Hot Reads: How Big is the Bill for Football Coaching Changes?
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: How Big is the Bill for Football Coaching Changes?

January 10, 2018

Now that most of the hiring and firing is over in college football, minus the assistants, it’s time to pay the bill.

And what a big, cumulative bill it will be. USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz set out to calculate it. While that’s impossible at this point given all of the potentially mitigating factors — literally mitigation in this case — he did come up with a ballpark figure: $110 million.

The figure is based on commitments connected to the firings and hirings of head coaches, assistant coaches and athletics directors at public schools, according to school documents and interviews with athletics departments officials.
The final total will not be known for several years, as some amounts are being spread over time and subject to offset from the future income of fired employees who could get raises from new employers. Also, there are payments that have not been determined. For example, Arkansas is still negotiating with former head coach Bret Bielema over the amount of his buyout, university spokesman Kevin Trainor said in an email Monday. Tennessee athletics director John Currie remains suspended with pay while the nature of his eventual departure from the school is determined.

That’s the whole ball of wax, too, at this point. Berkowitz is factoring in head coaching changes, assistant contracts and AD moves. I’m not sure if the lesson here is that it’s expensive to be wrong or if it’s that it is expensive to be impatient. Probably both.

When it looked like Georgia was actually going to beat Alabama for the national title on Monday night, it made me think about the Kirby Smart hire. More specifically it made me think: “Man, they’re going to get a national title, and it almost never works this way.”

Most of the time when a school fires a coach with a .739 winning percentage, it turns out to be the wrong move. Winning 74 percent of your games (in the SEC no less) is hard enough. Picking just the right guy who can maybe get the school to 77 or 80 percent or win the specific big games the other guy couldn’t is a hurdle on top of a hurdle. I never chide a school for taking the leap, but I’m never surprised when they don’t clear it either. Plucking an assistant from the most dominant staff in the game is another tried-and-true tradition that fails plenty of the time, too.

And for a good bit on Monday it looked like Georgia was going to thread the needle. The Bulldogs were really close to saying, “Yeah, we fired Mark Richt, took a Saban seedling and guess what: We were right!” It almost never works that way. Whatever Georgia spent to make that happen appears as though it will be worth it.

I must pause here and note that I get nervous for schools in Georgia’s current position. Against the odds, the Smart hire has worked remarkably well. He was “this close” to winning a title in year two. Unbelievable. The Bulldogs are totally set for the future, right? It looks that way, but never underestimate how hard it is to get to play for a national title, much less win one. Plenty of great teams come up just short of such lofty goals based on bad bounces, and how concentrated those bad bounces might be can be the difference between coaching for 25 years and coaching for 5. Point being, while it seems likely right now that, say, four years from now we’ll be talking about the powerhouse Smart has built in Athens it’ at least equally as likely – perhaps more likely – that we’ll be talking about where things went wrong for Georgia and why it couldn't capitalize on its great run in 2017. It’s a tough game.

So maybe the lesson is that, while that $110 million sure looks big, it’s not really that expensive. Certainly not prohibitively expensive because next year the total will probably be $122 million and the year after that $135 million. If there’s a ceiling on college football spending, we haven’t hit it yet.

And Georgia’s example certainly isn’t any reason to slow things down. Even though it’s an outlier, when the money doesn’t actually feel real it can be the “evidence” that encourages the hire-and-fire frenzy.

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