Coach's Corner

This is the first of a series on the changing face of college football. I believe there is an alarming escalation in salaries and compensation packages for head coaches that is spiraling out of control and threatens the very integrity of the game. It certainly threatens the continuity on which the young men who play the game make their decisions on which school to go to.

There is no question that big time college football is a major business and therefore one of the driving forces of any collegiate athletic program. College football was once a game, but now college football has become a part of the entertainment industry. Bigger facilities, bigger salaries, and overall bigger investments by the schools result in bigger expectations. With the expectations come a lack of patience and the results are violations of contracts, firings and constant turnovers.

Everybody wants to be a winner and those schools who change coaches always want to win NOW!

One of the negative outcomes is that this upward mobility results in coaches using their own players to advance their own selfish interests and then leaving the players they recruit to climb the ladder of the coaching profession. Money and the pressure to succeed drive this behavior.

Of course players also lack the same commitment to each other when they decide to leave early for the pros. If you have success because of the team then it's only right to take advantage of the opportunity and to move on. Everyone is looking out for themselves and that probably the way it's always going to be.

Unfortunately nobody looks out for the kids that are left behind.

Loyalty is one of the most important building blocks in the coaching of any team in just about any sport. I don't care what level the game is being played at, you can't win without loyalty to each other. Unfortunately, it isn't always a two way street.

Honesty is another understood quality of character that we come to expect from our leaders. Especially when it comes to our children, we expect teachers, coaches, and educators to be honest and straight up in dealing with our most important members of society - our children.

In the sport of college football, I have witnessed an alarming increase in disloyalty and dishonesty. It is created by the professionalism inherent in the sports industry. It is fueled by money and winning at all costs.

Nick Saban is the latest and most classic example of someone being rewarded and financially compensated for being both disloyal and dishonest. Bobby Petrino, Dennis Erickson, and just about every other college coach will use their winning record at one job to enhance and increase their chances of landing another, and of course higher paying, and "better" job. It's the way things are done now.

This is especially disturbing to me because as a former recruiting coordinator, I know at the college level there are a lot of promises being made to kids and their parents during the recruiting process. The recruited student-athletes believe the promises that assure them the head coach has no intention of going any where and that he will be there until the kid gets his degree and has a winning career.

When you are recruiting, you use any and all the tools of sales to get kids to come to your school. One of the most important is selling the character and reputation of the head coach combined with the stability of the program. Of course, if there is consistency in winning it's a very powerful tool. Kids are attracted to winning programs.

Because college football is the financial engine driving most intercollegiate sports programs, it is critical that you have success in your football program. That means implementing a comprehensive system and the hiring a "good" coach to make it run. Everyone is looking for that magic to immediately turn a program around.

Schools that continually turn over their coaching staffs are usually in the bottom of the conference and that is precisely why they are there. The University of Washington found that out after firing three coaches in six years. This came after having two coaches for the previous 38 years. Not only is that sort of discontinuity damaging to winning but it creates another reason to tell recruits not to consider a school that has a reputation for having a quick trigger.

That is precisely the reputation that the Washington Huskies have acquired. And if you don't think it gets used against them, you are even more naïve than I am.

Schools have no problem being disloyal and voiding coaching contracts. Whenever they fire a coach, they have to exercise some sort of buyout settlement that accounts for the remainder of the not only the head coach's contract but usually about ten other staff members as well.

Schools are also quick to hire people with reputations of turning around previous programs. Hired guns have a price and it's usually much higher. Saban and Erickson are hired guns. They both are excellent organizers and wonderful football coaches. I can't fault them for taking advantage of the system and stiffing one job after another just to get the "right" one.

Everyone has the right to make as much money as they can. Each move they make has always been for more money. Each move they make impacts a staff of assistants and their families with some going with him and some cast adrift. That's OK with me because coaches understand that is part of the profession.

What I'm concerned about though, is that college football coaching is even more of a money driven occupation than it ever has been and there appear to be no limits to spending. Alabama's deciding to spend close to 4 million a year for Saban is both financially irresponsible and disturbing because it continues to push the salary bar right off the charts.

Supply and demand I guess, but economics don't always make a lot of sense and aren't always healthy.

There appears to be no consideration for doing the right thing, telling the truth, or otherwise being honest when it comes to breaking a contract. Schools ignore their own contracts and break them regularly. There is no honor.

Coaches regularly walk away from one job to another in the middle of a contract they knowingly signed. There is no honor!

And in the middle of all of this, the students-athletes who make millions of dollars for their schools have become pawns in the great chessboard of big time football. They are asked to do the right things, be honest, go to class, work hard, make the ultimate commitment and sacrifices towards their team, their coaches, and their schools and communities.

Loyalty is not a two way street. It is demanded and required by anyone in the program with the exception of the coach, the athletic director, and of course the college president. People at those levels of administration are exempt from loyalty as most are concerned about more important things such as money, alumni schmoozing, and perceived reputation.

How many long term college coaches are there anymore? Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno, and men like Don James are very rare in the profession these days. The Woody Hayes days are long gone when you could trust your kid would have the same coaches through out his college career. The number of coaches today with ten years at the same school is now very much the exception. For me, it is sad to see icons leave the profession. These were men who did it for the right reasons. Most of them never saw the big money of today and couldn't have cared less. They were loyal to the schools, their conferences, and most of all their players.

I guess that is the product I grew up with so it shaped my values about the profession, which has changed so much.

Educationally, there is no continuity anymore to the learning process. Coaches change jobs like they change their underwear. Consequently, the kids who are always left hanging are also forced to learn a new system with all it's nuances.

Saban just happens to be the most obvious and richest of these new kind of coaches. I first met him because of his ties with Coach James and then we played against his Michigan State team in Hawaii. We played probably the best game of the Jim Lambright era that day and absolutely buried Coach Saban's team, 51-23. I still left with the impression that Saban was a good coach and an honest guy, he and his team had just underestimated us that day.

The current UW President, Mark Emmert, also recognized this and hired him away from the Spartans to LSU, where he won a national championship and made a lot more money. He had found his "dream" job and was making as much money as anyone in college football. There was no way he was going to leave until the Miami Dolphins opened their bank and lured him back into the professional ranks.

He had just begun the rebuilding process there when the banks of Alabama came knocking, he did what all committed, honest, and loyal coaches would do.

He lied.

He had no interest in the Alabama coaching job, was happy at Miami, and refused to discuss the situation. Until, of course, the offer went up. Once he became one of the highest paid coach ever, he changes his mind and goes back to the college level. Amateur football is "where he belonged." Money was "not a factor." It was the college atmosphere he longed for.

Right!

What is ridiculous in Saban's case is there are still players at LSU who remember the recruiting by Saban two jobs ago because he and his staff convinced everyone that Baton Rouge was the best place to play college football.

Now it turns out that he was wrong, and it is in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Arizona State University was not happy with their coach so the replaced him with Dennis Erickson in hopes of an instant fix. They know Dennis had jumped from Idaho to Wyoming to WSU to Miami to the NFL Seattle Seahawks back to college with Oregon State then back to the NFL with the 49'ers then back to Idaho before coming to save their program in Tempe. The people at ASU don't expect Dennis to be loyal to them. They expect him to win.

If you were a young man in high school would you believe either of these men? Would you believe that if they had success they wouldn't pack up and leave again?

Being a sports-educator is kind of like being a dinosaur now – there just is no longer such an animal. A lot of college presidents and athletic directors play lip service when it comes to the students themselves. They care more about money. They care more about winning. They care about the prestige that comes with winning a national championship. They care about alumni donations. They care about balancing the budgets to pay for all the title-nine sports. They pay lip service to graduation rates. They will fire a coach who graduates 80% of his student-athletes but doesn't win 50% of his games. Heck they will even fire coaches who win, take their team to a bowl game, graduate their players and otherwise play according to the rules. There is no reward for working hard, being honest, and being loyal to your school. You either win or they will fire you go out and buy a "better" coach.
Dawgman.com columnist and KJR 950 Sports Radio personality, Dick Baird.
Dick Baird was an Assistant Coach (Linebackers) and Recruiting Coordinator at the UW from 1985-1998. He has joined the Dawgman.com staff as a featured columnist for both the web site and Sports Washington magazine. In addition to his regular editorial columns, Coach Baird will try to provide some of his unique perspective by answering a few of your selected questions online. If you would like to send in your questions, please CLICK HERE.


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