Will Arkansas outspend the competition?
College football is almost over, and it hurts a little. As always at the close of the college football season, the coaching carousel starts turning round and round. Kentucky and now Tennessee have both parted ways with their head coaches, and Auburn will likely follow suit shortly. If Auburn fires Chizik, those schools collectively will spend close to $15 million to fire their coaches, and the money spending shows no sign of slowing its flow either.
The amount of money being paid to college football coaches has been on the rise for some time. As far as coaches’ salaries go, the SEC leads the way. Why not? We lead in everything else. The highest paid coach in the land is in the SEC, Nick Saban, who currently earns around $5.4 million per year. The SEC has three of the top ten highest paid coaches in the college game, with Les Miles and Gene Chizik receiving $4.1 and $3.6 million respectively. All of the other SEC coaches are currently earning over $1 million. The lowest paid was Joker Phillips formerly of Kentucky was making $1.7 million. (Caveat: With Vanderbilt being a private school, Coach James Franklin’s salary info isn’t released publicly.)
The real question is will, or can, the Razorback Foundation keep up.
Along with a long list of names being thrown around in Arkansas, so are large sums of money that Arkansas is willing to pay. CBS Sports online reported on Sunday that Arkansas and Tennessee could be in a bidding war for the services of John Gruden. Reports also began surfacing Monday that Arkansas has offered Gruden the job with the common number being floated around being in the $6.1 million range. That is a huge number! A number that is almost hard to believe. One of the poorest states in the union would be home to the highest paid college football coach, the highest by almost a million dollars. It would come close to doubling what the former motorcycle-loving head Hog was getting paid. Petrino was bringing home around $3.6 million with incentives when he went for his joy ride.
When you stop and think about that kind of money, it’s kind of shocking. The new coach would make about $6 million more than the Arkansas governor. One could argue that the football coaches’ decisions are more important. That amount of money would also be almost more than any two PAC12 coaches together (those whose salaries are publicly known anyway).
Arkansas did see stratospheric revenue rise while Petrino was piling up wins, with donations rising more than 359%, and the athletic administration hasn’t slowed in spending either. With a new football operations center, new practice fields, new jumbo-tron, ribbon boards at DWRRS, new floor at Bud Walton, basketball practice facility, indoor baseball and track training facility and on and on and on. $6 million dollars a year seems like a huge outlay for one coach with all the other projects underway.
Arkansas athletic budget in 2011 came in around $80 million. That was good enough to be ranked it 10th in the SEC, behind both Tennessee and Auburn. Tennessee has had some financial issues recently however, in 2011 they actually ended up in the red, having to dip into their reserves for about $4 million to cover expenses. It does seem some of the problems might be behind them, as they near the end of payouts owed to former coaches and athletic directors. At the close of 2011 however, Tennessee still owed around $200 million for past building projects. Either way it would seem odd for Arkansas, a school whose budget is smaller than seventy percent of the other schools in the conference, to have the highest paid football coach.
Maybe a great coach is worth it. If the wins keep coming, the money could follow. The question in front of the Arkansas Board of Trustees is the height of the income ceiling is for the Razorbacks fan base’s level of support. With nearly every game on television, it may become cheaper and easier for fans to stay home and watch the games from their couch instead of handing over larger amounts of donation money for tickets and parking passes. If that trend gets more popular, the foundation could see shrinking revenue streams. Only time will make it clear if the foundation can keep that amount of money coming in.
What seems more likely and realistic is an incentive-based pay structure. A base salary of $4 -4.5 million is reasonably reachable and let the coach earn the extra money by taking the Hogs to that ever elusive national championship. Better yet, how about creating incentives for beating Alabama? It’s something the Hogs have failed to do in the last four years.
One thing that is clear and not rumor is that over the next few weeks the money will be flowing in the SEC.
Rex Crane is a new blogger on Hog Database. He is an avid fan of all things college football, Arkansas Razorback athletics and St. Louis Cardinals Baseball. Rex will bring a real world view to the happenings around Razorback sports. You can follow Rex on twitter: @hogsncards