I like a lot of what Dan Wolken writes, but this piece of his I read yesterday while at the game strikes me as coming off trying too hard to make something out of not much.
Maybe coaching searches just aren’t what they used to be.
In the last 12 months, there have been three mega-openings in college football with another on Saturday when Texas parted ways with Charlie Strong. And here is a snapshot of how those transitions played out:
►Southern California, with all of its cachet and unlimited resources, hired two-time interim Clay Helton with no full-time head coaching experience.
►Georgia fired Mark Richt after 145 wins in 15 seasons and immediately went to alum Kirby Smart without conducting a real coaching search.
►LSU, with two months to get its ducks in a row, settled on interim Ed Orgeron, who was a spectacular failure at Ole Miss less than a decade ago.
►And Texas, which three years ago had its sights set on Nick Saban, is likely to hire a coach in Tom Herman who lost this season to Navy, SMU and Memphis.
It’s apparent now that a market correction has arrived in college football. The explosion in salaries for head coaches and top assistants has had a two-pronged effect on the coaching search industry.
First, whereas it may have cost a school $3 million or $4 million to get rid of its coaching staff five years ago, it’s now often a $10 million-or-more proposition, which is enough to make boosters and administrators balk.
Second, with the gold-plated contracts coaches are now enjoying, it is simply quite difficult for any school to put together a package attractive enough to get an established, successful coach to move. In the last five hiring cycles, only eight Power Five schools have been able to poach from another Power Five program, with the most notable examples being Arkansas’ hire of Bret Bielema from Wisconsin and Nebraska luring Mike Riley from Oregon State.
Okay, he does qualify that with a “maybe” at the beginning, but look at those examples he lists. The first three are idiosyncratic: Helton was hired by Pat Haden, whose run of bad choices to succeed Pete Carroll was remarkable; the Smart and Orgeron hires were driven more by booster preferences than dollars (remember that LSU’s first tack was to throw money at Jimbo Fisher in an attempt to lure him back from FSU).
Further, it appears from the general scuttlebutt that Alleva’s search turned to keeping Orgeron after becoming peeved that Tom Herman wanted to play LSU off against Texas. Similarly, McGarity swung hard for Smart after the latter began a flirtation with South Carolina over its coaching vacancy. That, too, is more about ego than money.
As far as Herman goes, Texas opened the checkbook much as it did for Charlie Strong, who, it should be noted, is leaving Austin with a whopping buy out. So there’s still plenty of money out there, at least with college football’s wealthier institutions.
Where I do think Wolken’s on more solid ground is with his last point. In an era when big school college athletic departments are awash in money, it’s not hard to come up with enormous compensation packages for top coaches. Urban Meyer and Nick Saban aren’t going to leave for greener pastures because there aren’t greener pastures than the ones they already graze in.
That being said, there aren’t that many Meyers and Sabans out there to chase in the first place. What’s going to happen isn’t that somebody’s going to offer Nick Saban $10 million a year to leave Tuscaloosa. Somebody’s going to offer a mid-major hot name like Tom Herman half that to leave Houston and then bump him up if he turns out to be a success so he won’t be poached down the road. If it doesn’t work out, it’s not like Texas can’t afford the buyout.
Similarly, Kirby Smart in his first year is being paid almost what Mark Richt was making after fifteen years on the job. There’s plenty of money out there and athletic directors are still dealing with the likes of Jimmy Sexton. That’s some market correction, if you ask me.