Here’s a tip for college football fans whose favorite teams may or may not fall on hard times at some point in the near future: don’t bother ranting about how the coach needs to be fired, because there’s a good chance the school can’t afford to do so.
USA Today once again put in public records requests for the contracts of college football’s public university head coaches; you should head over and check out the full list of salaries. This year’s top two highest-paid coaches worked out to be the coaches of the two best teams in the nation—Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh claimed the top slot with his $9 million salary, a full $2 million more than runner-up Nick Saban of Alabama, who will take home $6.9 million for his work this season.
As we’ve held in the past, these contracts, while staggering, are fine. If the market allows for throngs of universities to pay coaches millions to field good football teams, the coaches and their agents should do everything they can to get paid. It’d just be nice if the top coaches making these millions listened to players like Josh Rosen and Nigel Hayes, and stopped knocking the idea of paying the players that allow them to fetch such lucrative salaries.
Still, that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t marvel at some of the wild shit agents are able to leverage into their clients’ contracts. There’s always some sort of jaw-dropping, pants-shitting contract clause that gets included in these mass contract reports; last year, it was the faux-academic APR clauses, this year, it’s buyout clauses.
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher topped the list with a $33.1 million buyout clause, which, fuck me. FSU will likely never have to worry about doling out that cash because Fisher puts together great teams—the Seminoles are currently 5-2, which ranks as disappointing in Tallahassee—but his agent hooked him up just in case he hits a rough patch. Fisher is followed by Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Michigan’s Harbaugh, who would rake in $27.4 million and $25.5 million, respectively, if they’re canned prior to their contract’s expiration. Again, the Buckeyes and Wolverines knew these coaches were unlikely fires to start with, but these buyout clauses are essentially a firewall against unemployment.
While most of the coaches with the relatively absurd (it’s all fucking nuts) buyout clauses are top-flight candidates at powerhouse programs, this is a good time to remind you that middling coaches have agents too, and they’re earning their keep.
For instance, Kirk Ferentz, Iowa’s head coach since 1999, has the fourth-most lucrative buyout clause in the nation, and that’s after the school went back and extended his contract another 10 years through 2026 in September to make him the 11th-highest paid coach in the nation. Ferentz isn’t a bad coach, but he ain’t top-four, either—Iowa has topped the 10-win mark just four times in 17 seasons under Ferentz, consistently finishing fourth in the Big Ten and occasionally winning a few more games than the seven wins they’ve averaged with him.
Years of the rumor mill cranking out reports that Ferentz would head for the NFL, along with some standout work from his agent, Neil Cornrich, culminated in his most recent contract, which nearly every logical person reporting on college football took to be a case of significant overpayment. The school got a hard-on after he took them to the Rose Bowl last year (where they were stomped by Stanford) and tossed him a ridiculous extension that will net him $4.5 million for his 2016 work. Now, according to USA Today, Iowa is on the hook for $25.3 million should the Hawkeyes dump him before his contract runs out. Iowa is currently 5-3 and apparently has cash for days.
Ferentz is not alone. Illinois’s Lovie Smith also cracked the top-10 at $19.3 million. Smith is in his first season at the helm of a program that hasn’t topped 10 wins since 2001, but unlike Ferentz, Smith has led an NFL team to a Super Bowl, so he was bound to get a great contract. Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall, who was very good at BYU, followed Smith’s route, heading to a shit football program to make big bucks. The Cavaliers cracked eight wins just six times in the past 20 years, but have proven they are more than willing to hang onto a mediocre coach—Mike London was there six years and posted a .340 winning percentage. Now, Virginia has to hang on to Mendenhall, lest it pay him $14.5 million to walk. Rutgers head coach Chris Ash similarly knew what kind of putrid program he was tying himself to; his buyout clause is worth $9.49 million, which is hilarious.
According to USA Today, in 2011, there were only 15 coaches that had secured buyout clauses worth over $8 million in their contracts; today’s report turned up 33 clauses worth as much. I don’t know much, but if this has taught me anything, it’s that if I ever hit the National Blog League’s free agent market, I’m hiring Neil Cornrich.