Marshall: Coaching Football Frenzy

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn football Tigers.

Believe it or not, there was a time when college head coaches weren't wealthy, when assistants coaches' wives had to work to help make ends meet and when contract negotiations, such as they were, were conducted away from the public spotlight.

Oh, how times have changed.

At Auburn, head coach Tommy Tuberville's salary for this year was $2.6 million. His lowest paid assistant made $170,000. And Tuberville's contract talks with athletics director Jay Jacobs this week have created a frenzy. Alabama's Nick Saban makes $4 million a year. His staff is the only one in the SEC which rakes in more money than Auburn's. And we all saw the craziness last year when he arrived.

Were the old times better? You'd have a hard time convincing the coaches, but in some ways they were better, even for the coaches. Shug Jordan coached for 25 years at Auburn. Bear Bryant did the same at Alabama. And it wasn't that unusual.

You're not going to see that often anymore. Once Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden have ridden off into the sunset, you might never see it again. For one thing, the pressure is too great. For another, head coaches at the highest level make so much money that they don't need to work for that long.

Tommy Tuberville (right) meets Alabama coach Nick Saban after Auburn's 17-10 Iron Bowl victory over Bama to close the regular season.

With skyrocketing salaries come skyrocketing expectations. There's little patience when a coach who makes a king's salary doesn't win like the fans think he ought to win. And all fans think their teams ought to win. The Internet has made information available at the click of a mouse. More fans know more about what's going on than ever before.

That's good for filling stadiums and getting TV ratings, but it's not so good for a coach struggling to keep his job.

Coaches know that, in every SEC program, there are going to be ups and downs. LSU lost five games in 2002 and won the national championship in 2003. Auburn lost five games in 2003 and went 13-0 in 2004. Florida won it all last season and has lost three this season. Georgia lost four last season and is in the top five this season.

Coaches also know that the bounce of the ball often has as much to do with winning and losing as play-calling and execution. Tennessee has won three games this season on missed field goals by its opponents. South Carolina and Kentucky missed in overtime and Vanderbilt on the final play of the game. And the Vols are in the SEC Championship Game. Auburn missed a trip to the SEC Championship Game in 2005 when John Vaughn missed four field goals at LSU. All it needed in 2002 was a 26-yard Damon Duval field goal at Florida and a fourth-and-15 stop at home against Georgia.

But they are praised as heroes when their teams win and cursed when they lose.

Coaches have become like rock stars, far more famous than people who do things that really impact the world, and far better paid.

It would be nice to think that one day things will be kept better in perspective, but it wouldn't be realistic. College football becomes more like the NFL every day, and that's not a good thing. Schools want loyalty from coaches, but those coaches don't get it in return if they don't win often enough. Coaches want loyalty from schools, but they'll walk away from contracts without hesitation.

Somewhere, somehow there needs to be a reality check.

Football is a wonderful sport, one that really does teach valuable lessons. It brings people together. Coaches play an important role in the lives of many of the young men who come their way. But in the final analysis, it's a game.

Tuberville has done terrific things in his nine Auburn seasons. I don't think he wants to leave and don't think he will leave. But if he does, it won't be the end of Auburn football. Who knows? The next coach might win even more.

College football is supposed to be about having fun. But the influx of money has made it more of a business than it's ever been. Coaches have reaped the benefits, and they must live with the culture that has created.

It doesn't much matter if you won big last season, last month or even last week. It's all about instant gratification.

It's still fun. It's still the best game going. But sometimes I really do miss the old days.

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