A Huge Change For Coaches

Bobby Curran
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Friday - December 15, 2006
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The college football coaching carousel is proving to be the world’s most expensive merry-go round, and oh, how the game has changed.

Back in the day, a program like Alabama could survey the coaching ranks and summon one of the industry’s leading men, who would gratefully accept the inflated salary, courtesy car, country club memberships, no interest loans, moving expenses and jeweled scepter that came with the job.

OK, there’s not actually a scepter, but the Crimson Tide coach was treated like royalty - for as long as he won 10 or so games a year, and beat Auburn at least half the time.

Which was exactly what Mike Shula found out. Despite being a former Tide star QB, and coming from the finest coaching pedigree, Shula finished 6-6, lost to Auburn for a fourth straight time, and was fired the day after the last game. And sure, the $4 million buyout helped ease the pain, but the moving vans arrived for real at the Shula residence.

So Alabama A.D. Mal Moore looked through his Rolodex and thought the Miami Dolphins Nick Saban might be just the guy. ESPN reported that Saban would be offered $7 million up front and $5 million a year. After all, he won a championship at LSU. You can’t let something as trivial as a few dollars stand in the way of getting the man capable of returning Alabama to its rightful place. But Saban’s response: Not interested.

Then Alabama went after West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez. All right, so it might be slumming by Tide standards. West Virginia plays in the Big East, hardly on an equal plane with the SEC, much less on the level of hallowed ‘Bama. But the coach had built the Mountaineers into a power. So the Tide deigned to offer up $12 million over six years and pay off a $2 million buyout. Surely Rodriguez would be thrilled, grateful and properly humbled by his great fortune. Again ESPN reported a done deal, only to find Rodriguez back in Morgantown, using the Tide offer as leverage to get a better deal at his alma mater. Sorry, Alabama. Search on, dudes. They’re twisted in Tuscaloosa, mystified in Mobile, blistered in Birmingham, well, you get the point.

Here’s what happened. The money has gotten so big all over - an average of $950,000 at Division 1-A schools - that coaches are no longer willing to take jobs at the marquee schools where expectations are unrealistic.

Is it worth it to have your kids tortured at school and your wife harassed at the supermarket because you lost a game to Mississippi State?

More and more coaches are saying no thanks, now that you can take a couple hundred thousand less and be appreciated. The once proud Miami Hurricanes went after current Rutgers coach (and former assistant) Greg Schiano with a pot full of cash, and guess what? He’s staying in New Jersey. It would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

This is not to say that everyone is immune to the call of the greenbacks. Dennis Erickson, after pledging to turn the Idaho program around and telling everyone who’d listen that returning to the scene of his first head coaching job was all he wanted in life, bolted for Arizona State after only one year, leaving administrators bitter. But ASU will more than triple Erickson’s $300,000 salary at Idaho.

And after becoming the winningest coach in Boston College history, Tom O’Brien was wooed away by fellow A.C.C. member North Carolina State.

Money still talks, but at a certain level it’s a very different language.

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