**–In January of 2007, Alabama hired Nick Saban as its head football coach for $32 million over eight years.
**–After winning the BCS national championship in January of 2008, LSU football coach Les Miles has his contract redrawn to guarantee that he will be the highest paid football coach in the SEC. In 2008 Saban made $3.75 million. Miles contract called for him to make exactly $1,000 more. And that will remain the case during the life of Miles’ five-year contract.
**–In 2009 Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton pulled out his checkbook to give new head coach Lane Kiffin the all-star staff that he wanted. That staff, beginning with the over $1 million for defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, will collectively earn an unprecedented $3.325 million this season.
**–Alabama just announced raises for its football staff that will pay them a total of $2.685 million this season. That doesn’t count Saban’s compensation, which will be bumped up to $3.9 million this season.
**–Kentucky just made John Calipari the highest paid coach in college basketball history with an eight-year deal for nearly $4 million per season. Potential bonuses and perks actually push that figure towards $5 million. That’s more than twice what the head football coach (Rich Brooks) at Kentucky makes.
**–Damon Evans, the athletics director at Georgia, is still trying to hire a men’s basketball coach. But he made it clear that for the right guy he was willing to pay $2 million per season. Down in Jacksonville Hugh Durham is shaking his head thinking he was born too soon.
So what’s going here? It’s really nothing very complicated at all. The 12 SEC members, thanks to their friends at ESPN and CBS, will have a lot more money to spend in the future. Last summer the conference signed unprecedented 15-year contracts with each network. In the next 15 years those contracts will pump about $3 billion into the SEC.
It’s clear now that the league is going to spend some of that money on acquiring and retaining the best coaches possible. This is nothing new for the SEC. There are just a lot more zeroes on the checks..
That’s good news for the coaches who benefit. It’s also good for the SEC institutions because it will be less likely that talented coaches will leave the conference because of money.
But it is a knife that cuts both ways. If schools have enough money to hire who they want, they also have enough money to fire at will without regard of the financial impact. If he doesn’t win enough games, he’s gone. Whereas football coaches used to have a five-year window to get a struggling program turned around, that window will be, at best, three until the school decides to move on. Last season Phillip Fulmer (Tennessee) and Tommy Tuberville (Auburn) were both nudged out the door after long runs at their respective schools. They will collect a combined $11 million for not coaching. Neither school blinked at the thought of paying out those dollars. It is simply a cost of doing business in the 21st century.
And when that kind of money is involved, the expectations are enormous and sometimes unrealistic. People rail about the injustice of paying millions to coach ball at a time when faculty is getting laid off at many colleges and universities. We’ll certainly have another round of that with the Calipari numbers.
But you know what?
Everybody knows that going in. Everybody is grown up here. You take the money, you live with the expectations. You give the money, you enforce the expectations. Nobody gets dragged kicking and screaming into this business. My daddy once told me that “When the price of poker goes up, you don’t complain. You either play or you fold.” Kentucky proved this week that schools in the SEC, thanks to their success on the field and on the court, have the resources to play.
Rick Bragg, the Pulitzer Prize winning writer, now teaches at the University of Alabama. He coined what I believe is the single best description of SEC football I’ve ever heard when he said that every conference game is “like a knife fight in a ditch.” He meant it affectionately.
When this kind of money is involved, the pressure gets ratcheted up on everybody. And it means that during every recruiting battle and every big conference game there will be helluva lot at stake.
I’m not saying that it’s good or it’s bad. It is what it is. But I am saying that next few years are going to be very, very interesting in this league.