Across the college football world, a head coach’s job used to come with what seemed like a four-year, automatic tenure.
As big money contracts continue to escalate in revenue sports for universities, head coaches across the country are seeing their “grace” periods cut short.
Akron fired Rob Ianello (2-22), Kansas fired Turner Gill (5-19) and Memphis axed Larry Porter (3-21) this year; all after hiring them to turn around programs just two years ago.
In the the six years prior to this one, three head coaches total had been fired after two seasons.
With the University of Minnesota showing such commitment with a seven-year contract to Jerry Kill, it’s unlikely he’ll follow suit in the two-and-done trend.
“We believe strongly in the values, integrities, ethics and coaching ability of Jerry Kill,” athletics director Joel Maturi said. “That’s why we wanted to make a statement to him, his staff and our fans that we’re going to stand by this guy.”
His tumultuous first season included a 3-9 record, embarrassing home losses against nonconference opponents North Dakota State and New Mexico State and a very public seizure at the end of a Sept. 10 game.
But while enduring his seizure disorder, Kill did not miss a single game. He also got himself a new contract through February 2018 and earned a dedicated following by delivering emotional victories against Iowa and Illinois at home.
“He should definitely get four years,” University sophomore Levi Paulson said when asked of Kill’s grace period. “The guy seems to bring the right attitude and is obviously dedicated; it just takes time.”
Despite the big contracts, programs across the country are exercising the “buyout” option when coaching prospects don’t turn out the way they would have liked.
While Kill will likely be around for more than two years, he only had to look across to the Illini’s sideline last Saturday to see firsthand a coach’s run cut short.
Illinois’ head football coach Ron Zook was fired after last Saturday’s loss to the Gophers, ending his 2011 campaign at 6-6.
After he was brought in by Illinois in December of 2004, Zook took three years to turn the dismal Illini into 2008 Rose Bowl participants and earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors for the 2007 season.
But, three mediocre years followed with six straight losses to finish his 2011 season, and the highest paid state employee in Illinois was fired.
Instead of riding with Zook for two more seasons until 2014, they opted to “buy out” his contract and get rid of him for $2.6 million.
As so much of an athletic department’s revenue relies on a couple of sports like football and men’s basketball, universities are frequently left with the decision to either buy out an often expensive contract or allow the coach to stay and continue the risk of lost revenue.
Kill’s new contract pays him $1.2 million a year and is following the national trend of increasing collegiate coaching salaries.
The average FBS head coach’s compensation in 2011 was $1.47 million, an increase of almost 55 percent since 2006, according to the USA Today.
To put it in perspective, the average salary of college professors nationally in 2008-09 was about $80,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If the University were to buy out Kill’s contract to hire someone else, it would have to pay him $600,000 for each year left on the contract.
When the University bought out Tim Brewster’s contract in 2010, it only had to spend $600,000 to axe the final three years off of his deal.
Minnesota constructed a lower buyout for Brewster when it gave him a three-year extension before the 2010 season.
Maturi calls it the “recruiting reality” — to extend or cut coaches near the end of their contracts, instead of waiting until they expire.
“When you get down to one or two years left,” Maturi said, “it is used against you in recruiting by other institutions who tell the recruits ‘that coach isn’t going to be there [all four years].’”
Just a stone’s throw south, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz earned $3.86 million last year — enough to make him the highest-paid person in Iowa and highest paid coach in the Big Ten.
In fact, four of the top-five paid people in Iowa were collegiate coaches. Iowa State University football coach Paul Rhodes was third on the list with earnings of $1.1 million in fiscal 2011.
UMN students have traveled to Florida colleges to collaborate with students on various projects.
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