They were, in effect, tenured faculty. Twenty years ago college coaches may not have earned the big bucks like their colleagues in the pros, but their job security was nearly ironclad. They lived stress-free lives on leafy campuses and had plenty of opportunity to teach, presumably the reason they got into the profession. Plus, they could take advantage of the best perk of academia: summer vacation. Recalls John Wooden, UCLA's basketball coach from 1948 through 75, "It was a very nice way to earn a living."
He'd be less inclined to think so today. As college sports have moved to a level of intensity and high finance that rivals pro sports, Division I coaches assert that they are under as much pressure as their NBA or NFL counterparts. They may not have to contend with multimillionaire athletes, meddling owners and interminable road trips, but the presence of seamy agents, overzealous boosters and players itching to turn pro early can leave them feeling just as besieged. The recent parade of high-profile scandals has shown just how dirty a business college sports can be—and just how easy it is for coaches to get sucked into the miasma. "People look at the coaching profession as something less than honorable," says South Carolina basketball coach Dave Odom, who has been in the college game for 28 years. "That bothers me."
The higher stakes have changed the day-to-day job description. Time once devoted to inculcating players on the finer points of blocking techniques is now spent recruiting players or courting deep-pocketed alumni. Due in no small part to the proliferation of summer leagues and camps, coaching has become a 12-month-a-year job. Indiana basketball coach Mike Davis marvels that his predecessor, Bob Knight, was able to take exotic hunting and fishing trips over the summer. "I take a long weekend," says Davis, "and come back to hundreds of voice mails and e-mails and crises." Davis is also an exemplar for how coaches are affected by the phenomenon of players jumping from high school to the NBA. He thought he had scored a coup last year when he coaxed a commitment from forward Josh Smith of Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. It was so much fool's gold when Smith announced last week that he would enter the NBA draft.
Interestingly, the majority of college coaches interviewed by SI also cited the Internet as a source of intense pressure. Especially on wired campuses filled with tech-savvy students, message boards and fan sites give legs to preposterous rumors and vicious—albeit anonymous-personal attacks. (Check out www.firemikedavis.com.) "I would love it if Woody Hayes came back for one week, just to see how he would respond to message boards," says Jack Harbaugh, the former Western Kentucky football coach who is now an associate athletic director at Marquette.
But at least as the pressure has increased, so too have salaries. In many states the highest-paid public employee is the football or basketball coach at State U—and that doesn't include the supplemental income from sneaker contracts, television shows and summer camps. But, as in the pros, bloated expectations ride in tandem with bloated salaries. Consider that Nebraska fired football coach Frank Solich with two years left on his $1.1 million-a-year job after he went 58-19 in six seasons. "The salaries," says Stanford football coach Buddy Teevens, "are justification for termination."
Put it together, and a clear profile emerges: College coaches are getting more pay and less job satisfaction. Says Fran Fraschilla, a former college basketball coach and now a TV analyst, "I'll tell you what a good friend of mine who is a very successful Division I basketball coach told me: 'I love coaching, but I don't love the coaching profession.' I believe a lot of coaches feel that way."