If you are of the opinion that college football coaches (a) make too much money and (b) the way salaries are escalating can’t be good for the game, then have a seat, take a deep breath and get ready for Michigan’s offer to Jim Harbaugh – Try years, $48 million to bolt the San Francisco 49ers and come home to Ann Arbor, where he played college football for Bo Schembechler.
That’s more money than Alabama pays Nick Saban. That’s $6 million more than Oregon pays Mark Helfrich and double what South Carolina pays Steve Spurrier. That’s more money than the New England Patriots pay Bill Belichick.
Now, Michigan wouldn’t offer Harbaugh that kind of money if it couldn’t afford it. The combination of the market and winning are seriously driving up the price that schools are willing to pay for a football coach. To put Harbaugh’s salary into Michigan perspective, one home game at the Big House – capacity 108,000 X $65 plus concessions, etc. – will pay the freight so it could be argued that the $8 million is a drop in the proverbial bucket.
In the Southeastern Conference, there isn’t a school that can’t afford to pay its football coach Michigan money because all 14 teams will get a boost in the $20-25 million range from the SEC Network this and every subsequent year. The Big Ten Network forks out enough cash that no school in that league should be able to cry poverty and new TV contracts are ensuring that the Pac-12, ACC and Big 12 will all have sufficient resources to fork over enough to pay a coach whatever is necessary to keep him happy.
The problem from raising the ante to these levels isn’t the money being raked in by the power conferences and Notre Dame. They all have these fabulous television contracts and they control the revenue from the big bowl games. The problem is the other schools that play college football. We could call the 60 teams that make up the rest of Division I the low rent district and those in D1AA, DII and DIII the football ghetto because they live below the poverty line.
In 2014-15, the University of Florida will make more money from its SEC Network portion than Idaho will spend on its entire athletic program. When the first game of the season was cancelled by a torrential downpour, Jeremy Foley was benevolent enough to give Idaho the full amount of the contract (close to $1 million) without demanding that Idaho play a makeup game. The makeup game would have cost Idaho more than $150,000 to return to Gainesville, a sum they had already paid to come here the last weekend in August. A million dollars is still a million dollars, but it’s not like it’s going to make Foley spend sleepless nights trying to figure out where he’ll make up the difference. With the SEC money, Florida’s athletic department revenues are likely to hit $160 million and since the UAA is not for profit, Foley will have to invent ways to spend it all.
Meanwhile, Idaho is rock bottom among the other 60 schools with its $15 million athletic budget, but it’s not alone. Most of the other 59 struggle to make ends meet. UCF, which is one of the better teams in the low rent district, has a $56 million athletic budget but television revenue only contributes between $2-3 million. Most of the other schools in the low rent district would kill to have that kind of television revenue. To balance its athletic budget, UCF relies heavily on student activity fees.
As the cost of doing business continues to go up for the schools in the low rent district – and not just for paying coach’s salaries but for facilities and other amenities – more are going to feel the economic pinch. UAB just dropped football, citing the enormous expense of fielding a competitive team and you can almost wager that others will follow suit. Sure, some of these schools have no business fielding a football team at the highest levels where the costs are so much greater, but the increased costs are going to make the decision easy for college presidents who are engaged in budget battles of their own for entire student bodies. You have to wonder how many other schools will be forced to make the decision that it’s simpler to drop football altogether than engage in an escalating race that they have no chance of winning? It could happen and happen sooner, not later.
You hear some coaches in the power conferences state they want to eliminate games with the low rent district types altogether, but you have to admit, the health of the sport would take a serious hit if that were to happen. One of the things that makes college football so intriguing is when an Appalachian State can go to the Big House and knock off Michigan or a Georgia Southern can visit The Swamp and knock off the Florida Gators. Now, the fans at both Michigan and Florida will feel the sting of those losses for years to come, but the fact that a Georgia Southern or Appy State can spring that occasional upset is good for the overall health of the game. And, schools like Georgia Southern, Idaho, New Mexico State and everybody in D1AA is willing to take a beating like a man in exchange for a paycheck that keeps the lights on in their athletic departments.
But even with paycheck games, will those schools in the low rent district be able to survive if there is no ceiling for salaries, facilities, etc.? Texas A&M can flex its economic muscles by its athletic boosters raising $450 million in one year and even a school like Ole Miss can plunk down a $1.3 million raise for Hugh Freeze and another $800-900,000 for assistant coach salaries, but nearly half of the Division I schools can’t do a fraction of that and certainly the schools in D1AA, DII and DIII can’t.
So while it might be good for Michigan that it can afford to shell out $8 million a year to get the man it wants to move the football program forward, is it really good for the rest of college football? Do you think for one moment that Alabama is going to sit idly by and let Nick Saban be the second highest paid coach in college football? Do you think FSU will continue to pay Jimbo $4 million if he wins a second straight national championship?
Michigan is willing to pay what it can afford and while there is no rule that says Michigan or any D1 school can’t do that, it’s not necessarily healthy for college football because there is a ripple effect that could cause a contraction in Division I that will eventually work its way down through the college football ghetto.
Douglas Adair Dickey was fired following a 4-7 season at Florida in 1978. After courting the likes of Lou Holtz (Arkansas) and Ron Meyer (SMU), Florida hired Clemson’s Charley Pell for the astounding sum of $75,000 a year.
“We wondered where we were going to spend it all,” good friend Ward Pell told me a few years ago. “Seriously, we thought that was a whole lot of money.”
After ten years of break-even football, it was decided that Bob Woodruff wouldn’t be retained as Florida’s football coach after the 1959 season. Woodruff went 5-4-1 in his final year and when he departed, his 53-42-6 record made him the winningest coach in Florida football history.
UF president Dr. J. Wayne Reitz wanted a coach with a bold plan to make Florida football truly relevant so he went to Bobby Dodd’s Georgia Tech staff to hire Ray Graves. Like Dodd and Woodruff, Graves had played football for General Bob Neyland at Tennessee, but unlike Neyland, who ran the single wing until he retired, and Woodruff, who was so conservative he often punted on third down if there were seven or more yards to go, Graves was a football visionary. Credited with the development of the 4-3 defense as a way to combat the Wing-T that Bud Wilkinson ran at Oklahoma, Graves also believed in opening up the offense and throwing the football, which Woodruff had an aversion to.
Reitz went to Atlanta determined to bring back a new football coach. Graves wanted the job and when the discussion turned to money, Reitz got him to agree to come to Gainesville for $1,000 less than he was making.
Graves came to Gainesville for $19,000 a season.
In the modern era of Michigan football, the standard by which all coaches are measured is Bo Schembechler, who never won a national championship but went 194-48-5 and won 13 Big Ten championships during his career in Ann Arbor. Schembechler played football at Miami, Ohio for Sid Gillman and then for Woody Hayes. He worked as a graduate assistant under Hayes at Ohio State in 1952, then after two years in the Army, became an assistant coach for both football and basketball at Presbyterian College. He coached the offensive and defensive lines at Presbyterian where he was assisted by basketball coach Norm Sloan, who went on to lead North Carolina State to the NCAA title in 1974 but also was Florida’s head basketball coach during both the 1960s and the 1980s.
Bo and Norm became close friends and remained that way until death. Both claimed the other was the worst assistant coach they ever worked with.
In his final meeting with the Nebraska football team, fired head coach Bo Pelini went off on athletic director Shawn Eichorst. The Omaha World-Herald reports Pelini lit into Eichorst with a expletive-filled commentary that were caught on tape.
Here are some excerpts caught on tape from Pelini, who Tuesday accepted the head coaching job at D1AA Youngstown State:
“A guy like (Eichorst), who has no integrity, he doesn’t even understand what a core value is. He hasn’t understood it from the day he got here. I saw it when I first met with the guy. To have core values means you have to be about something, you have to represent something that is important to you. He's a f----- lawyer who makes policies. That’s all he’s done since he’s been here: hire people and make policies to cover his own ass.”
Pelini also said: “I didn't really have any relationship with the AD. The guy, you guys saw him (Sunday), the guy is a total p----. I mean, he is. He's a total c---.”
Tell us how you really feel, Bo.
Nebraska responded with a statement that said Pelini’s tirade was “consistent with a pattern of unprofessional, disrespectful behavior” and that it “played a role in his dismissal.”
The language certainly wasn’t appropriate, but Pelini probably has a real gripe. He never won fewer than nine games in any of his seven years on the job in Lincoln. He compiled a 67-27 record, which wasn’t good enough. Of course, Nebraska is also the same school that fired Frank Solich after going 58-19 in six seasons.
Does it bother you that the escalation of salaries and the facilities arms race might price a number of schools out of the college football business or are there too many schools that have no business fielding a football team?
When the Youngbloods released their version of the old Kingston Trio song “Let’s Get Together” in 1967, it hardly caused a ripple on the pop charts, peaking at #62. Two years later, the National Conference of Christians and Jews used the song as a public service announcement calling for peace and brotherhood at a time when race riots were tearing at the national fabric. The song caught on, climbed the charts and peaked at #5. Although they released nine albums, very few people bought them. Lead singer Jesse Colin Young struck out on his own and had about as much success as the Youngbloods, who will always be known as one-hit wonders for “Get Together.” You have to admit, it’s a great song.