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$2 million for getting fired?

By - Last modified: December 10, 2012 at 12:43 PM

The University of Southern Mississippi fired coach Ellis Johnson two weeks ago, just one year into a four-year deal after the Golden Eagles went 0-12 this year. Like most college football coaches, Johnson had negotiated a contract that required the school to buy out the remaining portion of his contract if it terminated him before the end of the deal.

Much like corporate executives who are fired, college football coaches now have enormous golden parachute deals as well. And like corporate counterparts, universities are suffering consequences for paying for terminated employees.

Johnson’s contract stipulated that he be paid $700,000 for every year left on his deal. How did Southern Mississippi come up with that $2.1 million? After going winless this year and firing its coach, it’s a perfect candidate to be a “cupcake,” an easy win for a big name program. Southern Miss cashed in by moving its scheduled home game with Nebraska next year to the Huskers’ home field in Lincoln.

There is absolutely no limit to what these schools will pay. Auburn fired its head coach, Gene Chizik, just two years after he went undefeated and won the national championship. For that, it will pay $11 million total, including $208,000 per month for the next three years, to the fired coach.

Incredibly, it’s gotten to the point that these buyouts are affecting academic programs. The University of Tennessee recently fired head coach Derek Dooley and all of his staff, which cost it a total of $9 million in buyouts. In addition to that, the school now has to go out and spend big again to replace its coach and staff.

In order to pay for that, the school announced that the football program will not be able to contribute money back to the university for the next three years. That was supposed to be $18 million for academic scholarships and fellowships.

At other schools, fundraisers pay for the coaching buyouts with money that could otherwise be donated to the university. The chancellor of the University of Nebraska recently said that schools are now forced to find ways to save money on athletic programs so they can afford to pay the coaches.

You might be wondering how this happens and keeps getting worse.

First, to get a decent coach, your school is probably going to have to pay $2 million per year and commit to a four-year deal with a buyout. In addition to that, he’s going to want some talented assistant coaches, and their prices have skyrocketed. Whereas a head coach making $1 million per year was a lot of money 10 years ago, assistants are now making $1 million per year. Clemson University’s assistant coaches make a total of $4.2 million. When you fire your coach, you’re usually firing all of the assistants as well.

Another reason is that a college football program’s ability to change from year to year is very limited. Unlike the NFL, it (supposedly) can’t go buy new players. All you can really do is hire new coaches.

Want to join the ranks and make a couple of million for getting fired? Here’s your chance. Anyone with a bachelor’s degree can apply for the vacant head coaching position at the University of Wisconsin. Coaching experience is “preferred.”

Go ahead and apply – I did.

Bill Sayer is a financial analyst in the insurance industry and holds a degree in economics. A native of upstate New York, Bill enjoys watching college football, the NFL, NHL and Premier League soccer from his home in Palmyra.


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