Warming Up The Chairs
Tension mounts for embattled coaches
Oct. 18, 2007
By Carter Blackburn
Special to CSTV.com
Carter Blackburn covers various sports for CSTV and writes frequently for CSTV.com.
It's Damocles time in college football.
Like the Greek tale of the sword dangling over the head of the powerful, coaches from Lincoln, Neb. to Fayetteville, Ark. to Syracuse, N.Y. could be a loss away from snapping the thread of their high-priced, high-profile and high-pressure jobs.
And while even the casual college football fan seems to revel in the drama of who will stay, who will go and who will be left out in the cold, mid-October to the end of the hiring season in mid-January is one of the tenser times for the men who walk the sidelines around the country.
"It's going to be an interesting dance the next few weeks," said Grant Teaff, head of the American Football Coaches Association and former Baylor head coach. "There seems to be more people on the dance floor this year."
And to paraphrase another Texas football coach, Darrel Royal, there aren't many schools likely to dance with the ones who brung `em.
Nebraska's Bill Callahan is firmly on the hot seat, with his supportive athletic director Bill Peterson ejected this week from Lincoln. Texas A&M head coach Dennis Franchione could receive his pink slip by high-priced e-mail any day now.
Losses and perceived underperformance raise grumbles in the stands and posts on the Internet among the paying customers. But changing head coaches has become an involved and sometimes pricey process.
"This is the time of year, where for a myriad of reasons, usually involving lack of winning, where people lose jobs," Teaff said. "It's a very complicated issue in terms of the institution deciding to make a change, the head coach and his contract, which is usually long term, and the assistant coaches, whose contracts are unfortunately usually not long term."
At Texas A&M, Dennis Franchione is under contract through 2012 with a salary of around $2 million per year. That means on paper, Texas A&M would have to pay Fran approximately $10 million to relieve him of his head coaching duties. While the specifics of that deal are not known, the admitted NCAA and athletic department violations from Fran's private e-mail chain could hurt his case in working for a buyout, should the day come.
One month ago, Nebraska coach Bill Callahan signed an extension through 2012 as well, for the reported sum of $1.75 million per year plus incentives. Following home games that featured a close call with
Lawyers, agents, athletic department staff, boosters and even government officials are now shuffling their way onto the dance floor to determine how to pay off what is deemed an ineffective coach and gear up to hire a new one, probably at a higher price.
"We've created an interesting game and we all play at it," says Dave Maggard,
Getting rid of your football coach begins the equally complicated process of finding a replacement. At the risk of oversimplifying, in the `phone age', an A.D. and possibly a search committee would get some recommendations, bring a few candidates to campus to visit with the university president and a few others, and then make a job offer.
In the 21st century, everyone but the KGB and Gordon Gecko is involved in the secretive luring and negotiation of top-level coaches. Take the state of Alabama as an example.
Remember in 2003 when the Auburn
At roughly the same time, then-Alabama coach Dennis Franchione flew on a private plane to
And then there's Nick Saban's statement a year ago, "I am not going to be the Alabama coach," weeks before leaving the Miami Dolphins to accept a reported $30 million offer to be the Alabama coach.
Without citing these or any other examples, Maggard expresses a sentiment that is growing in college football: "A lot of coaches are in it for the wrong reasons. If you're coaching for the money, you're in it for the wrong reasons."
A word of caution, then, for fans and alumni eager to catapult the ball coach out of the village: In a sport with an oblong ball contested by 18 to 23-year-olds, the momentum for the head coach can change in a hurry.
A season ago,
If you remember the tale of Damocles, he walked away unscathed by the sword over his head. No details were available on the terms of his buyout.