College Coaches Chasing Cash, Finding Failure
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 1 Timothy 6:10
Say what you want about Jim Boeheim, but he has a pretty good life. He turned down some money to stay at Syracuse, but all he has done there is win hundreds of games, send dozens of players off to get paid playing hoops, enjoy a rabid fan following, and have a court named after him. Many basketball coaches leave very green pastures to end up in a desert with a bag of money and not a lot of success. And college football is even worse–where the term “dream job” comes with a huge asterisk meaning “unless someone elsewhere offers me more money.” All too often the coaches chasing cash end up finding failure. And when a local Syracuse writer suggests that Syracuse fans need to be wary of Dino Babers leaving, it just shows how ridiculous college football can be.
Once upon a time, Rich Rodriguez was a relatively successful coach at his alma mater, West Virginia. He was 57-18 his final six seasons, including 32-5 his final three. Where has RichRod gone since then? Well, he left for Michigan, which was a disaster with losses, scandal, and termination. Now he is in sunny Arizona, coaching that team to winning seasons. Of course, this year he is 2-5, which will mean a hotter seat. Regardless, RichRod has not been coaching with national championship implications since leaving West Virginia. And all he had to do was beat Pittsburgh to have a chance at that in his final season. Meanwhile, West Virginia–now a member of the Big XII–is 5-0. Was leaving a smart decision for any reason OTHER than the money?
Doug Marrone was hired as the Syracuse head coach for the 2009 season and beyond. He called it his “dream job.” He was paid well, but certainly not overpaid. Coming after the Greg Robinson disaster, his 25-25 record was seen as miracle work. He left his dream job to coach the Buffalo Bills to a 15-17 record over two seasons. Where is he now? Had to look it up… still an assistant coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Was leaving a smart decision for any reason OTHER than the money?
In 2010, someone finally gave Charlie Strong a head coaching opportunity: Louisville. After three consecutive seasons of worse records (6-6, 5-7, 4-8), Strong immediately made Louisville a winner again with two straight 7-6 seasons. In 2012, Strong went 11-2 and in 2013 Strong went 12-1. Louisville was–despite its Big East membership–nationally relevant. Strong left for Texas in 2014, where he received a salary increase from $3.7 to $5.0 million annually. While at Texas, Strong went 11-14 during his first two seasons…a step down from the 30-21 record that got Mack Brown removed. This year, Texas is 3-3, with wins over struggling Notre Dame, Texas El Paso, and Iowa State. Kansas State, Baylor, West Virginia, Texas Tech and TCU all have the same record or better (or much better) and remain on the schedule. Meanwhile, Louisville is 5-1 and still in the running for a playoff spot, led by a Heisman Trophy candidate in Lamar Jackson. Was leaving a smart decision for any reason OTHER than the money?
Speaking of Notre Dame, Brian Kelly paid his dues, coaching at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati–all to great success. In fact, he left Cincinnati after 12-0 season in 2009 to go to Notre Dame. At Notre Dame, Kelly entered 2016 with the following records (8-5, 8-5, 12-1, 9-4, 8-5, and 10-3). If you are keeping score, that is a record of 55-23. However, in 2016, the wheels have fallen off, and the Fighting Irish are 2-5. Thus, Kelly is now on the hot seat. He has made money and had success at Notre Dame, but a football factory does not tolerate bad seasons very well. If he gets fired, there will be a truckload of money and another chance, but that is the difference between Cincinnati and Notre Dame. The former would stomach an off season, while the latter may not (which would be absurd, really).
In fairness, Cincinnati was and remains on the outside of the power structure in football, where West Virginia, Louisville, and Syracuse all could have been but for realignment. So Kelly leaving Cincinnati allowed him to have a chance at a national championship. Cincinnati was 12-0, but on the outside. That would not happen at Notre Dame or any other P5 football school. But once you are in a P5 conference, you control your own destiny. Except that, at a a big time football program, expectations are often unrealistic. So be careful what you wish for when leaving one P5 school for another, supposedly greater program.
If Dino Babers decides to leave Syracuse, where would the better jobs be in 2017? Maybe Texas, who will have shown three years of patience with Charlie Strong and have fallen behind schools like TCU and Baylor in the state of Texas. Maybe Baylor, who cannot seem to avoid major scandal in any sport and who are on the verge of replacing Penn State as the college sports villain. And, at Baylor, one has to get by the aforementioned Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, TCU, and other Big XII schools every year to get to the playoffs. Not much easier than Clemson/Florida State really. Maybe LSU, who considered Les Miles career coaching record of 141-55, a bulk of that in the loaded SEC, to be too disappointing to allow him to finish the current season. In addition, the SEC has some pretty good defensive coaches and athletes to implement a complex defensive scheme. And Alabama is still rolling. So there is no slam dunk option.
Unless it is only about the money. And if a college coach is only about the money, that makes them liars when they sit in living rooms and make promises to kids/families. They expect players to refuse $100.00 handshakes and free sneakers, but they will break contracts and promises to get an extra 25% on their multi-million contract. They expect students to take classes seriously. Coaches demand that players study hard, work long hours, and be good stewards of the program around the clock–all for free. Coaches cannot guarantee a scholarship from year-to-year, nor will they guarantee playing time. And if a student wants to leave for more playing time, they are penalized by the NCAA. Meanwhile, coaches can bend the truth to get jobs, lie to recruit players, and leave for more cash. As always, whether it is the NCAA or the coaches, or many other places in society, the love of money brings sorrow ultimately.