve Forbes’ face for more than one reason.

Forbes earned $65,000 in bonuses thanks to his Bucs’ 30-4 season that included a Southern Conference championship.

The coach’s contract, signed in 2018, runs through the 2023 season. It has several bonuses in addition to his $400,000 annual base pay and $50,000 annual stipend. He also gets a $200,000 retention bonus each July as long as he’s still on the job.

As ETSU continued rolling through the competition this season, Forbes began racking up the extra money. Incentive bonuses that kicked in included $25,000 for qualifying for the NCAA Tournament; $15,000 for beating LSU; $10,000 for winning the Southern Conference regular-season championship; $5,000 for finishing ranked between 21-50 in the RPI, which is now the NET; $5,000 for earning a 22nd victory against a Division I opponent; and $1,000 for each additional win over 22 against a Division I team.

Forbes’ fifth season at ETSU was his most successful. The 30 wins were a school record, as were the 27 regular-season victories.

“We want to make sure he’s our coach for a long time,” said Scott Carter, ETSU’s athletic director. “I’m really proud of the contract we’ve been able to build with him. This year was a beautiful thing. It’s a results-based world. Those boxes he was able to check with success — championships, wins, the overall success of our program — it was phenomenal. He should be rewarded for it.

“In our world, these are the kind of years we dream about every single year.”

When the NCAA Tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, Forbes lost a chance at even more. He was due an additional $25,000 for each tournament game his team might win and the Bucs had high hopes for this year’s postseason.

Forbes, who won numerous coach of the year awards, has breathed new life into the program. The Bucs sold out their final two games at Freedom Hall this season and surpassed 80,000 fans for the first time since they started playing in the city-owned arena.

An attendance study comparing the five years before Forbes’ arrival to the past five showed an increase of almost 130,000 fans at basketball games.

“The volume of new people, growth of the family, has been pretty spectacular,” Carter said.

Even though the Bucs’ season ended prematurely, ETSU is getting a bang for its bucks. Forbes has done more than 40 radio and print interviews since the start of March, spreading the name of ETSU all across the country.

In a Twitter fan-vote bracket contest, the Bucs made the finals of the NCAA Tournament before falling to Kentucky. The New York Post had them in the Final Four in its virtual bracket, where they lost to Duke one game shy of playing for the national championship.

On the court, the team finished second in the national mid-major poll and was on the verge of the Top 25 in The Associated Press and coaches’ rankings.

“We definitely got some exposure to our program, our athletic department and hopefully our admissions office,” Carter said. “In a year without the tournament, there were some ways for our fan base and the college basketball fan base to engage. It all uplifted our university and helped our mission.”

Still, a team seemingly built to win big games never got a chance to shine on the biggest stage of all.

“When we had a chance to talk to the team, one of the messages conveyed was focus,” Carter said. “Let’s focus on the things we have gotten to do versus the things we’re not going to get to do. Nobody can take away the wins, the championships, the camaraderie, the brotherhood — all the positive that came from that.

“We’re excited about the future, as uncertain as it may be with this new opponent, COVID-19. We’ve all got our part to play to beat this thing and get back to business as usual whenever that might be.”

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