The great coaching carousel is already off to a hot start this year. There’s plenty of openings to go around and more importantly, plenty of money to go around. The rise of celebrity coaches directly correlates with the ridiculous amounts of money being thrown at these guys. Not only have coaching contracts gotten excessively out of hand, a hyperbolic level of stardom has started to follow coaches.
College football has changed drastically over the last twenty years. One of the driving forces behind this change is the amount of money that the sport generates. The sheer amount of money that the sport generates has allowed programs to enter into an arms race of sorts. Facilities, TV deals, conference affiliations and coaches are the focal point of this arms race. Schools that want to assert themselves into national prevalence invest heavily in these things that are essential to a successful program.
Thus, the celebrity coach was born. Nick Saban is the dean of college football. Alabama’s hire of Saban is the most perfect example of opportunity meeting chance: The right job available to the right guy. Saban is the first and best example of the modern celebrity coach. He is one of the highest paid coaches in any sport world-wide. However, he’s an anomaly. The example that Saban and Alabama set created then exacerbated the coaching arms race.
Programs around the SEC, and eventually the rest of the nation, took notice of the success that Alabama had under Saban. There were a myriad of programs around the nation who felt they could match the perfect timing of that hire. Programs that felt they had their guy started doing everything they could to keep their current coach #1, in town, and #2, happy.
Another thing that Saban did was reshape expectations for everyone. If Alabama could pull together the money & create a new dynasty overnight, why couldn’t any athletic department that had money to spend do the same? The problem with that is that there’s only one Nick Saban and unfortunately for the rest of the nation, he can only coach in one place.
Everyone was looking for their Nick Saban. Any hotshot coordinator or young head coach could be the next big thing. Urban Meyer came along and proved that the path to college coaching stardom could be short, which was good for coaches’ checkbooks and universities’ football teams.
Again, the issue here is that Saban and Meyer have proven to be the exception, not the expectation. Only a handful of college coaches are within grasping distance of the success that these two coaches have enjoyed. Yet, we see it every winter. Much like it does in baseball, the hot stove gets real hot in December. Coaches from FCS to the MAC of all ages are getting millions of dollars with the hopes that they’re the ‘next big thing.’
Ryan Day just got a five-year deal worth $4.5 million annually. He has never been a head coach at the college level in a full capacity. Twenty years ago, this was unthinkable. Jeff Brohm could receive an extension that would make him the Big Ten’s second-highest paid coach. PJ Fleck was Minnesota’s homerun hire a few short years ago.
The fact of the matter is these contracts are out of control. The term and buyouts are becoming shackles for schools. Last season when Ed Orgeron was in the midst of a less-than-stellar season, fans, boosters and analysts were all wondering how LSU could afford two buyouts on top of hiring another coach. Auburn boosters were reportedly scrounging up the money to afford Gus Malzahn’s buyout. A majority of these coaches are simply not worth the money and schools are making football coaches financial priorities. Even worse, some schools are making bad coaches a financial priority. Even worse, they’re putting these coaches above the program in some cases.
The coaching carousel has become the hottest free agent market in American sports aside from Lebron James deciding which team he wants to play for any given year. Like any other free agent market, these guys are getting overpaid. Schools and athletic departments are getting absolutely robbed in their pursuit of the guy that can get them to college football’s biggest stage.
There’s a simple fix to this: completely get rid of these lucrative buyouts. A reasonable base salary that accompanies an incentive-based contract rewards coaches who perform & protects schools from these absurd buyouts and guaranteed money.
Stop building statues before you win games. Stop hiring guys based on their name.