Universities Making Faustian Bargains to Lure Head Coaches

WaltCorrespondent IDecember 19, 2007

IconThe recent departure of Bobby Petrino as head coach with the Atlanta Falcons and subsequent hiring as head coach at Arkansas is a morality lesson that should not be lost on any of us that love football, and especially college football.

Petrino is the poster boy for Liars Anonymous right along with Nick Saban. Petrino lied to his former employer and probably is lying to his new employer Arkansas.

If Hog fans believe that Petrino will stay put, then I have some prime swamp land to sell them in the Everglades. Petrino's conduct was despicable, but it also points to the fact that universities are willing to hire liars so long as they win games for their programs.

University presidents and athletic directors are sacrificing good business sense for lots of cents thrown the way of football coaches who they hope to lure to their school. This latest example is just the tip of the iceberg. The recent USA Today survey of college football salaries illustrates the ridiculous trend of escalating salaries for coaches who have mediocre records.

The average salary for major college coaches is now over $1 million a year for the first time, and has increased nine percent from last year. University presidents and athletic ditrectors have basically opened their vaults and told the coaches to take what they want. And the coaches and their agents have learned how to get even more money from what some would call dimwitted university presidents and athletic directors.

Georgia Tech recently fired their head coach Chan Gailey, and now the athletic department has to pay off the remaining $4 million on Gailey’s contract, plus the approximately $500,000 owed Navy to buy out new coach Paul Johnson’s contract. The point is that universities and athletic directors really do not seem to have a grasp on the salaries of their coaches. Instead of the universities and athletic directors being in charge, the coaches and their agents seem to be in control.

Start a rumor through the press that another school may be interested in a school's coach, and the school scrambles to give the coach more money. A great example of this is head coach Butch Davis at North Carolina. Davis, who's only in his first year at Carolina, supposedly toyed with the idea of going to Arkansas.

In response, North Carolina bumped up his salary significantly after a 4-8 season. Here is what one North Carolina professor had to say in a letter to The Daily Tar Heel, the campus paper: "... At the tiniest whiff of rumor that no one knows who started, the chancellor and AD swing into action with a boatload of money and inducements."

It's this kind of knee jerk reaction that have college football coaches salivating. They and their agents know that they are not dealing with the "brightest utensils in the drawer." Another example was Tommy Bowden of Clemson who did the same thing and got a fat raise and contract extension.

Is this a great country or what?

Contracts mean nothing. Coaches will bail for another school and to heck with a contract. It is becoming increasingly clear that ethics and contracts are almost meaningless in the world of college football. Arkansas took a guy who never has been at one place more than four years and who had given the Falcons his word that he was not going anywhere. Now we hear that Rich Rodriquez is now contending that the $4 million buyout clause in his West Virginia contract is null and void because it was under duress or some other term that means he does not want to abide by a contract that he was happy with until Michigan came calling.

Where have we heard that before? Of course, Petrino was not the first. The first liar was Nick Saban, who told the Dolphins he was going nowhere and then took the job at Bama. Now Bama has a coach who they are paying almost $4 million a year in one of the poorest states in the nation. Saban's 6-6 record cost the school $544,286 per win which ranked him number two in the nation in that stat.

Unfortunately, my alma mater FSU is not immune from this. We have the example of FSU and the geniuses at the boosters last year who paid Jeff Bowden over a half million dollars to leave when they could have simply not renewed his contract and paid him nothing. Currently we have FSU increasing Bobby Bowden's salary significantly for what can only be described in recent years as average seasons at best.

In addition, they have given Jimbo Fisher a ton of money who has yet to prove his worth. By the way, Bobby Bowden's current salary ranked twenty-fifth in the nation at a cost of $242,171 per win and his new salary will bump him up in that stat.

Ten years ago only Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden made more than $1 million per year. At least 50 head coaches will make that next season. So are the universities and boosters getting their money's worth for what they are paying college football coaches? I don't think so. Let me make this clear. I think college coaches should be paid what they are worth but there seems to be very little accountability in today's environment.

Here's a novel concept: Have the universities and athletic directors tell their coaches that they will pay them what they are worth. For example, negotiate an incentive based contract that tells a coach if you increase season ticket sales, win your conference championship, and win nine games, we will pay you more. The parameters can be geared to the goals of the particular university. If they don't like that, then pay them a reasonable but not exorbitant salary. Seems very sensible, but that is not what's happening.

University presidents and athletic directors are buying all the hyperbole and getting very little in return for their money. University presidents and athletic directors would be well advised to perhaps take a contracts course at their university followed up with a class on negotiations. Then they ought to follow that up with a class on ethics.

University presidents and athletic directors have struck a Faustian bargain and to heck with the fans and alumni. It is becoming obvious that the fans are going to have to be the ones to tell their respective universities and booster organizations that enough is enough.