“It isn’t the high price of stars that is expensive; it’s the high price of mediocrity” – Bill Veeck.
Maybe no one in the history of organized sports understood the bottom line better than Bill Veeck. Without an enormous fortune that would allow him to spend freely, Veeck had to operate the baseball teams he owned (St. Louis Browns, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers) at a profit to survive, so he understood that the stars earn their keep. Veeck had his problems with paying guys a lot of money for limited production, however.
Based on the theory that the stars earn their keep, Veeck would have had no problem with the University of Michigan offering Jim Harbaugh a contract to coach football that may exceed $8 million a year or with Alabama ensuring that Nick Saban will always be the highest paid coach in the game. Harbaugh will generate enough excitement at win-starved Michigan that within one – two at the most – the entire cost of his expensive, long term contract will be covered. One home game at Michigan generates in excess of $7 million so do the math.
Alabama has become the Southeastern Conference’s cash cow since Nick Saban took over as head coach in 2007. With football footing the bills, the Alabama athletic department has had to invent ways to spend all the money it makes. Alabama went on a spending spree to upgrade the entire athletic department plant sport by sport because of Saban and didn’t even blink at the $300 million outlay. This was BEFORE there was such a thing as the SEC Network.
So while a coach like Nick Saban or Urban Meyer might cost plenty, the return is excessive enough that it’s worth the risk. Michigan figures the combination of winning and excitement from the hire of Harbaugh will far exceed the capital outlay for salary.
With that in mind, here are three lists – (1) the high price of stardom, (2) the high price of mediocrity; and (3) cheap at twice the price.
(Does not include Harbaugh since he hasn’t signed his Michigan contract yet)
1. Nick Saban, Alabama: He’s making $7.3 million a year. He’s 91-16 at Alabama, has won three national championships and has the Crimson Tide in the hunt for a fourth in the last six years. Alabama faces Ohio State in the national semifinals in the Sugar Bowl.
2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State: He’s making $4.8 million and will get both an extension and a raise (probably $1.2-1.7 million) in January. He’s 36-3 in three years at Ohio State, 140-26 in 13 years as a head coach. The Buckeyes play Alabama in the national semifinals in the Sugar Bowl.
3. Art Briles, Baylor: He makes $4.25 million and has won more games in seven years (he’s 55-33) than the previous four coaches combined to win in 15 years. The Bears are 40-11 since 2011 and they’ve won 11 games in each of the last two seasons. He’s so good that one Baylor booster (Drayton McLane) donated the $250 million it took to build a brand new state of the art football stadium.
4. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State: FSU is increasing his paycheck from $4 million to something around $5.5 million a year and spending money like crazy on facilities, which happens when your five-year record is 58-10 and you’re cruising along on a 29-game winning streak. The Seminoles won last year’s national championship and they’re the only unbeaten team in the country this year heading into their Rose Bowl matchup with Oregon in the national semifinals.
5. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: Yeah, this was a down year (7-6) but it was the 10th straight season without a losing record, something that has never been done at South Carolina. The Gamecocks have won a school record four straight bowl games and 48 games overall in the last five years. Winning has created such an infusion of cash (the SEC Network will create even more) that they’re spending like crazy on facilities and will have to get creative to spend it all. Spurrier makes $4 million a year and they would pay him more except that he insists that they pay his assistants more money.
Honorable mention: Les Miles, LSU ($4.5 million, 103-28 record); Bob Stoops ($5.5 million, 168-43 record); Gus Malzahn, Auburn ($4 million, 20-6 record); Gary Patterson, TCU ($3.5 million, 131-45 record)
1. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa: He makes $4 million a year and he’s got an ironclad buyout that would have Iowa paying him more than $2.5 million a year until 2020 if they got rid of him. Ferentz has been the head coach at Iowa 16 years where he has won 115 games. The last outstanding season he had was 2009 when he went 11-2. Since then he’s 34-27.
2. Al Golden, Miami: Per capita, there is more football talent in Dade and Broward counties than any place in the country. Second team All-Dade is the equivalent of first team all-state in about 47 states. So how do you go 28-22 in four years on the job at Miami including a losing record in 2014 and still have a job? As long as Donna Shalayla is the school prez (she retires in June), Al will have a job and a $2.3 million paycheck. As soon as Shalayla retires, figure Big Al is on the clock.
3. Mike Riley, Nebraska: Nebraska fired Bo Pelini, who went 67-27 in seven years and never won less than nine games to hire Riley, who was 93-80 during his tenure at Oregon State. Now it’s easier to win at Nebraska than it is at Oregon State, but $3 million a year is a lot to pay for a guy who’s never won a championship.
4. Randy Edsall, Maryland: They pay him $2.25 million. He’s 20-29 in four seasons on the job at Maryland and has a career record of 94-99. Whatever made the folks in College Park think they were going to do anything except spin their wheels in the mud of mediocrity when they hired this guy?
5. Mike London, Virginia: He makes $2.5 million a year, recruits really good talent to Charlottesville and yet he has produced only one winning seasons in five years on the job. He’s 23-38 overall but 7-17 in the last two. They’re stuck with him for at least one more year because someone gave him this ridiculous buyout clause after he went 8-5 in his second year on the job when he was coaching the talent left over from Al Groh.
Honorable mention: Mike McIntyre, Colorado ($2.5 million, 6-18 record); Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia ($2.8 million, 28-22 record); Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech ($2.2 million, 12-13 record); Mike Leach, Washington State ($2.7 5 million, 12-25 record)
1. Mark Helfich, Oregon: Oregon pays Helfrich $2 million. He’s got the Ducks in the semifinals where they will play Florida State in the Rose Bowl. He’s 23-3 in two years as Oregon’s head coach yet he’s one of the lowest paid coaches in the Pac-12. That should change soon, particularly if the Ducks win the national championship.
2. David Cutcliffe, Duke: In seven seasons in Durham, Cutcliffe has taken Duke from a team that won 43 games total in the previous 19 seasons under four different head coaches to one that has gone 40-47, made it to three straight bowl games, won an ACC division title (2012) and produced the only 10-win record in school history. They’re paying him $2.25 million and they’re renovating and increasing capacity at decrepit Wallace Wade Stadium to accommodate the new success.
3. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona: He’s 26-13 in three seasons at Arizona, which pays him $2 million. Zona was 4-8 the year before RichRod became the head coach. He’s taken the Wildcats to three straight bowl games and had them in the Pac-12 championship game this year. Michigan wouldn’t be in the fix it’s in now if the powers that be had functioning brains and had kept RichRod one more year.
4. Bill Snyder, Kansas State: At $3 million a year he’s vastly underpaid. He is 187-93-1 in 23 years at K-State, which is more wins than all the other coaches combined dating back to Charles Bachman (1920-27). Yes, that’s the same Charles Bachman who left K-State after going 33-23-9 in eight years at K-State to take over at Florida, where he was 27-18-1 in five seasons (1928-32).
5. Justin Fuente, Memphis: He took over a program that Larry Porter ran into the ground (3-21 in three years) and is 17-20 including 10-3 this season with a bowl win. He’s making $975,000 this year and they’re scrambling to give him a nice raise, but if they don’t at least double his pay, he’ll be a short-timer in Memphis.
Excluding Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, if you could hire any coach in the country and money was no object, who would you go after? And, who is the coach you wouldn’t hire even if he worked for free?
Since the Gators are going to the Birmingham Bowl, it’s a good week to feature some of the best music to come out of Alabama. Although Wilson Pickett was discovered in Detroit, he was born in Prattville, Alabama and made his mark on the Atlantic and Stax labels, recording his music in Muscle Shoals, where he often used Duane Allman as a studio musician and guitar player when he hit the road. He had six songs that made it to #1 on the Billboard R&B charts including “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You” from his 1970 album “In Philadelphia.”