Wednesday, September 13, 2023

College coaches’ million-dollar buyouts: Revealing the unparalleled power shift in sports’ lucrative realm


Roughly half of all U.S. employers utilize non-competes in their contracts, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute in 2019. These companies want to exert a level of control over their employees, preventing them from "sharing confidential information or trade secrets." But another major benefit for companies is that non-competes limit employee bargaining power and suppress wages. The New York Times estimated that non-competes "suppress American workers' income by roughly 3 percent to 4 percent, or $250 billion to $296 billion."

It's rare for talent to turn the tables on employers, but in college football and college sports in general, that is precisely what has happened for coaches. OLBG explores how lucrative buyout agreements have granted coaches near-uncancellable contracts and reshaped the landscape of college sports. In the past twenty years, more and more men's college basketball and college football coaches have successfully negotiated multimillion-dollar buyouts in their contracts. Notre Dame's Charlie Weis was paid "to go away," after an unsuccessful tenure in South Bend, Indiana, 15 years ago. He was paid just shy of $19 million between 2009, when he was fired, and 2017. While his buyout made waves in 2009, it's considered buy-out pocket change for universities in 2023.

So which coaches are virtually "unfireable" today due to their buy-out clauses? Let's look at what coaches would make if they were fired today.

Two quick notes: This assumes no one on our list is fired for cause. That could get a college or university off the hook, monetarily speaking. And the second note is that this list comprises coaches from public universities only. Their contracts are publicly available, while private institutions are under no obligation to share contractual information. USC's Lincoln Riley may well have a buyout of over $90 million based on his current compensation that has been made public, but we do not have access to his buyout stipulation.

1. Kirby Smart, Georgia, Head Football Coach ($103.1 million buyout)

You can't buy the kind of job security that Kirby Smart has right now in Athens, Georgia. Smart has led the Bulldogs to back-to-back national championships. As a reward, his ten-year $112.5 million deal is fully guaranteed through 2026. His deal drops from 100% guaranteed to 85% on Jan. 1st, 2027, and would be paid out at that level through the end of the contract. Luckily, the UGA athletic department won't have to entertain the thought of firing their legendary head coach. The same can't be said for other employers on this list with massive contracts hanging like albatrosses around their necks.

2. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M, Head Football Coach ($86.7 million buyout)

The Aggies take their football seriously, so it is no surprise that they pay their head football coach handsomely. Fisher's most recent extension agreed to pay him $94.95 million over a ten-year period starting in 2022. It made sense when the Texas A&M Board of Regents voted to extend Fisher. He was coming off a 9-1 season with an Orange Bowl victory. But since then, Fisher and the Aggies are 13-11 with a losing record (6-10) in SEC play. Last fall's 5-7 mark would have gotten a lot of coaches fired, but not Fisher. His massive buyout ($86m) prevented an ouster at the time. While it has come down by another $9 million, it remains astronomical and would be the largest ever paid if A&M gave Fisher the boot following the season.

3. Mel Tucker, Michigan State, Head Football Coach ($86.6 million buyout)

Tucker's contract is fully guaranteed, according to documentation obtained by Boardroom.TV. Tucker's agent, Neil Cornrich, deserves a raise. Despite an 18-14 overall record, which includes two losing seasons in East Lansing, Tucker is entrenched as one of the sport's highest-paid coaches. He has a losing record in the Big Ten since taking over the Michigan State program, but if the school wants to move on from him, they'd have to pay his enormous buyout. Neil Cornrich 1, Michigan State 0.


This story was produced by OLBG and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.

© Stacker Media, LLC.

This story was originally published September 13, 2023, 7:30 AM.

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