LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Want to feel like you're in the wrong line of work? Take a look at the silly season of football coaching changes around here lately -- and the even sillier money being thrown around with it.
I understand, when you get to this level of college football, money is as much message and meaning as it is compensation. If you're the University of Louisville, having a football coach of a certain salary imparts status to your program. You're buying more than the coach; you're buying credibility.
But goodness, credibility is expensive. And even if the money is about the meaning, they still take it at the grocery store.
Nobody, of course, made out better in all this than Charlie Strong. The now-former U of L coach is getting $5 million per year from Texas, plus UT is paying his $4.35 million buyout at Louisville. USA Today reports that his $9.35 million total cost next season is the highest ever for a public school coach in any sport.
Strong is a couple of performance incentives away from being a $10 million dollar man. Plus he gets 20 days of air travel time, a suite at football games, expenses paid for his wife to travel to games, a few club memberships, and other goodies.
But it's not like he didn't perform a service on the way to that deal. Here's how it works. Texas was looking for a coach. Gus Malzahn over at Auburn happened to let it slip that Texas is his "dream job." Boom. Contract extension and raise. Dominos started to fall. Pretty soon Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M had a sweetened deal, as did Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. Art Briles at Baylor saw all that, thought it was a good idea and, boom. New deal.
I watched all this go on. I figure I've got a good grasp on it. I passed word up in the general direction of my WDRB bosses that Texas is my dream job, too.
Nothing. No rush to enhance my deal. No private jets. No gas allowance. Silence -- except for the jackhammers in the soon-to-be-expanded WDRB newsroom. And herein lies our first lesson. These coaches, they don't live in the regular world like the rest of us.
I have a contract with my employer. And what that means, to me, is that I'm going to work for as long as that contract says and do whatever it says and in general be held to its provisions.
That's a dead giveaway that I'm not a coach.
A contract in coaching means nothing. Bobby Petrino, recently hired by the University of Louisville, once signed a contract extension, then interviewed for another job five days later. But that was back when he was young. He made it nearly 13 months into his four-year deal at Western Kentucky before leaving for U of L, where he has a seven-year deal that may or may not be worth the paper it will one day be printed on — but it definitely will be worth at least $3.5 million per year, according to athletic director Tom Jurich. And that's a big number, so big in fact that those of us in normal tax brackets really don't think much about it. Let's break it down. If he gets paid biweekly like most people now, every check is $134,615 before taxes, maybe $68,000 after taxes. Most of us could live pretty well on that.
And it's not just the head coaches getting paid. U of L introduced offensive coordinator Gerrick McGee on Monday. Now, offensive coordinator to Bobby Petrino isn't exactly the most taxing position. Petrino calls the plays. He devises the game plan. And he does those things well. His offensive coordinator, then, is a lot like the vice president or lieutenant governor. Yes, he does some important things, but his finger isn't exactly on the button.
But while vice president Joe Biden makes $230,700 per year and Kentucky lieutenant governor Jerry Abramson makes $108,720, McGee will bring home a reported $650,000 — plus U of L must pay the $550,000 buyout owed to his old employer, UAB. With these coordinators, a half million here and a half million there pretty soon add up to real money.
Over at Texas, Strong held off officially naming Vance Bedford and Shawn Watson to staff positions to avoid having to pay a $50,000 buyout for each back at Louisville. Please. He could've come up with that money from the cushions in the couches in the Longhorns' recruiting lounge.
Louisville reportedly is luring away Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham for something in the neighborhood of $1 million annually. Georgia will get only $40,000 in buyout money from Grantham.
And, on the subject of these buyouts, are they really keeping coaches from going anywhere?
Strong's is hard to fathom. Not only will Texas pay him a salary that ranks him No. 3 among college football coaches in the NCAA, but it will pay a buyout to Louisville that itself would rank in the top 10 salaries in college football. Texas is paying Strong more NOT to coach Louisville than most coaches are making to actually coach their teams.
Louisville, in turn, will take that money to pay salaries, and Petrino's $1.2 million WKU buyout, which will mean he actually will have paid WKU athletic director Todd Stewart for the right to coach last season (his salary was $800,000). New WKU coach Jeff Brohm, meanwhile, will operate with a $1.5 million buyout.
That's nothing compared to Petrino's buyout at U of L — $10 million. (Details of Petrino's deal aren't yet completely known because the contract has not yet been signed.)
Now, I know there are people out there who are going to say that I'm arguing that these guys aren't worth the money. That's not what I'm saying. I don't begrudge them a penny. They're worth whatever someone will pay them, more power to them.
But make no mistake -- the big money coming to schools via "super" conferences and upsized media rights deals is kicking off a round of spending on star coaches like we've never seen. After two decades of pouring money into facilities, programs now are turning their resources toward getting and retaining the best people.
And at U of L, it is happening at an athletic department that still takes money from the university's general fund to bankroll some women's sports scholarships.
Texas, at least, is using its Longhorn Network money to endow some professorships and to provide money to a university feeling budget cuts -- as all universities are.
At U of L, Jurich is paying a premium because his school isn't Texas or one of the traditional destination jobs. His decision to pay Petrino big money was in part a bid to try to turn it into at least a non-traditional destination job.
It's good work if you can get it. Unfortunately, in the real world, most of us cannot. In fact, even in real-world universities, professors and deans and department heads cannot. More and more, sports at the college level are losing touch with the financial realities their institutions face. One of these days, presidents are going to wake up and decide that, if they can't make athletic departments share in their pain, they can at least use them to alleviate it a little.
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