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Coaching contract extensions are basically worthless in the modern college football arena.
-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)
Texas’ Board of Regents met yesterday to extend head football coach Mack Brown’s contract to 2020. The move was an effort to quell rumors of Brown’s potential exit from the 40 Acres — be it by retirement, resignation or firing.
There is only one problem: Longhorns’ athletic director DeLoss Dodds is dead wrong.
Dodds seems to think that the negative recruiting against the Longhorns will cease and desist once Brown extends his $5.2 million annual contract an additional four years. He seems to believe that if Brown is signed through 2020 — instead of merely 2016 — that the head coach won’t consider retiring over the next nine years. Or perhaps that if Texas goes 13-12 over the next two seasons (again) that the “endowment conglomerate” won’t be pressuring the AD to get fresh blood on the sidelines.
This is because coaching contract extensions are not worth the paper they are printed upon.
Cincinnati’s Butch Jones also got his deal sweetened this week, and it’s a great day for Bearcats fans to celebrate the recent success of their second-year head coach. It's a time for Cincy fans to be proud of their program and be excited about the future. But the fact remains: A little extra coin and a few extra years on the deal won’t keep Jones from taking a better job.
And there are a lot of better jobs than Cincinnati.
Does Dodds honestly believe that big, bad Bob Stoops will stop saying mean things about little ol’ Texas on the recruiting trail now that Brown is signed through 2020? Does he really believe that Tommy Tuberville, Mike Gundy or Art Briles, out of the kindness of their hearts, won’t negatively recruit Big Brother any longer?
Does Brown himself, in the interest of fair play, stop telling recruits that Bill Snyder is really old? Especially considering Texas has lost four straight games to Kansas State?
Does new language in new contracts make it more costly to fire a coach — or more costly for a coach to bail for a better gig? Slightly. Can giving Jones or Brown more cash make them a little happier and therefore more likely to stick around? Possibly. But the power brokers at any major university can sneeze enough money to pay a coach’s buyout if they have soured on the current field general.
Really, what is a $4 million buyout to T. Boone Pickens if he no longer wants Gundy on the sidelines of…T. Boone Pickens Stadium?
Tuberville is a perfect example. Following the 2007 season, the current Texas Tech coach was given an extension by Auburn for seven seasons (through 2014). He was 42-9 in the previous four seasons and had six straight seasons of at least eight wins. Tubes went 5-7 in 2008 and was fired barely one year into his seven-year contract. It doesn’t end there, however, as the Red Raiders gave Tuberville an extension through 2015 last week.
After the first losing season in Lubbock since 1992, Tuberville enters 2012 securely on the coaching hot seat.
Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer received a massive seven-year, $21 million extension in the summer of 2008. The Vols had played in the 2007 SEC Championship game, getting handled by eventual BCS champ LSU. Tennessee started 3-7 in 2008, including a loss to Wyoming, and AD Mike Hamilton announced that Fulmer would be stepping down at the end of the season. Fulmer made it through nine games of a seven-year contract before being fired.
Tommy Bowden at Clemson finished 2007 with a 9-4 record and had never experienced a losing season with the Tigers in nine years. He was given a seven-year extension following the season. "Tommy Bowden has made us a consistent winner," said Clemson Athletic Director Dr. Terry Don Phillips. "He has built a firm foundation for this program in all aspects.”
Bowden didn’t make it to the seventh game of the 2008 season before getting fired. Did Phillips believe anything he said the eight months before?
Ron Zook took his Illinois squad to the Rose Bowl in 2007 and was given a new deal through 2013. One month prior to the start of the 2009 seasons, the Illini felt so strongly about The Zooker that they tacked on another year, pushing his deal to 2014. He went 16-21 over the next three years and was fired three years before the end of his contract.
Sylvester Croom won nine total games in his three years at Mississippi State but finally broke through in 2008 with eight wins and a bowl appearance. He was given an extension through 2011, but after going 4-8 in 2009, was fired by the Bulldogs.
And then there is Notre Dame. Charlie Weis went 19-6 in his first two seasons with two trips to BCS Bowls (both bad losses). The Irish decisions makers inked Weis to a hefty 10-year contract that was slated to run through 2015. He too went 16-21 over the next three years and was fired by Notre Dame following the 2009 season — with seven years left on the deal.
But the tomfoolery goes both ways in this head coach-university contract relationship.
On July 13, 2006, Bobby Petrino signed a 10-year, $25.6 million extension with Louisville. On January 7, 2007, Petrino announced, six months into his 10-year deal with the Cardinals, that he was leaving to take the Atlanta Falcons job. He signed a five-year, $24 million deal with Atlanta. On December 11, 2007, he left the Falcons and signed a five-year contract with the Arkansas Razorbacks at $2.85 million annually.
Petrino signed 20 years' worth of contracts for a total $63.85 million with three different organizations over an 18-month period of time.
In 2006, Alabama was looking for a coach and offered West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez a six-year, $12 million contract. He flirted with the Tide before milking a one-year extension from the Mountaineers. His contract ran through the 2014 season, but two seasons later (2007), RichRod was headed north to Ann Arbor despite a $4 million buyout.
In June of 2009, Brian Kelly signed a contract extension with Cincinnati through 2013. He was given a nice raise to nearly $1.5 million — quite a commitment for Cincinnati. Six months later, Kelly was introduced as the new head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
There are literally hundreds of examples of coaches accepting more lucrative, more prestigious jobs on the heels of signing an extension with their current employer. And there are just as many instances of programs locking down coaches to long-term deals just months before handing that same coach a pink slip.
Negative recruiting cannot be stopped. It will continue to be a seedy, unfortunate but necessary aspect to the recruiting trail until the end of time, regardless of how many years are on your coach’s contract. Coaches will continue to be fired, some rightly so, well before the culmination of their contracts. And field generals will continue to retire or pursue greener pastures without honoring current agreements forever.
So fans in Austin and Cincinnati get a day in the sun to celebrate their football programs and the men responsible for achieving success. It is absolutely a time to be proud and thump chests.
But don’t forget that these contracts mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of college football. And college football is about as fickle as a 17-year old five-star.