Western Kentucky University athletic director Todd Stewart said he knew he owed women's basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard a sign of good faith after a successful first season.
Stewart offered that sign last week with a proposed contract revision to raise Heard's salary from $150,000 to $200,000. The contract needs final approval from the Board of Regents on July 26.
"To have the confidence from Todd and the university means a lot," Heard said. "When I got the job, I told them we were going to work as hard as we could to get this thing turned around as fast as we could. Of course, none of us saw us having the year we did.
"But I'm grateful and humble to even have the chance to talk about an addition to the contract."
Heard inherited a 9-21 team last season and went 22-11 in her first year, leading the Lady Toppers to their first postseason win since 2007 with a home victory over East Carolina in the Women's NIT.
Her current salary of $150,000 places her in the bottom 20 percent of her peer group, Stewart said, which he views as coaches in Conference USA, the Sun Belt Conference and the Mid-American Conference.
Heard's proposed raise would put her in the top 20 percent of that peer group, Stewart said.
"I felt she was woefully underpaid given what she accomplished last year and really how quickly she turned the program around," he said.
Heard said she has a strong relationship with Stewart – the kind she watched Louisville coach Jeff Walz build with athletic director Tom Jurich while she was an assistant there.
The two will always share a bond over the date March 22, 2012, she said.
That was the day Heard was hired and Stewart was named interim AD at the same news conference.
The flow of communication has been open since then, Stewart said, including Heard making it clear she plans to build something at WKU.
"She's frequently said that this is the No. 1 job for her and where she wants to be," Stewart said. "I believe she's 100 percent devoted to WKU and making us as good of a program as we can be.
"I think our responsibility to her from an administrative standpoint is to do everything we possibly can to give her the resources she needs and support her so she doesn't feel like she's fighting a lonely battle, so to speak."
There are also a few other proposed changes to Heard's contract up for approval, according to a contract addendum submitted last week.
Bonus incentives have been added – each for one month's salary ($16,667) – for winning conference coach of the year, making an NCAA Final Four appearance and winning a national championship.
Heard won the Sun Belt Conference coach of the year award last season but did not receive a bonus. Also, if she remains coach through Sept. 30, 2015, she will receive a $50,000 retention bonus.
According to the addendum, if either party terminates the contract without cause before July 1, 2014, one will owe the other $400,000.
That buyout decreases by $50,000 each year to $250,000 in 2017. The buyout in Heard's original contract was a flat sum of $250,000.
Four of the Lady Toppers' six newcomers are on campus and in summer school sessions.
Freshmen Bria Gaines, Kierra Muhammad and Aleeya Harris are at WKU along with junior college transfer Chanell Lockhart. JUCO transfer Jasmine Crawford will arrive for the July school session, and freshman Ruta Savickaite is in her native Lithuania trying out for the junior national team.
"They're getting used to the college life," Heard said. "We've thrown them to the wolves, too, in practice, so it's been good. You get a taste of what it could be like, and it's nice to actually have 10 people on the floor."
The players can currently complete six hours of conditioning and two hours of practice each week.
Rising junior guard Alexis Govan was shut down for most of the offseason because of nagging injuries, including a hip issue, Heard said. She's slowly returning to action now.
Sophomore guard Kendall Noble could return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in July. She got the brace for her knee this week and has started drills with less than full contact, Heard said.
Lady Tops hosting several camps
Heard has been able to host a full schedule of camps this summer, serving wide age and skill ranges.
The Lady Tops hosted their first team camp in several years earlier this month with 15 teams in attendance. They also hosted a skill position clinic, which drew some recruiting targets to campus.
One confirmed visitor was 2014 guard Gabrielle Bowie, a 5-foot-8-inch prospect from Lady Bird Johnson High School in San Antonio. Bowie has an offer from WKU, and her father, Gregory, confirmed her attendance at the camp to the Daily News.
WKU hosted its individual camp for grades 6-12 this week and will try to host a Lil' Topper Camp for grades 3-6 in late July, along with a Select Camp in August 2-3 that is designed to attract potential recruits after the July AAU season.
"Of course we would love to get the numbers up, but it's growing," Heard said. "I'm excited about it."