The first moment last season when it really, truly dawned on me that Smart had taken the football program in the direction we were all hoping he would came in the wake of the Dawgs’ evisceration of Florida. Sure, Georgia had of late won a few more games above the sad rate that had been the case during the run that lasted from Spurrier through Corch, but we hadn’t witnessed a seal-clubbing like that in two decades. (This one turned out to have a lot more staying power than the 1997 one did, too.)
That revelation prompted two quick thoughts from me.
One: “If you’re a little bummed about Kirby’s success rubbing off on McGarity and need something to make you feel better, just consider what this off-season’s negotiations with Jimmy Sexton are going to be like.”
Two: “On the other hand, McGarity is probably warming the cockles of his heart with the thought of what he’s about to do with ticket prices and Hartman Fund contributions.”
Now, I’m not gonna pretend either of those observations required any great act of genius on my part, which isn’t to say that it’s not worth noting how prescient both have turned out to be in as short a time as could be expected. (That being said, it would be amusing to know the exact timing of when those two concepts trickled through Greg McGarity’s head for the first time. I suspect I didn’t beat him to the punch by much time, if any at all.)
That all came back to me when I saw this post yesterday from Jake Rowe outlining the justification for making Kirby Smart the third-highest paid head coach in the Southeastern Conference. That’s no little thing, either.
Nick Saban (Alabama) — $11.125 million
Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M) — $7.5 million
Gus Malzahn (Auburn) — $7 million (reportedly)
Dan Mullen (Florida) — $6.103 million
Mark Stoops (Kentucky) — $4 million
Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee) — $3.8 million
Kirby Smart (Georgia) — $3.753 million
Chad Morris (Arkansas) — $3.5 million
Ed Orgeron (LSU) — $3.5 million
Will Muschamp (South Carolina) — $3.3 million
Matt Luke (Ole Miss) — $3 million
Joe Moorhead (Mississippi State) — $2.7 million
Derek Mason (Vanderbilt) — $2.72 million
Barry Odom (Missouri) — $2.35 million
Rowe goes into a lengthy dissertation, laying out a logical basis for the raise, based on the accomplishments of each man. Here’s the key passage:
He’s also one of just two coaches in the conference to lead their team to the College Football Playoff final. Fisher, while at FSU, and Malzahn led their teams to the National Championship game in 2013, but that didn’t require conference championships and first-round playoff wins to get there. Fisher led the Seminoles to the first ever College Football Playoff but they were knocked off in round one against Oregon. Smart and Saban are the only two.
Malzahn has an SEC title and a separate appearance in the game to his credit. While Mullen did a tremendous job at Mississippi State and took the Bulldogs to heights previously unknown within that program, he hasn’t yet led his team as far up the mountain as Smart did in just 24 months.
With all due respect to Pruitt and Stoops, I think most would agree that it’s a little silly that, as of right now, both are set to make more than Smart in 2018. Stoops, like Mullen at MSU, is consistently doing things at Kentucky that few have but he’s 0-2 against Smart coached teams and hasn’t really challenged for a division title. Pruitt hasn’t yet coached in his first game as a head coach.
At the very least Smart should and, almost certainly will, jump those two. But should he A) stay behind Mullen and Malzahn B) fall between them or C) become the conference’s third highest paid coach?
I get what he’s attempting there, but it’s irrelevant to what McGarity is facing. First of all, to the extent you’re making the argument that an existing set of coaching accomplishments on the field sets a future salary, that’s actually something that’s been addressed, at least in Smart’s case, with the bonuses structured in his existing contract.
In any event, it’s not the coach’s resume that sets the terms. It’s the coach’s leverage. Jeremy Pruitt isn’t getting a bigger regular paycheck than Kirby Smart right now because he sports a better track record. He’s getting it because Jimmy Sexton was able to exploit a dumpster fire at Tennessee and squeeze a somewhat desperate Phil Fulmer into cutting a generous deal because he knew the AD needed the head coach more than the head coach needed the AD. (And don’t think that same scenario won’t be revisited in the near future if Pruitt enjoys any greater level of success in Knoxville than Booch did.)
It’s the same dynamic in play in Athens. McGarity may be happy Richt is gone, but I bet he’s a little nostalgic over how little pressure Richt usually gave him on the contract front. Not now. Jimmy Sexton — hey, what a coincidence! — may politely mention 13 wins, an SEC championship, a berth in the CFP, etc., but what he won’t have to say is “you don’t want to think about me exploring Kirby’s options elsewhere” because he already knows that’s in the head of every soul in Butts-Mehre. That’s what’s going to drive the number that will be inserted into the contract extension.
Kirby’s the one holding the cards. That’s why it really doesn’t matter what Gus is getting paid. McGarity will agree to something that’s not based on what Dan Mullen’s done, but on what he fears some other heavyweight program might believe Kirby is worth.