By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 11.29.2017
This time of year (mid to late November) is known as the ‘silly season’ in college football. It’s silly because of several reasons. First, the money spent to remove coaches and hire new ones. Second, the search process which as some schools have shown can be an absolute disaster. Football is a game and if you remove yourself and look at the big picture, what has occurred over the last few weeks or so is absolute nonsense.
Full disclosure, I am a graduate of the University of Tennessee and a very proud alumni.
Over the past few weeks universities (or major boosters) have paid out a minimum of $55 million to remove head coaches. That’s right. $55 million to pay coaches to leave. Meanwhile people in this country, who love these football programs and struggle to make ends meet, have to sit back and watch a coach like Butch Jones will get $205k a month for the next 40 months to not work. The best deal, how bout former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. Sumlin will get some $10+ million in the next 60 days to not coach football. Texas A&M doesn’t even get a deal on the payout if Sumlin takes another job. How bout that for an exit package!
Why are these buyouts so high? Well partially because the whole industry has gone off of the deep end. Arkansas head coach Brett Bielema was fired shortly after the teams last game of the season. In fact the media got the PR release immediately after the game which may have occurred before Bielema got the news.
Speaking of deep end, let’s talk about Tennessee and the fiasco that is still occurring there. Athletic Director John Currie fired head coach Butch Jones and was very frank and professional in the press conference following the firing. He gave off an air of professionalism and the expectation that Currie was planning far ahead and a new head coach would be in place soon. Several weeks later Currie tried to hire former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano. That outraged the Tennessee fanbase, media, alumni, boosters and even politicians to the point of protests on campus. It was so bad that Currie had to (from what we know) withdraw the offer and go back to the drawing board. That drawing board saw him get turned down by Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and apparently be overruled on bringing in Purdue’s Jeff Brohm.
But back to the Schiano debacle. The pulling back from Schiano showed a few things; first that social media and boosters can stop a hiring if they don’t like it. Second that people associate anyone with the Penn State at the time of the Jerry Sandusky abuses as tainted goods and finally, the expectations at a Power 5 school like Tennessee is to have a “splash hire” and someone who can put their team back in the running for national championships. For some at Tennessee that means former Tampa Bay and Oakland head coach Jon Gruden. A coach who hasn’t roamed the sidelines of a football game in a decade and hasn’t coached at the collegiate level in almost 30 years.
Let’s be honest, all this is beyond the pale. This is college football where the players are not paid yet millions of dollars are being shelled out to fire coaches and hire new ones all the while the universities that the players represent saddle students with enough loan debt to make an economist have an extra shot of tequila. Social media turns into the digital equivalent of a forrest fire and fans get so fired up that they protest or confront coaches who might leave as one did at Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher’s weekly radio show.
Athletic Directors are beholden to big money donors who bless or curse hires. Coaches change jobs and receive millions of dollars while the players they recruited are stuck and can only transfer to schools in a lower division or sit out a season. They do not get to share in the riches of revenue but put their bodies on the line for 12 games a year and then some. It’s time for this industry to look in the mirror and say that enough is enough.
College football is a wonderful sport but it is officially out of control. While the passionate fans found in Knoxville, Gainesville, College Station, Lincoln and Fayetteville among others deserve a quality program for the support they give, at the end of the day it’s still just a game being played by unpaid participants. The amount of money, time and attention being paid to firing and hiring coaches could and should be spent elsewhere. It doesn’t appear that this will change any time soon so do what you can do enjoy the fiery spectacle.