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College Football Insider

Seeking stability, contract extensions for coaches can be expensive error

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As if schools weren't already fronting obscene buyout totals to fire football coaches -- more than $25 million in firings this November alone -- the game of early contract extensions might exacerbate the mistake-spending.

Auburn's Gene Chizik is getting $7.5 million not to coach, in part because athletic director Jay Jacobs gave him a contract extension after two years.

"It's more expensive to keep a coach nobody wants," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said on The Jim Rome Show this week.

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Chizik won a BCS title. Fair enough. Not many foresaw the Tigers' 3-9 implosion two calendar years after hoisting the crystal.

But take South Florida's Skip Holtz, whose original contract called for a $500,000 buyout in Year 3 until an extension pushed it to $2.5 million. Holtz is now 5-15 in Big East play.

Notre Dame's Brian Kelly got an extension after back-to-back 8-5 seasons, though athletic director Jack Swarbrick now looks clairvoyant after the Irish's title run.

And up-and-coming Year 2 coaches such as Vanderbilt's James Franklin and Stanford's David Shaw appear destined for a reworked deal.

Even minor contract extensions, like adding one year to a deal, are sometimes done after a coach's first season on the job but don't always go public.

The more years, the more buyout money owed.

It's bad enough when a coach like Tennessee's Derek Dooley gets $5.5 million in buyout money after three seasons without an extension.

For athletic departments, extensions symbolize support for a coach it wants to keep while providing stability in recruiting and, if done right, increasing its own buyout money should another school poach the coach.

Though the blowback is harsh if the coach flails after Years 3 and 4, most big-conference schools -- especially from the SEC -- can recover.

"When you're getting a check for 20-25 million a year just for TV money for your athletic program, you've got some money to play with," Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh said.

Lack of tenure in today's game is an incentive for coaches' agents to negotiate hefty buyouts for their coaches. Look at Colorado's Jon Embree, fired after two dismal seasons.

"We're already at the point where you're not guaranteed the three-year plan," said an agent with several head-coaching clients who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It's going that way now. There has to be a level of protection there."

Coaches typically have more leverage if they're coming off a good year or have other suitors. Athletic directors know opposing schools can use the lack of an extension for the head coach against that school in recruiting.

That's why Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne says length of the contract and guaranteed percentage of the buyout are important to consider.

Generally, a four- or five-year contract can satisfy all parties involved without the school overextending itself, Byrne said. Seven or eight years can be dangerous, depending on how it's structured.

"You might potentially lose a coach you very much value if you don't take on some sort of risk," Byrne said. "You have to do what you feel is in the best interest of your program long term."

Byrne hired Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, who finished 7-5 in his first season in Tucson. Mueh's coach, Troy Calhoun, has been to five consecutive bowl games while garnering interest from Tennessee, Colorado and, most recently, California.

Though Mueh knows it's better to have a coveted coach than one you have to buy out, he also has buyout protection, just in case.

"That's why we put in such exorbitant buyout clauses, because there's not a contract in the world that can be terminated by the school without having to pay some kind of penalty," Mueh said. "The coaches seem to be able to bust them whatever they want."

Buyout money might pale in comparison to a coach losing the program -- and losing fans in the seats as a result.

Then, the school has no choice but to lose money to make a change.

"They'll get somebody else," Spurrier said. "[Boosters] can't fundraise if you have a coach nobody believes in."


Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with CBSSports.com. Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.
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