NEW ORLEANS -- The whole world has gone a bit Mardi Gras down here and it's not even close to February.
Forget the tired cross-continent "Who's No. 1?" debate. This Sugar Bowl, it turns out, is all about the Benjamins. Two coaches who already make obscene amounts of cash are in a match race to see who is really No. 1.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops emerged from a Saturday press conference and was notified that he was almost passed as the highest-paid millionaire in college football. Nebraska had thrown a $2.5 million-a-year offer at Arkansas' Houston Nutt in its desperation to hire a new coach.
|Is Nick Saban happy at LSU? 'I think sometimes we need to appreciate the jobs that we have.'(AP)|
Not to the school and alums who have dug deep in their pockets to keep Stoops satisfied. Not to LSU's Nick Saban, who makes between $1.5 million-$2 million per year himself. But considering the coaches have combined for four conference titles and a national championship since 2000, they are a bargain. For now.
With Southern California already in the clubhouse, the winner of Sunday night's game will win at least the designated title "BCS champion." That might not go down well with some, but it does count as a national championship in the only NCAA sport that doesn't have an official title.
Then, the popular thinking goes, one or both coaches will bolt directly to the NFL. There is nothing left in college for them to accomplish. But the two have spent part of the Sugar build-up stressing that cash isn't always greener.
"I don't know if any of us believe the NFL is the end-all, where you need to be," said Stoops, who is perched to win his second national championship in four years. "That's far from the truth. Look at a guy like Bill Callahan who is in the Super Bowl one year and out of a job the next."
Saban has a unique clause written into his deal, which makes this game a national championship of another kind. Within 30 days of winning a BCS national championship, the school must renegotiate his deal to pay Saban at least $1 more than the nation's highest paid coach. Namely, Stoops.
But who needs the pressures and pomposity of the NFL when losing the national championship game means you still get paid $44,107 a week?
They couldn't make it through the front door if their cash was stacked in the living room. Only ego and the desire for a new challenge would push them to the next level because they are at the pinnacle of their profession.
But they are two guys who are all about the coaching. The money thing really is secondary. Really.
"I'm told the administration put that ($1 clause) in there," said Lenny Lemoine, a Lafayette, La., contractor who is one of Saban's closest friends. "I think they put it in there thinking it wouldn't happen during the duration of this contract."
Everything else being equal, why leave? They are kings of fiefdoms that are stocked with recruits that will keep them winning for years to come.
"If I were a major college coach the NFL would certainly make me think," Lemoine said. "But someone who is as talented as he is and had the success he has, it may not impact his thinking at all. Steve Spurrier looked like a deer in the headlights later in the season. A week ago Friday night when we ate with him, he was as relaxed and as calm and really seemed to be enjoying the moment."
Saban and Stoops aren't two of the NFL's most likely-to-succeeds by building slowly. Stoops won his national championship in his second year at Oklahoma. Saban, a veteran of five NFL seasons as an assistant, has won two of the past three SEC titles.
LSU is currently running neck and neck with USC for best recruiting class. Oklahoma already has landed the nation's best quarterback in Rhett Bomar and running back in Adrian Peterson, both from Texas.
It's obvious two of the most influential figures in Stoops' life are Spurrier and his father, Ron, a legendary high school coach in Youngstown, Ohio.
"Someone recognizing me as an NFL coach, that doesn't do anything for me," Stoops said. "The bottom line is you're happy the way you're living. My father was the wealthiest guy (in spirit) in the world and he was a high school coach. He wouldn't have my job for anything."
Stoops has had an inside look at the NFL from the perspective of his mentor. The Ol' Ball Coach's unceremonious departure from Washington was depressing but in a way, noble. Spurrier did leave $15 million in salary on the table, trading it for peace of mind.
Stoops said Saturday he had just spoken to Spurrier, who sounded a lot looser and a lot happier having shot an 81 in his latest round of golf. The two couldn't be closer having worked together at Florida and owning vacation homes together near Jacksonville, Fla.
"I think it makes all of us, not just college coaches, all very wary of who you line yourself up with," Stoops said. "I marvel at all the accountability that goes to coaches and there's hardly any accountability to the guys making most of the money.
|Bob Stoops is rewarded well by Oklahoma, earning $2.3 million a year. (AP)|
And as we've seen, there's more likelihood that those pro players will lash out at their coaches. (Charles Woodson, Keyshawn Johnson, etc.) In college the coach always makes more than the players.
"When you're in a great college program it's as good as it gets," Stoops said. "I guarantee you Nick feels this way. We have better jobs than a good number of NFL jobs out there. There's a lot of those NFL guys who would love to have the jobs we have. I don't feel like that's a step (up) at all. It's something different is what it is."
Nutt stayed at Arkansas for about $1.1 million less than he would have made at Nebraska. Like Stoops and Saban, he sees security where he's at instead of an opportunity someplace else. It is assumed that if Nutt stays long enough he will succeed Frank Broyles as athletic director.
Its willingness to overpay shows how desperate Nebraska is to get back to the top. The problem, as Frank Solich found out by winning more than 75 percent of his games, is that "the top" has different meaning to different people.
Which brings us back to our pair of Sugar Bowl millionaire thoroughbreds. Unlike Stoops, Saban has been sending mixed signals. He has been linked to several current NFL openings. His recent quote in the Cleveland Plain Dealer didn't douse the speculation.
"It's probably not a good time to say this but when you coach pro ball, it's all about ball. I like that," Saban said.
On Saturday he said:
"The stability of a lot of NFL coaches has not had a real good history, and I think sometimes we need to appreciate the jobs that we have."
Lord knows their financial advisors appreciate them. They are the only ones who can't lose Sunday night.