Marshall: Big Salaries Mean Big Pressure

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about coaching football and basketball in the Southeastern Conference.

They make lots of money. People line up to do them favors. They are, in many cases, better-known than the people who make life and death decisions every day.

Yes, life is good for football and basketball head coaches at the highest levels of college athletics. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in Alabama who couldn't tell you at least something about Tommy Tuberville, Mike Shula, Mark Gottfried and Jeff Lebo. They are, perhaps, the most visible people in Alabama, more visible even than the governor.

None of them is likely to have any trouble paying bills. Lebo is the lowest paid of the bunch, and he makes some $800,000 a year. Tuberville makes more than $2 million, with a contract that guarantees a $200,000 raise every year and is laden with lucrative incentives.

But there are drawbacks. The jobs are hard, very hard. It's astonishing sometimes to watch coaches age right before your eyes. The time demands are staggering, the pressure relentless. A head coach has to worry not only about his future, but the futures of all those who work for him. If the head coach is fired, most of his assistants are likely to be fired, too.

And nowhere is there more of a "what have you done for me lately" business.

Mike DuBose was fired less than a year after winning the SEC football championship at Alabama. Terry Bowden took Auburn to 10 wins in 1997 and within a point of Tennessee in the championship game and was gone halfway through the next season. Cliff Ellis was fired as Auburn's basketball coach one year after taking the Tigers to the Sweet 16.

Sometimes, a big season means a program is on the move up. Sometimes, it's an aberration. Sometimes a bad season means a program is in a nosedive. Sometimes it's just bad luck. It is the job of athletics directors and presidents to have a feel for when the time is right to make a change and when it isn't.

Ole Miss basketball coach Rod Barnes, it appears, is on the thinnest of ice. Given an opportunity to offer support, Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone offered none. At this point, it will be an upset if Barnes is back next season.

It wasn't so long ago that Barnes was an Ole Miss hero. A Mississippi native, he made himself a standout point guard as an Ole Miss player. He made no secret that his dream was to be Ole Miss' head coach. That dream came true in 1999.

In 2001, Barnes led Ole Miss to a 27-8 record, the Southeastern Conference West Division championship and a Sweet 16 appearance. He has won 20 or more games three times. That's pretty good at Ole Miss, not exactly a bastion of basketball tradition.

Coach Rod Barnes is preparing his team to face Auburn on Saturday night in Oxford.

Things haven't been so good lately. Why? The answer is simple, really. The Rebel players of 2006 aren't nearly as talented as the Rebel players of 2001. Most of the time, that's the difference between winning and losing.

Getting better players, of course, is part of the job. But, in the end, it's really about money, particularly in football. SEC schools have to make big money in football to fund the rest of their athletics programs. When fans start expressing their displeasure by staying home or donors close their checkbooks, coaches are in trouble.

Jeff Lebo is in his second season of trying to rebuild the Auburn basketball program.

Come football season, there'll be more SEC coaches who'll need to look over their shoulders. Houston Nutt can't be overly comfortable at Arkansas. The same goes for Rich Brooks at Kentucky and even Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee.

That's life in the big time.

Moving on...

For Auburn and many others, next football season is going to be an unprecedented grind. The Tigers will play 12 games in 12 weeks. There'll be no break, no open date.

It didn't have to be that way.

When the NCAA decided to allow 12 games, all it had to do was allow the season to start one week earlier. That would have resulted in a lot of attractive games in the first week of the season.

Why was that not done? It would have made too much sense, I guess...

Former Auburn linebackers coach Joe Whitt, now an assistant athletic director, has moved into his new office at Tigers Unlimited. Whitt will be involved in fundraising and will have other administrative duties.

He has told friends he has not been so excited since the early days of his career as an Auburn assistant coach.

Until next time...


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