Does it seem like we’ve traveled this road before? Do you remember 2002 when Bob Stoops had one foot in the Florida head coaching door on Friday night but on Saturday he had two feet firmly planted in Norman and a University of Oklahoma president ripping up the old contract and offering a brand new one complete with a hefty raise? Jeremy Foley left Norman, flew back to Gainesville without a head football coach to replace Steve Spurrier and a few days later introduced Ron Zook as the new head football coach for the Florida Gators.
There are different circumstances this time, but what just went on in Fort Collins, Colorado seems all too familiar. Foley spent two days in Fort Collins talking to Jim McElwain. On Tuesday night McElwain all but had a foot in the Florida door. On Wednesday night, he’s got a school president pouring super glue in the form of a $7.5 million buyout on the soles of McElwain’s shoes. Meanwhile, Foley flew back to Gainesville, once again without a head football coach.
Now, circumstances could change on Thursday. Maybe Dr. Tony Frank, the president of CSU, will wake in the morning and decide he’ll negotiate a deal with Foley. After all, he could have some of his cash and maybe all of it if he’s willing to take it on installments. And, wouldn’t it be better to have some cash in hand and more on the way rather than a coach who would rather be sweating in the Florida heat and humidity instead of enjoying four beautiful seasons including cool summers in the Rockies?
Then again, Dr. Frank might wake up Thursday morning and think out loud: “We’ve given him everything he asked for: He’s got a new weight room; we’re going to add the extra 30 yards so he has a 100-yard field at the indoor practice facility and we’re ready to go ahead and build that $220 million on campus stadium that seats 41,000. Jim McElwain is the guy who made us dream big and by golly if he’s going to leave this dream unfulfilled someone is going to pay through the nose to have him.”
Dr. Frank isn’t the only one with a dilemma taller than the nearby peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park. How would you like to be wearing Jeremy Foley’s Bruno Maglis this morning?
Here is what Foley is facing:
1. Firing Will Muschamp was not a cheap proposition. Florida owes Muschamp $2.1 million a year for the next three years. There is no negotiation. The contract says UF pays that amount whether Muschamp is coaching or not. There are some guaranteed contracts among the assistant coaches, too, and that will bring the total buyout to something in the neighborhood of $8 million.
2. Unless Dr. Frank decides to pour the solvent on the shoes that have McElwain glued to Colorado State, it’s going to cost Florida $7.5 million. That’s $15.5 million and we haven’t even gotten to moving and relocation expenses for McElwain, moving and relocation expenses for assistant coaches and cash up front for assistant coaches to drop what they’re doing and head to Gainesville. We haven’t even gotten to salaries yet.
3. Salary. McElwain is making $1.5 million. Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason is the lowest paid head coach in the Southeastern Conference at $2.25 million. Jeremy Foley isn’t going to hire a football coach who is one of the lowest paid in the SEC so figure McElwain gets something in the neighborhood of $3.7 million, which is middle of the pack for the league and the deal will be for five years minimum. That’s a commitment of some $18-20 million right there.
4. Assistant coach salaries. The last thing Foley can afford is to go cheap on the assistant coaches. If he’s bringing in McElwain, he’s got to give him enough money to hire quality assistants at a competitive level with the folks over in Tallahassee and Athens. Jimbo Fisher distributes $3.35 million among his assistant coaches and Mark Richt pays his assistants from a $3.23 million pool. If Foley is going to give McElwain a fighting chance to succeed he’ll have to at least match those totals.
5. Facilities. Perhaps included in the price for McElwain to accept the Florida job is to keep his lips zipped about Florida’s facilities, but let’s not sugar coat things here – they stink. No matter what has been said in defense of Florida’s football facilities, they are bottom tier of the Southeastern Conference. If you want to handicap McElwain’s attempts to bring in the kind of talent it will take to compete with the likes of Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M for SEC and national championships, then it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. Recruits do indeed pay attention to who has the best facilities. It’s a fact that Will Muschamp refused to take recruits down to the practice facilities because they just couldn’t compete with what they have in the SEC and just 150 miles to the west.
So unless Dr. Frank blinks, for Florida to hire Jim McElwain it’s going to take $17 million and that’s before he’s even coached a down in a game that counts in Gainesville and before any upgrades have been made to Florida’s facilities.
Can the University Athletic Association afford a $17 million outlay without breaking the bank? That’s actually a silly question. It’s not a matter of can Florida afford it because there might be only four or five schools in the country that have the bucks to fork out that kind of cash and Florida is one of them. But this goes beyond the bottom line and being able to afford that kind of expenditure.
The question is this: Does it make $17 million worth of sense for a head coach who has been calling his own shots for just three years and has never won a championship?
Jim McElwain is a fine football coach whose offense would work extremely well in the Southeastern Conference but do you spend that kind of money to bring him to Gainesville when you could actually spend less and come up with names that have more instant recognition and better track records?
Jim Mora Jr., for example, has never won a championship either, but he’s 28-11 in three years at UCLA going against Pac-12 competition, which is infinitely better than the competition in the Mountain West where Colorado State plays. Mora has a $2 million buyout. He makes $3.35 million. Offer him $5 million and you still come out in better financial shape with a coach with greater name recognition.
Now this isn’t to say McElwain can’t coach. He can. He’s good at what he does. But is he $17 million good? If he’s $17 million good then he’s worth the cash it will take to bring him to Gainesville but could you bring in proven guys with better name recognition for a lot less?
That’s the question that will have to be answered in the next 24 hours.
If the college football playoff began today, the bracket would pair #1 Alabama and #4 Florida State, most likely in the Sugar Bowl, and #2 Oregon and #3 TCU in the Rose Bowl. But a lot of things could change before the clock strikes midnight Saturday. Of the top four teams in the playoff poll, only TCU figures to have an easy time against a bad Iowa State team. Here are five games whose outcomes could significantly alter the final four.
#1 Alabama vs. #16 Missouri: Alabama could very well handle Missouri like Georgia did. That wasn’t pretty. On the other hand, Missouri’s bookend defensive ends (Shane Ray and Markus Golden; 21.5 sacks between them) could make life miserable for Bama and Blake Sims. Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel were college roomies and teammates at Kent State. Do you think Pinkel lacks incentive to spring an upset?
#2 Oregon vs. #7 Arizona: Arizona beat Oregon in Eugene by bottling up Marcus Mariota and holding him to one rushing yard. Mariota can still throw the ball quite well, but if he’s contained and has to stay in the pocket that could open the door for Scooby Wright (14 sacks) to pressure him into a difficult day. Oregon either brings it’s A game or else it could be an upset victim.
#4 Florida State vs. #11 Georgia Tech: Georgia Tech runs that funky offense that is extremely difficult to prepare for in one week. A stat to consider: Georgia Tech leads the nation in third down conversions (57.4%). What this tells you is the Yellow Jackets control the clock and take a lot of plays to move down the field. If they get the lead, life will be difficult for the Seminoles. Another stat: Georgia Tech is tied for second in the nation in defensive touchdowns. That’s interesting because Jameis Winston throws a lot of interceptions (17).
#5 Ohio State vs. #13 Wisconsin: With J.T. Barrett at quarterback this looked like an easy win for the Buckeyes. With Barrett out and the Buckeyes down to their #3 QB in Cardale Jones, you have to wonder if they can score enough points and can they stop Melvin Gordon (2,260 rushing yards, 26 TDs) from having a Heisman moment?
#6 Baylor vs. #9 Kansas State: Baylor has beaten TCU but the committee doesn’t seem to care. If the Bears stomp Kansas State by more than the 21 TCU beat the Wildcats, will that allow them to jump into the final four if FSU loses and Ohio State wins?
Jim McElwain is a very fine football coach, but is he $17 million good?
My first thoughts regarding Lyle Lovett were how the heck did this guy marry Julia Roberts? Okay, so he didn’t exactly last a long time with Julia but he sure can sing. When he first started, it was like a modern version of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys doing swing music, but through the years he has continued to reinvent himself. He’s still listed as a country artist but go to one of his concerts and you might not hear a lot of country music. Today’s song is a Lyle Lovett rendition of a song Michael Franks wrote in the 1970s called “White Boy Lost in the Blues.”