Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Dolphins coordinator Josh Boyer has eye for defensive back gems | Schad


Joe Schad

Palm Beach Post

MIAMI GARDENS — In the days leading up to the last NFL draft, Kader Kohou was a bit surprised by the interest of the defensive coordinator of the Dolphins, Josh Boyer.

Kohou was hoping to be drafted. But Kohou had played at Division II Texas A&M-Commerce and hadn't even played varsity high school football until his senior year.

Yet Boyer wanted Kohou to know he believed in his talent. And so Boyer stayed in contact with the cornerback, paving the way for him to sign as an undrafted free agent.

"He knows defensive backs," Kohou said in the locker room after Miami's final preseason game. "I think he loves everything about defensive back play. He loves to talk about it."

Kohou entered training camp as a long shot. Boyer didn't care. Everyone gets an equal shot at evaluation, which makes sense consider Boyer himself once coached at Division II Bryant and NAIA South Dakota Mines.

He does not care where you come from. He does not care where you played. All Boyer cares about is — can you play?

On Tuesday, Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel and general manager Chris Grier held a news conference to discuss the initial 53-man roster. It included Kohou.

"The jump in level of play is real," McDaniel said. "But he, from the onset, let it be known through his play that this was not too big of a stage for him."

In the locker room late Saturday night, Kohou was recalling how he didn't have a college offer and resorted to direct messaging a Texas A&M coach who was looking for players.

"He said he wanted dawgs," Kohou said. "So I reached out."

Kohou moved to America at 9, not speaking English, only French. His family moved here from Ivory Coast, where the football is not oblong at all.

Yet what Boyer saw from the first practice was a dogged competitor, a player who learned from his mistakes and made aggressive, fearless plays on the ball.

After all, what did Kohou have to lose? Nobody expected him to make it.

A few strides away from Kohou on Saturday night was Elijah Campbell, who can play safety and cornerback and excels on special teams.

Campbell actually played 131 snaps for the Dolphins last season.

That's 131 on special teams. And zero on defense.

Yet Campbell, another Boyer discovery, was the only Dolphin to record an interception this preseason. He returned one for a touchdown against the Eagles on Saturday.

"I had outside leverage," Campbell said. "I raised my hands and the rest is history."

Campbell, a Minnesota native, played his college ball at Iowa Western, Northern Illinois and Northern Iowa.

Campbell played for the Birmingham Iron of the AAF in 2019.

Campbell played for the DC Defenders of the XFL in 2020.

Campbell made Miami's initial 53-man roster for the 2022 season. In the locker room Saturday night, he was asked who he'd call first if he made it.

"Oh, gotta be the wife," Campbell said. "Gotta be the wife. And then obviously the family. We got a whole group message. So just hit up everybody. It'd be a long day and phone calls for sure."

When Campbell signed with the Dolphins in September of last year, this reporter jokingly asked Boyer if he had watched every AAF and XFL snap of Campbell's career.

But it was no joke. Of course Boyer had.

Nobody watches more film. Boyer will watch tape of any player in any league in America. The guy craves film like a fat kid craves cake.

Earlier this summer, Dolphins defensive back Eric Rowe (drafted to play cornerback and converted to safety) recalled that Boyer flew to Utah to work him out before the draft.

This was not a typical workout, Rowe recalled. There were very specific, unique drills designed to give Boyer a feel for how Rowe might fit into the Patriots defense.

Rowe was drafted by the Eagles, but then played his next three seasons in New England. Boyer knew he liked what he saw and Rowe flourished up north.

It's no surprise that Miami's initial 53-man roster includes another Boyer discovery, former undrafted cornerback Nik Needham of UTEP.

All Needham has become is an extremely dependable NFL nickel cornerback.

"I never had a lot of stars or anything like that coming out of high school," Needham recalled in 2019. "I only played one year of varsity my senior year, so I didn’t get a lot of recruiting. My junior year we went 0-12. My senior year 1-11. Not a lot of people watched UTEP."

But Boyer did.

It's no surprise that Miami's initial 53-man roster includes Keion Crossen of tiny Western Carolina. Crossen was a seventh-round draft pick of the Patriots in 2018.

Oh, guess who New England's cornerbacks coach was that season? You guessed it. Boyer. Crossen was so good this summer he's a candidate for Dolphins defensive snaps in the first four games, which Pro Bowler Byron Jones will miss.

"He’s a good coach and gets the best out of his players," Crossen said of Boyer. "And that’s exactly what I’m looking for.”

Boyer seems to be more than a good coach. He's also a hell of a scout.

Joe Schad is a journalist at the Palm Beach Post part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at jschad@pbpost.comHelp support our journalism. Subscribe today.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Source: Miami Dolphins reach deal with DE Trey Flowers


August 28, 2022



Defensive end Trey Flowers reached agreement on a one-year contract with the Miami Dolphins, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Sunday.


Flowers, who was released by the Detroit Lions in March, had recently worked out for the Dolphins.


In 2019, the Lions made the two-time Super Bowl champion one of the richest defensive players in football with a $90 million deal over five years with $56 million guaranteed, but Flowers couldn't stay healthy over the past two seasons.


Flowers, 29, was placed on the injured reserve list in the 2020 and 2021 seasons and had just 3.5 total sacks over that two-year span. He had seven sacks in his first season with the Lions, when he played in 15 games.


Flowers is familiar with the defensive scheme employed by defensive coordinator Josh Boyer, having played in similar schemes during his first two seasons with the Lions and also four seasons with the New England Patriots. Boyer is a former Patriots defensive assistant.


Flowers had 21 sacks in his first four seasons with the Patriots. He also had 5.5 sacks in nine postseason games for the Patriots and won two Super Bowl rings with the franchise.


ESPN's Eric Woodyard contributed to this report.


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

NFL Scouts Talk Anonymously About AFC North Teams



AUG 16, 2022

What do rival scouts think of the Bengals, Ravens, Browns, and Steelers?

Just because a team finishes fourth it its division doesn't make it a bad team. That's especially true in the AFC North, perhaps the most competitive division in the NFL. The Browns are reinvigorated after adding Amari Cooper and Deshaun Watson, who will miss at least six games due to suspension, and the Ravens are welcoming back plenty of injured Pro Bowlers. Plus, the Steelers haven't had a losing season since 2003 and figure to hvae an upgrade at quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger's retirement. That's before mentioning the reigning AFC champions, the Cincinnati Bengals. All of this makes coaches' gossip about the division even more interesting.

In order to get an accurate assessment of the AFC North heading into 2022, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Ravens, Bengals, Browns, and Steelers.

Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.

Baltimore Ravens

"Lamar Jackson doesn't want to sign a new contract with the Ravens, at least not yet. I'm beginning to wonder if it even makes sense for the Ravens to sign him long-term. He's got to prove he can take them deep into the playoffs to earn the big deal. Hollywood Brown wanted out, and he got what he wanted: a trade to Arizona. Brown wasn't feeling the offense the way Greg Roman sets things up, running the football a lot. One of the reasons why Baltimore does that is because Lamar isn't a great passing quarterback. He's a great runner and a great athlete who can make big plays. There's a big difference."

"Mark Andrews doesn't get enough respect. The guy can flat-out play."

"Devin Duvernay is really solid."

"Ronnie Stanley needs to get healthy and stay healthy."

"I really like the Tyler Linderbaum pick. He reminds me of Marshal Yanda. Very tough guy."

"Having J.K. Dobbins back could get the Ravens over the top. Between him and Gus Edwards, they've got an excellent running game."

"The defense just had bad luck last year with the injuries to Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey. Between drafting Kyle Hamilton and signing Marcus Williams, this secondary is big-time."

"I think they'll trade Chuck Clark eventually."

"That was important that they re-signed Calais Campbell. He's got real leadership qualities."

"Odafe Oweh is a special young player."

"Patrick Queen hasn't lived up to his potential yet."

"There hasn't been a kicker like Justin Tucker. Ever."

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Bears Cling to Hope for Signing


Linebacker Roquan Smith requested a trade after contract negotiations have stalled with the Bears but GM Ryan Poles has other ideas.


aUGUST 9, 2022

Bears GM Ryan Poles holds out hope of signing linebacker Roquan Smith even though the team's linebacker star has requested a trade.

"Right now my intentions are to sign Roquan to this team," Poles said after Bears Family Fest practice Tuesday at Soldier Field. "And we're going to take it day-by-day. At the end of the day we've got to do what's best for this organization. But my intentions are to make sure Roquan Smith's on this team."

Smith was asking for a trade because attempts at talks have stagnated without a serious offer from the Bears.

"Unfortunately the new front office regime doesn't value me here," Smith said in a letter on Twitter through NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. "They've refused to negotiate in good faith, every step of the journey has been 'take it or leave it.'

"The deal sent to me is one that would be bad for myself and for the entire LB market if I signed it.' "

Rapoport tweeted that Smith claims the Bears want him to take de-escalator clauses in the contract that would lessen his pay if he failed to hit specific marks.

"I've been trying to get something done that's fair since April, but their focus has been on trying to take advantage of me," Smith said in the letter.

The Bears plan to use Smith as a we'ak side linebacker in their new 4-3 scheme under coach Matt Eberflus, and he did practice all offseason before he got to camp and decided not to participate on the field. He is attending meetings and is at practices on the sidelines in a "hold-in."

Despite issuing his letter and accusations on Tuesday, he was with the team at Soldier Field watching practice on the sidelines.

"I'll double down on what I've said before: My feelings for Roquan haven't changed at all," Poles said. "I think he's a very good football player. I love the kid. I love what he's done on the field, which makes me really disappointed with where we're at right now.

"I thought we'd be in a better situation, to be completely honest with you."

Poles said the fact Smith does not have an agent makes a deal tougher to achieve.

"It's difficult," Poles said. "There's emotions involved and it's tough. It's a very unique situation that we've had to deal with and I thought we've done a pretty good job, which again that's why I'm a little disappointed we're at this spot."

Coach Matt Eberflus said he speaks almost daily with Smith, even though Matthew Adams is currently taking all the plays at weak side linebacker with starters.

"There's few things that surprise you," Eberflus said. "You take it for what it is and you move forward, and that's what you do. So I really didn't have any reaction. I was disappointed in that but that's where it is right now.

"We're working forward. Ryan's going to be working forward with Roquan, and we'll see where it goes."

Eberflus said he isn't worried about the situation affecting team morale.

Players are trying to stay out of the fray.

"I mean, he's one of the best players in the NFL," new Bears tackle Riley Reiff said. "I've played against him, how many years now, and just what he brings, the leader, the type of guy he is in the locker room, we want him here."

Reiff said he didn't know why lack of an agent should stop a deal from being struck.

"Yeah, I mean, I've known a lot of guys that have done their own contracts," he said. "More power to them. I have an agent. I have a great agent, Neil Cornrich, but some guys take that on and some guys can handle it."

Smith suggested perhaps the McCaskey family could get involved "...and maybe they can salvage this, but as of right now I don't see a path back to the organization I truly love," he said.

Poles was not going into contract talk specifics, the way Smith did in the statement on Twitter.

"In terms of our philosophy in the front office, I've always believed and always will that we take care of our homegrown talent," Poles said. "We pay them, we take care of them and we take everyone for what they've done and what they can become in the future. And with this situation, we've showed respect from a very early timeframe and with that said, there's record-setting pieces of this contract that I thought was going to show him the respect that he deserves, and obviously that hasn't been the case."

Coach Matt Eberflus has called the position Smith plays in the defense critical, but tries not to be involved in talk between the organization and players beyond letting them know they're needed on the field.

"I mean it’s documented in the defense that’s the position, right?" Eberflus said. "That’s one of the positions, that, the three technique, outside pass rushers, nickel. Those guys are all very important to us, and that Will position is a cog to that."

 Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven


Friday, August 12, 2022

How Pep Hamilton is putting his stamp on the Houston Texans’ offense and impacting Davis Mills’ progression

By Aaron Wilson

August 11, 2022

Pep Hamilton is holding an in-depth conversation while meeting virtually with a group of coaches in Los Angeles from his office at NRG Stadium.


The topics flow quickly during the fifth annual NFL Quarterback Coaching Summit as the Houston Texans’ offensive coordinator breaks down his offensive philosophy, teaching what he believes in about how to attack defenses and exploit their weaknesses.


Among the nuances Hamilton emphasized during a teaching session that included Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, and San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans: Explosive plays and what’s their common denominator, best offensive and worst offensive games, the reason behind those performances, to identifying and dissecting defensive schemes.


Pep Hamilton breaks down the game within the game


“Do they always match personnel?” Hamilton shares with the group. “Carry or spot drop? Cut crossers. Cover Zero. Pressure issues, base down and distance. Biggest strengths and weaknesses. Tip: What things can you clue in on to give you a good idea of what you’re getting? Corners’ strengths and weaknesses.


“Third down. Blitz issues? Red zone: Where does it change from the open field? What does their Zero look like and when to expect it? Red-zone identity. Touchdown common denominators. Fourth down, two-point play, backed up passes, best route to run on each guy, double move, game plan.”


It’s a window into how Hamilton sees the game and instructive to how he’s putting his imprint on the Texans’ offense after being promoted from passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach by head coach Lovie Smith.


A former head coach and general manager of the DC Defenders in the XFL, Hamilton, 47, coached retired Colts quarterback Andrew Luck as an offensive coordinator, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert as his position coach, was the Cleveland Browns’ associate head coach, and a quarterbacks coach for the New York Jets, Chicago Bears, and 49ers. At the college level, Hamilton has worked at Stanford as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and at the University of Michigan as an assistant head coach and passing game coordinator.


For Hamilton, it’s all about using all of the information and resources he can supply to teach and inform his players to formulate an effective game plan and strategy to score points and create a balanced, unpredictable variety of play-calling while protecting the football.


“It’s important that we have information that we can present to our players,” Hamilton said during the summit. “We’re looking at some of the games where they really had their way against their opponent defensively. You’re always assessing the strengths and weaknesses of not just their scheme, but also their players. Why are they better against certain schemes and certain teams as opposed to others? The first cutup we typically watch is an explosive-plays cutup. What you’ll find out during the course of a season is that if there’s a similar pattern of the types of plays that give them problems there may be something in their scheme or in their rules we can attack.


“Getting a sense of a team, the personality of the team, where they are with the current state of their team is a big part of our process. The defensive coordinator, it’s very important we understand their temperament. It’s also important we understand and know historically the schemes and systems he’s been a part of so we can try to anticipate as much as we possibly can what their tendencies are going to be. We’ll do a thorough investigation of the defensive coordinator we’re facing and hone in on what we feel like he’s known for. The defensive identity, the raw data, and the film, it should all correlate to put into compartments based on the tendencies and what you’ve learned by studying them.”


The NFL selected Hamilton as presenter for a reason.


Credit: Bears Wire – USA Today


Hamilton’s background with Andrew Luck and Justin Herbert should reflect on Davis Mills


It’s because of his knowledge and acumen and a background working with successful quarterbacks, including Luck and Herbert, a Pro Bowl passer.


Now, it’s Hamilton’s job to kick-start a Texans offense from a 4-13 squad a year ago that was one of the least productive in the NFL. Houston finished 30th in scoring, last in total offense and rushing offense, and 28th in passing offense.


The few bright spots were the consistent threat of star wide receiver Brandin Cooks and the late-season potential flashed by second-year starting quarterback Davis Mills. Many NFL general managers have indicated that Mills would have been a lock to go in the first round this year had he not declared early for the 2021 NFL draft.


Hamilton is tasked as the architect of an offense that needs to significantly upgrade the running game with new backs Marlon Mack and Dameon Pierce, establish imposing wide receiver Nico Collins as a strong complementary presence to Cooks, and improve the pass protection for Mills. Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil is back from thumb surgery that sidelined him last season, and Tytus Howard is back to his natural right tackle spot.


With a low-key, introspective personality and a studious approach, Hamilton has built a strong rapport with Mills and the other offensive players.


“Pep is the same person every day,” said Mills, who statistically was the second-best rookie quarterback last season behind Mac Jones. “He’s very unique, and I think the control of the offensive unit he has right now is amazing. I’m really excited to see what he can do in year two calling the plays.”


Hamilton isn’t inclined toward making predictions, or bold statements about players’ potential. He stays immersed in his work: finding ways to get the offense on track and develop Mills.


“Well, it’s our offense, and, as we’ve said from the beginning, it’s about our ability to put our playmakers in a position to make plays,” Hamilton said. “It has nothing to do with anything else. It’s our job to score at least one more point than the opponent, but ultimately you score points by getting the ball to the right guys, and we have the right guys.


“I feel like it’s really important that our players embrace what it is that we’re doing. Ultimately, the players, the playmakers, are going to facilitate whatever scheme we come up with as coaches. And they’ll do a great job of working to be the best version of themselves


How Hamilton is developing Mills


Mills’ development is Hamilton’s big-picture project.


At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Mills is a big, strong traditional pocket passer with enough mobility to throw on the run. He went 2-9 as a starter in 11 starts and 13 games played overall as a rookie, completing 66.8% of his throws for 2,664 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions for an 88.8 passer rating.


Mills — with the exception of a few practices — has had an encouraging training camp. He has displayed chemistry and timing, especially with Cooks, Collins, and tight end Pharaoh Brown. The way Mills gets the football out of his hand and reads the defense appears sharper and more certain. He’s had greater command of the offense and organized several informal workouts this offseason, including one at his high school in Atlanta where he was a blue-chip recruit and another in Portland, Oregon, where Cooks lives in the offseason.


In the final four games of the season, Mills completed 68.9% of his throws to go 2-2 in the final month of his rookie year. During that span, he passed for 927 yards, eight touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 106.1 passer rating.


He had 12 touchdowns with one interception in eight home games at NRG Stadium overall and four games with 100+ passer ratings, including a 141.7 mark in a loss to Jones and the Patriots.


“We feel like he’s playing faster, and that’s really just processing information as you drop back as opposed to just saying, ‘Okay, what happened pre-snap is the determining factor in where we start,’” Hamilton said. “You’ve got to be able to make post-snap reads, and we’ll continue working on that, but that’s something that I feel like he’s improving that.”


Texans hope to build a better running game


The Texans were tied for last in the NFL in rushing touchdowns last season with just eight scores on the ground. They averaged a league-low 3.4 yards per carry and gained just 1,422 rushing yards overall. Rex Burkhead, who was re-signed, led the Texans with just 427 rushing yards and three touchdowns.


The Texans have hope that Mack — a former 1,000-yard rusher with the Colts — who tore his Achilles two seasons ago, can regain his old form, and that Pierce, an aggressive, downhill-style player from Florida, can energize the running game in a way that didn’t happen last year.


“Dameon Pierce has a chance to be an explosive playmaker for us,” Hamilton said. “But first and foremost, good running backs in this league have to be able to play without the ball. So that transition from college football to the NFL, I think the largest curve is just understanding NFL protections, and he’ll continue to work on that throughout training camp.”


A year ago, the Texans didn’t have an offense that regularly challenged defenses. That’s not something that Hamilton shies away from. It is his job to anticipate problems, fix them, and create an offense that’s capable of moving the football and finding the end zone.


“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to atone for some of the things that happen over the course of last season. To be able to go out and show that we can play at a high level of football more consistently,” Hamilton said. “We had times where we played good football offensively, but there were times also where we tended to make mistakes and create issues for ourselves. Myself and the rest of our of staff have been charged with this duty of making sure we put players in the best position to be successful.”


Hamilton draws praise from players


As the replacement for former offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, Hamilton is being discussed by players for his creativity and confidence. There’s a lot of energy at camp, and the offense has had its moments where it’s clicking and in sync.


“You know, it’s been great, got a lot of respect for Pep,” said Cooks, who signed a two-year, $39.6 million extension this offseason after catching a team-high 90 passes for 1,037 yards and six touchdowns on 134 targets last season.


“Pep’s seen a lot of ball, with a lot of great players. To be able to feed off him and learn from him and the offenses he’s been in before was helpful for me and to be able to have that feedback for one another has been great.”


During practice sessions, Hamilton is orchestrating his philosophy and finding ways to get the football to the Texans’ skill players. He’s in constant conversation with Mills, huddling with him after plays to discuss the defense and his decisions.


“Pep is a smart guy,” Brown said. “He puts us in a lot of good situations and it’s just building on top of that. In the red zone, I caught the fade just one-on-one with a small corner. Today, we came back and hit him with a slant. So now that road is growing, being able to flex out and take advantage of little, small defensive backs.”


The tight ends have been a large part of every offense Hamilton has been a part of previously, and there’s expected to be an uptick in targets for them this season.


“I love it, I’m excited,” Brevin Jordan said. “Everywhere Pep has been, it shows that the tight ends are very valuable in his offense. So, just tune in.”


Trying to put his stamp on an offense in transition


The Texans averaged just 16.5 points per game last season. Working with an offensive staff that includes receivers coach and passing game coordinator Ben McDaniels, running backs coach Danny Barrett, offensive line coach George Warhop and tight ends coach Tim Berbenich (his former colleague with the Colts), Hamilton is optimistic about the Texans’ offense this season.


“We have a depth of experience, but a diverse group of coaches with regards to our backgrounds,” Hamilton said. “Having the opportunity to go back and coached college football as well as the time that I spent in the XFL, it gave us a good outlook, a different outlook on different ways to really stress the opponent. So, we’ll see. We’ll see when it gets to game day.”


“Pep has full control of how he wants to do this,” McDaniels said. “He’s done a great job of preparing us as coaches and players to play effectively within the system. We’re excited to continue to roll through that process.”


Brings ‘energy and juice’


The Texans need to build a more effective running game to keep defenses honest and execute play-action plays. Mills averaged 7.2 air yards to rank 28th overall last season.

Toward creating more explosive plays, Hamilton believes in a lot of information-sharing and a collaborative approach by listening to players and coaches’ feedback.


“Really it’s all about the players and where they are with regards to having a good sense of the foundation of what it is that we want to do,” Hamilton said. “We have constant dialogue with our guys. In our meetings, we treat our meetings as dialogue sessions.


“Open discussions about not only our system, but we’re open to ideas that the players may have at times and how we can best feature their talent. It’s all about the players. It’s all about what they know. We want them to be able to go out and play fast.”


The outlook for the offense is surrounded by a lot of optimism. The results will tell the story about how effective Hamilton’s playbook and personnel are performing. The early signs, though, are encouraging, and players are upbeat.


“I think Pep brings a lot of energy and juice to the offense,” Texans veteran center Justin Britt said. “Good mixture of run and pass and aggression. Without giving anything away really, it’s going to be a fun year. The playbook is exciting, and it all makes sense, and it’s crystal clear, and it gives us a chance to go out there and execute at the highest level.”


Aaron Wilson is the NFL Insider for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Mel Tucker kick-started a college football contract surge, and Jim Harbaugh got left out

Published on August 8, 2022, 8:05 AM

Michigan State's Mel Tucker is now one of college football's highest paid coaches, a distinction Michigan's Jim Harbaugh used to have. (JoAnne Coughlin Walsh | Advance Local illustration)

By Matt Wenzel and Aaron McMann

“I am told that there are some very influential people inside LSU who are really, really high on Mel Tucker.”

One of college football’s top jobs was just about to open and FOX’s Bruce Feldman reported Michigan State’s head coach was being bandied about as the replacement.

Mel Tucker had Michigan State off to a 7-0 start, and ties to Baton Rouge. That October weekend, Ed Orgeron was dismissed by LSU and, within a month, Tucker became the Spartans’ $95 million dollar man.

The chain reaction reverberated across the sport.

LSU promised Brian Kelly $100 million over 10 years and he bolted a Notre Dame team still in playoff contention. Ten years and $80 million for Mario Cristobal to leave Oregon for Miami, while James Franklin landed a 10-year, $75 million extension just to stay at Penn State. Private school USC certainly threw a boatload of cash at Lincoln Riley, but all are now looking up at Kirby Smart. Just last month, the Georgia coach agreed to a new 10-year deal with an average annual salary of over $11 million.

Boards of Trustees at Power Five schools are forking over millions to keep up in the arms race that is the billion-dollar business of college football.

“They just literally lose rational thought,” said Richard Southall, a professor and the director of the College Sport Research Institute at the University of South Carolina. “It’s not irrational but it’s not rational either.”

Rivalry wins, conference championships, bowl games and playoff appearances. All easily can be justification for huge contracts, from the school’s perspective. There’s also competition within it all. Not surprisingly, Tucker sitting alone top the Big Ten salary list didn’t even last an entire offseason. Ohio State’s Ryan Day, with his 34-4 career record, signed an extension in May.

But over in Ann Arbor, Jim Harbaugh had just taken a big pay cut before the 2021 season. And despite leading Michigan to a Big Ten championship and the College Football Playoff, the coach who was once the sport’s highest paid no longer has a seat amongst the top 10.

With the backing of Michigan State alumni, Mel Tucker quickly landed a record-setting new contract.

The Spartans were just 2-5 in the pandemic-altered 2020 season and had massive roster turnover via the transfer portal but were one of the nation’s surprise teams in 2021. That included a second win for Tucker over Michigan, the first time in Michigan State’s program history a new coach had started 2-0 against the rival Wolverines.

The $95 million contract, which is fully guaranteed, is the third largest ever given to a college football coach by a public university, behind Smart at Georgia ($112.5 million) and Kelly at LSU. The $9.5 million annual salary for 2022 ties Tucker with Kelly and Day for No. 3 nationally behind Smart ($10.25 million) and Alabama’s Nick Saban ($9.9 million), who has won six national championships.

“He’s got a good agent,” Southall said of Tucker, who is represented by Neil Cornrich. “And who want to be the AD that lets him go? Nobody has any incentive. Fans are so adamant that it’s almost a badge of honor that Michigan State has to pay its coach near what Michigan (does) or more than Michigan.”

Cornrich didn’t respond to an interview request from MLive for this story.

Life moves fast. Tucker was coming off his first season as a head coach at Colorado when Michigan State hired him to replace the recently-retired Mark Dantonio. Tucker’s initial annual salary ($5.5 million) was $1.2 million more than Dantonio, the program’s all-time winningest coach, made in his final season.

After Michigan State’s Board of Trustees officially approved Tucker’s contract on Dec. 17, university president Samuel Stanley lauded Tucker’s rapid turnaround to an 11-2 2021 season and top-10 national ranking. He also cited the “unprecedented increases in alumni and fan support, donor support.”

“I think that it’s a game-changer,” said Tywan Martin, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology and sports sciences at the University of Miami. “I think that (the contract) expresses and shows Michigan State’s level of commitment, their willingness to make sure that they secure a talented African American coach in this case. I think that this helps to put Michigan State in the national spotlight when you make a huge commitment like this. For it to be someone who is from a community that has been historically underserved and not given opportunities to lead a major Power Five program like Michigan State, I think it takes a lot of commitment, a lot of courage.”

Tucker’s deal at Michigan State is funded in part by a pair of wealthy alumni, Mat Ishbia and Steve St. Andre. It’s unclear how much they contributed, but they were instrumental in making the contract happen at a time in which Tucker was one of the hottest coaches in the nation and rumored to be drawing interest for other jobs.

Michigan State in February 2021 announced a $32 million donation from Ishbia to athletics – the largest single cash commitment from an individual donor in university history – with $20 million earmarked for renovating the football facilities. In November, the university revealed a $10 million donation from Greg and Dawn Williams for the project.

Martin believes private donors funding a contract extension is all “value-add,” especially for a Michigan State athletic department that has a self-sustaining budget. He noted how success in sports can benefit the entire university through a surge in applications and the ability to be even more selective in which students are accepted.

“As great as many programs are at Michigan State, I know that there are a lot of wonderful academic programs, they do not get the attention of what football gets every Saturday in the fall,” Martin said. “They’re not on TV, they’re not running up and down the field. It is probably the biggest marketing arm for the university. As a result, you have someone in place to help lead that marketing campaign, that being the head coach.”

Jim Harbaugh won his first Big Ten title last fall, but has slid down the conference's rankings in terms of annual salary.

Harbaugh: From top dog to out of Top 10

In December 2014, Harbaugh was the right person at the perfect time to help resurrect Michigan’s football program, and the school paid him handsomely for it. A seven-year, $40 million contract that included a $2 million signing bonus and promise of a deferred compensation package.

Right away in 2015, Harbaugh was college football’s highest-paid coach.

Michigan later tacked on a $2 million-per-year life insurance policy Harbaugh could withdraw from. It effectively made him a $7 million-per-year coach, keeping him near the top of the coaches salary list for his first couple of seasons. He ultimately topped out north of $8 million in 2019.

“Everyone compares themselves to others, and it’s the high-dollar ones everyone benchmarks,” says law professor Matt Mitten, executive director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University. “If Nick Saban is making X amount and he’s the best coach, and I’m No. 5, I should be at least here. There’s always a little bit of ego involved when you get to that level.”

Even before fall 2020, Harbaugh’s ego had taken a bit of a hit. No Big Ten championship trophies or wins over rival Ohio State. Then then worst season of his tenure – a 2-4 record, a team was ravaged by injuries and canceled game against the Buckeyes that likely averted further disaster.

Harbaugh cleaned house, hiring a new defensive coordinator and five new assistants, and later signed a five-year contract extension packed with incentives but only guaranteeing $4 million per year. It was a massive pay cut. If Harbaugh wanted to recoup the money he lost, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel subtly declared, he needed to deliver results.

The Wolverines, in perhaps one of the more improbable seasons in recent history, did just that. Michigan pounded its way to a 7-0 start in 2021 and finished the regular season 11-1 after a euphoric win over Ohio State.

During the lead up to Michigan’s Orange Bowl game against Georgia, Harbaugh was asked about the pay cut and his subsequent decision to donate bonus money earned back to athletic department employees impacted during the pandemic. “It’s just money,” he said.

The comments drew plenty of headlines and left one to wonder if Harbaugh had lost some leverage despite Michigan winning the Big Ten and being in the College Football Playoff.

A pay raise came in February following an NFL flirtation, as Harbaugh signed a new five-year, $36 million deal. That restored him to his $7 million-per-year figure but nowhere near that old No. 1 spot. Harbaugh, who does not have an agent and represents himself, is now behind the likes of Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin in annual salary.

“New coaches, up-and-coming coaches, this that, they find out what this agent got for his client,” Southall said. “There’s not a lot of them and they’re the ones that set the market. The presidents and the athletic director are not trained negotiators.”

Big Ten football coaches salaries heading into the 2022 season.

Surviving in a competitive market

More than seven years after he returned to Ann Arbor, Harbaugh finds himself in a college football coaching world more lucrative than ever before. The reason? It’s three-pronged, says Rodney Fort, professor of sport management at the University of Michigan.

“What they are doing is going up in value,” Fort said. “Competition makes (coaches) extremely mobile, and that mobility also means that they get it because they share the excess value that athletes create. And that adds up to lots and lots of money.”

Although the amount being committed by universities is increasing, long-term deals aren’t new.

Just seven games into his tenure at Notre Dame, coach Charlie Weis signed a 10-year extension in 2005 but was fired four years later. Clemson gave coach Dabo Swinney a 10-year, $93 million extension in 2019, but that was a decade into leading the program and winning two national titles. Texas A&M used a 10-year, $75 million contract to pull Jimbo Fisher away from Florida State in 2017 and on the eve of the 2021 season added four years to the deal and increased to value to $94 million.

Although COVID-19 wreaked havoc on athletic department budgets across the nation, lucrative TV contracts still funnel millions to universities. The Big Ten’s media rights deal runs through 2022-23 and the conference could net at least $1 billion a year on the next package, according to a report by Sports Business Journal. With even more money flooding the market, it seems unlikely coaching salaries are going to be scaled back anytime soon.

Tucker’s fully guaranteed deal at Michigan State runs through the 2031 season. Harbaugh’s now signed through 2026. But those are just numbers, and contracts are torn up every offseason. For those keeping score, this is a different type of contest.

“There’s a reason why Monopoly is still a popular boardgame,” Southall said, “because everybody loves playing with money.”

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