Sign of the times
College football coaching contracts filled with lucrative incentives
Posted: Tuesday December 23, 2003 4:52PM; Updated: Tuesday December 23, 2003 5:04PM
Talk about firing up the troops. If LSU needed another incentive while the team buses across I-10 to the Sugar Bowl -- and there's already a heap of pressure, thank you -- the Tigers can play Santa Claus and hand Nick Saban the college game's richest contract.
Simply put, the kids are playing the BCS title game for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' contract, or an even better one.
At play is a wonderfully sweet clause in Saban's deal, which requires LSU to renegotiate within 30 days of his winning the title and "pay him at least $1 more than the highest paid college coach.'' That's Stoops, Mack Brown and Bobby Bowden money, something in the annual $2.1 to $2.2 million range.
And what's in a national title for Stoops? Well, $150,000 on top of the $100,000 bonus already pocketed for landing the Sooners in the title affair.
Taking home the BCS prize is good. Thanks to a deal signed after last year's title game, Jim Tressel is guaranteed $200,000 if Ohio State earns a return trip over the next six years, and if the Buckeyes win, his contract will be torn up and renegotiated.
But, hey, Tressel is already living large. His new deal guarantees travel by private plane on recruiting trips to procure talent, with the promise of a jet aircraft on treks of 200 miles or more from Columbus -- plus 10 hours personal use of a jet each year.
And in case any NFL teams are interested in calling, Tressel has a window from the end of the regular season to Jan. 15 to entertain pro offers.
For college ADs, Urban Meyer has an interesting escape clause at Utah that lets him leave without penalty for the head job at Ohio State, Michigan or Notre Dame -- where he cut his teeth as an assistant coach.
Right now, it's the heart of bowl season and most top coaches are padding CEO-like salaries with lucrative performance-based incentives -- some more handsomely than others. Not that any of them need another perk. In fact, contracts obtained by SI.com under state Open Records laws reveal millionaire coaches oversee at least 20 of the teams currently in the Associated Press Top 25.
Conventional wisdom might have you believe the big-money coaches reside in the South -- the self-proclaimed home of college football -- but the Big 10 is surprisingly well represented, with at least seven millionaire coaches. And that doesn't include Joe Paterno of Penn State.
Take a look at the three-year extension just signed by Purdue's Joe Tiller. His new base salary is $218,000, which athletic director Morgan Burke told us is "irrelevant'' because the real money in coaching contracts is in the TV/radio and personal service guarantees. In this case, Tiller earns well over $1 million a season because of a unique clause guaranteeing him earning opportunities in the 75th to 95th percentile of Division 1-A coaches.
The figure fluctuates depending on team performance, and because of seven consecutive bowl appearances, Tiller brings home more than some bigger-name coaches. "This year he is probably in the top 10 to 15 coaches in the country,'' Burke said.
Most of the monies paid coaches these days filter through the universities, which is the case at Purdue -- but the dreaded third-party influence still exists in some places. The bulk of Mississippi coach David Cutcliffe's contract, for instance, is almost $700,000 supplemental income provided by the Ole Miss Loyalty Foundation. Florida coach Ron Zook's deal is with the non-profit University Athletic Association. At least $500,000 of Georgia coach Mark Richt's deal comes from a separate athletic association.
And, not surprisingly, everywhere you look these sideline bosses are rewarded far more handsomely than the presidents who sign their checks. That's market economics, we suppose. Or the belief that having Coach Right on your team spikes everything from TV contracts to apparel marketing deals and alumni donations
So perhaps that explains why sports programs routinely fall all over themselves trying to lure hot coaches to their campuses and then trying to keep them. Consider some of the unusual perks and largesse they enjoy:
Texas athletic officials promised Brown a one-time, $1.6 million bonus on his 53rd birthday, next Aug. 27.
Bowden pocketed a $50,000 bonus for surpassing Paul "Bear'' Bryant's Division1-A record 323 wins, plus he's due a $250,000 bonus Jan. 4, 2006, to mark his 30th year at FSU.
An LSU option plan entitles Saban to annually purchase investment securities with fair market value of $200,000 at a discounted price of $100,000.
If Oklahoma State is invited to a bowl four years out of any five-year period, Les Miles collects a $1 million bonus (So far, he's perfect in his two seasons.) Some Big 12 rivals even carry a price on their head, with Miles due $3,000 for wins against Oklahoma and Nebraska; $2,000 for K-State, Texas and Texas A&M. And a Top 10 recruiting class brings $3,000.
At most places, NCAA rules violations are a fireable offense, but Auburn's Tommie Tuberville is good for $50,000 if the rules-challenged program completes a five-year period without SEC or NCAA sanctions.
Proving that school spirit pays, Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer collects $325,000 from the Hokie Club for public relations; first-year Washington coach Keith Gilbertson $50,000 from Husky Fever.
Clearly, the legal folks drawing up contracts are hip to loading deals with incentives. It's not enough to hand over the keys to a luxury car or two and a country club membership. Now it's hard to find a prominent coach who doesn't have incentive clauses tied to the academic performance of his charges -- often in the form of graduation rates (Minnesota's Glen Mason gets $60,000 if the rate exceeds the general university average by 15 percent) -- and to a lesser extent the number of wins his team posts and even his ability to draw a crowd.
As an example, Rich Rodriguez' new deal pays $10,000 if West Virginia sells 30,000 season tickets; $20,000 for 35,000 tickets; and $30,000 for 40,000 tickets.
Or consider the potentially lucrative scale for reserved ticket sales written into Mike Bellotti's deal at Oregon: 4 percent of gross receipts between 17,500 and 20,000 tickets; 5 percent between 20,001 to 25,000; 6 percent between 25,001 to 30,000; 7 percent between 30,001 to 35,000; and 8 percent between 35,001 to 40,000.
Every coach gets an allotment of tickets to his team's home game, even a stadium suite in some cases. What's become a hot perk are tickets and travel arrangements for the family on the road.
Mason is guaranteed travel for immediate family and six guests. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz gets space for six guests on the team plane. Keith Gilbertson, the first-year Washington coach, is promised accommodations for his wife plus a $20,000 travel account.
And a few established coaches even write in perks benefiting their assistants. In Lloyd Carr's contract, Michigan agrees to allocate $155,000 to be divided among the assistants each July. At Virginia Tech, Beamer gets $33,000 for the entertainment of his assistants and their families, his coordinators work on five-year rollover contracts, and his assistants are guaranteed bowl-game bonuses.
That pays off nicely this time of year.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.