Madcap world of college football head coaches’ salaries have gone wild

Nov 30, 2021, 4:40 PM

Every so often, a sordid story returns to college campuses across America, threatening the sanctity of all that is good and pure:

Salaries Gone Wild.

It’s happening today in the madcap world of college football. Lincoln Riley followed the money from Oklahoma to USC, a private school that granted him unlimited use of a private plane, merely the greatest perk of all-time.*

Brian Kelly followed the money from Notre Dame for LSU, abandoning an iconic institution that usually does the jilting. The going rate for hot commodities in college football is now well above $10 million a year, no championships required.

There is nothing wrong with this. Nor is it a character flaw when head coaches accept better jobs elsewhere, no matter how many feelings are hurt in the process. For the most part, we would all do the same.

But there is plenty of jealousy. Salary booms in any sport create massive overpayments to a small number of coaches and players. The fortunate few will find themselves unfathomably rich, in the right place at the right time. It doesn’t feel right or seem fair.

It’s a hard spectacle for most of America’s workforce, the majority of people who never get so lucky, who never monetize what they’re worth, who don’t have the fortitude to seize upon their rare moments of leverage. One observer noted that Kelly’s annual salary would pay for 125 professor salaries at $120,000 per year. And that observer has never been to Tiger Stadium on a drunken Saturday in Baton Rouge.

There are also plenty of reverberations, starting with the next wave of coaching contracts in football. That includes Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who wouldn’t close the door on the Oklahoma rumors on Monday because he is tired of being underpaid. He is reportedly earning $5.5 million a year. He has the best team in the NFL and a salary that doesn’t crack the Top 10.

Still: If you’re Michael Bidwill, are you ready to pay over $10 million a season for a boutique head coach, an offensive specialist with a limited track record of success, who seems to have a somewhat narrow role in the success of the 2021 Cardinals, a team that has been described as one with two head coaches?

The solution is simple: You wait until Kingsbury proves himself down the stretch. And then you pay the going rate. Even if it costs you more in the long run.

The real issue is the transient nature of the college football. Athletes are portal jumping across lily pads, looking for a places to make the best impression. Kelly just left a Notre Dame team currently in contention for a berth in College Football Playoff.

Cynicism is born from corruption. Kelly’s address to his jilted team lasted less than two minutes, and then he turned his back on his team one last time, walking away for good. Can you imagine how that felt to the true believers?

Competition builds character in many shapes and form. It happens in moments of bliss. It happens in moments of agony. It happens in moments of victory and defeat, those magical moments when a true leader builds our next generation of great men and women.

What could Kelly have possibly told his 11-1 football team that has gone to the wall for him, a team that has a 54% chance of making the College Football Playoff? What life lesson is he imparting on his way out of town?

Sorry, kids. Life sucks. Go chase that bread.

Notre Dame has been milking the system for years. This week, the system played them. And when the system takes down Touchdown Jesus, consider nothing safe or sacred anymore.

*Lincoln Riley’s contract beats former Dodgers pitcher Kevin Brown, who once negotiated 12 private flights a year to Los Angeles from his family home in Macon, Georgia. It beats former pitcher A.J. Burnett, who signed with the Blue Jays after successfully bargaining for eight annual limousine rides for his family from Maryland to Toronto. Meanwhile, Valley fans might remember how the Diamondbacks’ deal with Troy Glaus included a $250,000 contract with his wife for equestrian services. Which means they’ve actually paid for horses and horse’s asses.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta Mornings weekdays from 6 – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Madcap world of college football head coaches’ salaries have gone wild