Texas' Search Firm Bill Shows How Misplaced Money Is in College Football

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterApril 4, 2014

University of Texas president Bill Powers, left, and athletic director Steve Patterson discuss a search for a new head football coach in Austin, Texas on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. Current coach Mack Brown announced he was stepping down from the position following the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30. (AP Photo/Jack Plunkett)
Jack Plunkett

For not being Nick Saban, head coach Charlie Strong sure was an expensive hire for Texas. 

In January, the school agreed to pay Strong $5 million annually, minus incentives and raises, as part of a five-year deal, per Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com. Additionally, Texas will pay a $4.375 million buyout to Louisville.

According to Steve Berkowitz of USA Today Sports, the $9.375 million to be paid in 2014 was "the largest one-year amount paid to a public-school athletics coach since USA TODAY Sports began tracking pay of football and men's basketball coaches in 2006."

That's not including the money Texas spent to, well, "find" Strong. 

Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today reports that Texas spent $266,990 to the search firm Korn/Ferry International to help hire Strong away from the Cardinals. The numbers are broken down here: 

The executive search firm Korn/Ferry International billed Texas $250,000 for helping hire coach Charlie Strong in January, plus an administrative fee of 6 percent — $15,000. An additional invoice dated March 19 charged Texas $1,990 in expenses, mostly travel expenses for Korn/Ferry consultant Jed Hughes.

As a reference, Schrotenboer writes that Texas' coaching search "cost far more than what other public schools paid for similar services in recent years."

Former Big 12 interim commissioner and search consultant Chuck Neinas told USA Today that he charges $50,000 per search. Parker Executive Search usually charges $75,000 to $90,000, per Schrotenboer. (Rutgers paid Parker Executive Search $58,000 plus expenses to find a new athletic director in 2009, according to Darren Heitner of Forbes.com.) 

Of course, Texas isn't the first school to hire a search firm to find a coach. In many ways, the practice can be money well-spent. Firms can keep the hiring process under wraps and do necessary, in-depth vetting on all credentials and background. 

However, it doesn't sound like Texas utilized that option, per Schrotenboer: 

After Strong's hiring, on Jan. 15, Korn/Ferry sent a follow-up e-mail to the office of university president Bill Powers, making sure the university did not require Korn/Ferry to "conduct employment reference checks or an education verification for Charlie Strong."

Powers replied, "Confirmed and correct."

If there's any question why this is important to schools, look no further than the University of South Florida and Manhattan basketball coach Steve Masiello. According to ESPN's Brett McMurphy, South Florida was set to sign Masiello to a five-year deal worth $6.06 million last month. However, the school's search firm "discovered inaccuracies in Masiello's bio" and the deal fell through. And that potential agreement was for significantly less money than Texas' contract with Strong. (Manhattan has placed Masiello on leave.)

Charlie Strong
Charlie StrongEric Gay

It's easy to question why Texas spent $267,000 to hire Strong when it's obvious he's an excellent coach, but firms are paid to investigate whether everything checks out. 

The university didn't respond to the USA Today piece, and that's its prerogative. No one owes anyone an explanation. Besides, Texas has an enormous athletic budget, with which it is free to do as it sees fit. 

Except Texas athletic director Steve Patterson doesn't see it in quite the same light. Speaking with media earlier this week, he cleared up a misconception about Texas' endless supply of money. 

Except for a $270,000 search firm that apparently didn't have to do a background check. As Dan Wolken of USA Today tweets, that money could have gone to the university's 85 scholarship football players. 

Let's be clear: This isn't a Texas problem; it is merely an example. This is a college football problem.

Paying athletes in the form of a grant-in-aid that covers the full cost of attendance has been on the agenda for major college athletics for three years now. However, the NCAA and its membership hasn't been able to come up with a solution. 

According to a document obtained by CBSSports' Dennis Dodd, the full cost of attendance could be redefined if the five most powerful conferences are granted autonomy in the new proposed NCAA governance structure. 

Until then, university bigwigs will do as much as they can to bring in the most money possible while declaring the status quo of big-time college athletics works. The only ones that get the short end of that deal are the ones who play the game. 


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 


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