The amount that college coaches make is one of the better arguments against the sport being “amateur,” as the NCAA would like to suggest. With so many schools competing against each other, schools have handed out contracts with astronomical numbers, one of those being the buyout amount. Below are ten ridiculous buyouts, along with the biggest potential buyouts currently in contracts.
What Is a Buyout?
You likely already know, but if not, a buyout is how much money a school has to pay a coach if they’re fired. Every coach gets fired eventually, so a buyout is a kind of parachute for the coach and a big reason for the school to keep them employed, rather than fired. Buyouts are so routine in college football these days that they’re practically a prerequisite of a contract. Even coaches that are not highly sought after and may not currently have a job will have a multi-million dollar buyout baked into their contract.
10 Ridiculous College Coach Buyouts
Here are ten of the most ridiculous buyouts that have been paid to college coaches:
1. UCLA: Jim Mora – $12,275,000
Mora is the only coach on this list to have been previously coaching an NFL team, and UCLA paid up for the right to hire him. His contract in 2012 was modest, as far as current contracts go, as he signed a five-year deal worth $12 million. Luckily for Mora, after going just 29-24 in conference, UCLA fired him in 2017, and his buyout became worth more than his entire original contract.
2. Arizona State: Todd Graham – $12,266,667
Todd Graham went 10-3 at Tulsa in 2010 and was announced as Pitt’s head coach in 2011. But after a disappointing 6-6 regular season, Graham told his Athletic Director that he had been talking to Arizona State about a coaching position. His AD replied that he did not have permission to talk about another job. So Graham, likely looking to use leverage to get a better deal from Pitt, resigned and took the position with Arizona State.
To be fair, Graham did have success with ASU. He went to four straight bowl games starting in 2012, but his fifth and final bowl appearance was a 52-31 loss to NC State in 2017.
3. Texas A&M: Kevin Sumlin – $10,416,667
Kevin Sumlin similarly coached from 2012 to 2017 for Texas A&M and had success, but eventually, Texas A&M decided that going in a new direction was worth nearly $10.5 million.
4. Texas: Charlie Strong – $10.4 million
In 2013, Texas said goodbye to longtime head coach Mack Brown. Brown had an incredibly successful run with Texas, but after losing the 2009 National Championship game to Alabama, Texas went into a funk. In 2010, the team failed to make a bowl game for the first time in Mack’s career, and the next three years were not much better. So Brown was given the honor of resigning from his position rather than being fired. His replacement was Charlie Strong.
Texas signed Strong in January of 2014. His contract called for a base salary of $5 million with $100,000 annual raises. Strong went 6-7 in 2014, and 5-7 in both 2015 and 2016. In total, Texas paid him $25.8 million over three years to go 16-21.
5. Arkansas: Chad Morris – $10.1 million
After going 7-6 overall and just 4-4 in conference in 2017, Chad Morris was able to hoodwink the poor Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas not only signed him to a contract giving him millions of dollars a year to be their head coach, but they also handed out a $12.7 million buyout that would decrease each season. It didn’t take long for that buyout to be enforced after the 2019 season.
6. Tennessee: Butch Jones – $8,125,000
Butch Jones went just 14-24 in conference from 2013 to 2017 before Tennessee had enough.
7. Florida: Jim McElwain – $7,500,000
Jim McElwain went just 14-10 in conference with Colorado State, but that was enough to convince Florida he was the right man. After two and a half seasons, Florida paid him $7,500,000 to go away.
8. Nebraska: Mike Riley – $6,630,000
Mike Riley went 58-63 in conference from 2003 to 2014, but that was somehow enough to convince Nebraska that the old-time coach was the way to go. They paid up for their mistake.
9. Arkansas: Bret Bielema – $5,874,227
Bret Bielema had a successful career with Wisconsin, so it was reasonable to give him a modest buyout in his contract. But that doesn’t make it any easier for the school to pay a coach not to do his job.
10. Louisville: Charlie Strong – $4,375,000
Why not one more Charlie Strong buyout? Not all buyouts happen when a coach is fired. When a coach bolts for greener pastures, many times, there is an amount that the new school must pay in retribution. In addition to the $25.8 million Texas handed out to Strong, they gave Louisville $4.375 million as well.
The most ridiculous thing about these buyouts is that in every case, there was no reason to offer such a large number. For the most part, the coaches on this list were not highly sought after at the time. Only Bret Bielema had been coaching at a high level at a quality program in Wisconsin before signing his contract with Arkansas and becoming their head coach in 2013. And he received the lowest buyout of the bunch.
In each case, we are looking at the possibility of coaching a Power 5 program, jobs the coaches on this list have been dreaming of since getting their first paycheck as a football coach. These coaches would not have turned down an opportunity to be the head coach at respected programs in the SEC and Big 10, regardless of the buyout amount.
What’s even more ridiculous is that Arkansas shows up twice on this list. Chad Morris went 14-22 as the head coach of SMU before getting hired by Arkansas. Morris should have been fearing for his job as the Mustangs head coach, not negotiating an eight-figure buyout.
10 Biggest College Coach Buyouts
From lowest to highest, here are the ten biggest potential buyouts in college football:
- Virginia: Bronco Mendenhall – $17.4 million
- Texas: Tom Herman – $20.4 million
- Michigan: Jim Harbaugh – $20.6 million
- Oklahoma: Lincoln Riley – $20,833,333
- Penn State: James Franklin – $21.9 million
- Iowa: Kirk Ferentz – $22.5 million
- Alabama – Nick Saban – $30.3 million
- Washington: Chris Peterson – $30.7 million
- Florida State: Jimbo Fisher – $39.3 million
- Clemson: Dabo Swinney – $40 million