Big-time college coaches worth every penny
Mike Celizic, NBCSports.com contributor
Does anyone care to think who'd be playing in the SEC title game on Saturday if Nick Saban hadn't been on a mission to be football's answer to Larry Brown and Urban Meyer had fallen for the blandishments of Notre Dame?
It probably wouldn't be Alabama and Florida. Neither program was going anywhere before Saban ran out on the Miami Dolphins two years ago and Meyers left Utah for Florida in 2005. But even if the same two teams were in the game, without those two coaches, we wouldn't be talking about the winner being bound for the BCS championship game.
It's no secret that coaches rule in college football. It's also no secret that the best of them are making increasingly large piles of money. They're also not nearly as excited about spending decades at one school. Let's face it: We'll never see another Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden again. And as the money increases, so, too, does the likelihood that in the future we'll see even less constancy than we see now.
This isn't good news to either Florida or Alabama, which worked hard to put Meyer and Saban on their sidelines and would like to see them stay there. Both men are among the highest paid coaches in the game. Alabama gave Saban an eight-year deal worth $4 million a year when the school pried him away from the Dolphins two years ago. After Meyer won Florida a national championship in 2006, the school rewarded him with a six-year extension worth $3.2 million a year. Only Saban, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Notre Dame's Charlie Weis make more than Meyer, and you can decide for yourself who's getting good return for the money.
But regardless of whether Meyer gets to the BS title game or not, Florida is going to have to start thinking about laying even more money on him. Because if they don't, someone else will. And Alabama had better have a game plan in hand to keep Saban in Tuscaloosa, regardless of the cost.
If you can get and keep a good coach, your future is secure. We can all whine as much as we want about how much more money these guys make than the presidents of the universities, but the reality is money talks. If you want to keep a coach, you've got no choice but to make the job so lucrative he never wants to leave.
A lot of people still get annoyed by this truth. They remember the old days when coaches wanted to set down roots in a college town, become a legend and never leave. But the country was more rural in nature, travel was difficult and expensive and people had more of a sense of place back then. If you lived in Columbus, Ohio, you read the Columbus Dispatch and maybe the Cleveland Plain Dealer. You watched the three major networks on local television. There was no ESPN and you never read The New York Times or Washington Post, because there was no Internet to read them on.
Also, fifty years ago, coaching in the NFL wasn't a better job than coaching in college and most coaches, whether college or pro, didn't make more than a department head, let alone a school president. There was a difference in job security. If you were a good college coach, you were pretty much assured a job as long as you wanted it, unlike in the pros. So if you found a job at a college, you were likely to stay there, especially if you had a family. It was more secure.
Today, we're an urban nation and travel is easy. People have less of a sense of place than ever before, and celebrity is tied more to income than to accomplishment. If something better pops up on the other end of the country, you're more likely to go for it today than you would have been in 1950 or 1960.
You see it in the peripatetic nature of the business these days. Coaches, especially the younger ones, hop around a lot. Saban is 57 and has worked as an assistant coach in eight cities, and he's on his fifth head coaching job, having bailed out on both Miami and LSU before landing in Alabama.
Meyer is 44 and has made four stops as an assistant and is on his third head coaching job. And Florida is very aware that success doesn't keep a great coach around, having lost Steve Spurrier, who coached the Gators to their last title in 1996, to the pros, where he could make more money and gain more fame. When it turned out he couldn't coach in the pros, he came back to South Carolina, and if a better job - or better-paying one - pops up somewhere, he'll move on.
Florida was darned lucky to snag Meyers just a few years after Spurrier left. Alabama went from 1979, when Bear Bryant won his last title, to 1992, when Gene Stallings won one, without a championship. Then Stallings ruined it by getting nailed for NCAA violations that wiped out the results of the team's 1993 season. After he left, it took until this year and Saban for the school to return to prominence.
Given the amount of alumni and community pride that's wrapped up in college football and the revenue the sport provides for the rest of the athletic program, you can see why Alabama will probably do just about anything to keep him there.
It could backfire. Notre Dame gave Weis a 10-year contract extension worth a fortune based on half of his first season. The move wasn't as stupid as it looks. The Irish thought they had their stud coach and they did what every school had better do in that situation: They locked him up for a long time to come. They had the right idea but the wrong man.
Florida and Alabama also have the right idea - and the right men. Now all they have to do is keep them.
© 2008 NBC Sports.com
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