Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Coaches' contracts reflect playoff

New postseason means new incentives for college coaches to win it all

March 24, 2015
By Heather Dinich |

At Clemson, winning a national championship in the College Football Playoff is valued at $900,000 -- that's the bonus coach Dabo Swinney is guaranteed if the Tigers win it all. It's more than any incentive promised to the four coaches who actually made the semifinal round of the inaugural playoff, including Nick Saban.

It's even more than Michigan's Money Man, Jim Harbaugh, whose total bonus is $800,000 for winning a title in Ann Arbor.

It's on par, though, with Colorado, where a national title is worth $750,000 to coach Mike MacIntyre.

Meanwhile, Cal coach Sonny Dykes is still waiting for his contract to be updated to include the playoff, but he would have gotten $50,000 for taking the Golden Bears to the BCS national championship.

The disparity in incentives for winning college football's biggest prize? Priceless.

"We pay close attention to the marketplace, which is much easier to do on guaranteed compensation than it is on incentive compensation," said Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens, "because incentive compensation can be all over the board."

He's right -- it is. obtained the contracts of 34 FBS coaches representing each Power 5 conference, and there's a wide range of incentive money for winning the national title. The bigger lump sums are because the bonuses are cumulative. Harbaugh, for example, gets $300,000 for making the semifinals and another $500,000 for winning the championship. Swinney gets $400,000 for a CFP semifinal appearance AND $400,000 for a CFP championship appearance, AND another $100,000 for winning the title.

Many contracts were written before the playoff began and still include BCS language and polls, but some schools still accounted for the possibility of it. Other programs haven't been as proactive in updating the coaches' contracts to reflect the new postseason, which now includes semifinal games for the top four teams. The contracts of the four coaches who advanced to the semifinal round in 2014 are all up-to-date and hovered around the same amount:

• Ohio State coach Urban Meyer got a $250,000 bonus for reaching the inaugural College Football Playoff title game, and earned the maximum postseason bonus of $400,000 for also winning the Big Ten East Division and the overall Big Ten title.

• Mullens recently raised Mark Helfrich's bonus from $250,000 to $500,000 if he wins a national title in the playoff.

• Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has a $500,000 bonus in his contract for winning the national title, but he would also receive $200,000 for a top-five ranking by the selection committee, and $200,000 for an undefeated season.

• Saban's contract states he would have received $300,000 for playing in the national championship game OR $400,000 for winning the title. Swinney's most recent contract was finalized in January 2014, when athletic director Dan Radakovich knew the playoff was imminent. Radakovich, one of the 12 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee, said it made sense to alter the contract to acknowledge the "new reality" of what was happening with the sport's postseason.

"It was really important to myself and the agent that if Dabo has a phenomenal year that he has the ability to be compensated at a really, really good level," said Radakovich. "It also means that in the reality of things, should that circumstance occur, there would need to be a renegotiation in the remainder of the contract, depending upon when in the length of the contract that occurs.

"The playoff has helped create the market," Radakovich said. "The playoff has increased the revenue opportunities for athletic programs and therefore because those revenues are coming in, if you have a successful coach, you have more resources by which to compensate them and make sure they stay at your institution."

There's not necessarily a correlation between a coaches' longevity at the school, or the name-brand appeal of the program. At Colorado, Mike MacIntyre is guaranteed $750,000 for winning the national title, but it's a cumulative bonus that also includes $100,000 for playing in the league championship game, and another $75,000 for an eight-win season. First-year Nebraska coach Mike Riley isn't too far behind with a $650,000 bonus for winning the national title.

"As revenues continue to escalate in college football, coaching contracts will continue to escalate also," said Neil Cornrich, an agent who represents Bob Stoops, Kirk Ferentz and Todd Graham, among many others. At Auburn, coach Gus Malzahn's contract was recently amended to include playoff language. He would get $500,000 for winning the national title, OR $300,000 for reaching the title game or semifinal -- a $150,000 increase from the previous contract for reaching the national championship but not winning it. The old contract promised $100,000 for playing in a BCS bowl, while the amendment includes $200,000 for playing in a New Year's Six Bowl.

"The College Football Playoff, that is our goal now," said Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs.

"Our contracts have changed to represent that." Jacobs attributed the disparity between coaching incentives throughout the country to basic capitalism. "It really is just like a salesperson or a COO -- you get rewarded for good will at your craft, and when you don't, you don't get that reward," he said. "Whether your sell hospital beds or win football games, it's all about how well did you do?"

Malzahn also has the chance to earn another $450,000 in bonuses if he finishes with 14 wins AND wins the SEC title, AND finishes with a top-five ranking by the selection committee.

"We put top five in there because with only four teams, four and five could be alike and the committee not pick us," Jacobs said. "People could argue, why don't you say top eight or top six? We say one past the top four that's fair for right now, and they got it right this past year."

The contracts show that experience and tenure don't necessarily add up to the biggest bonuses. K-State coach Bill Snyder, a member of the most recent College Football Hall of Fame class, receives an extra $350,000 for winning the national title. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, the country's winningest active coach, has a $200,000 bonus in his contract for winning a national title.

Beamer wasn't available for comment, and hasn't done any interviews since his throat surgery in early December.

"With him it's never been about money, and his love of Virginia Tech overrides everything in his mind," said Beamer's son and running backs coach Shane Beamer. "His first response would be that Virginia Tech has been very good to him, and he's very fortunate for what he has and what this program is about."

For some, the trophy might be incentive enough.

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