Coach-Firing = Security

The big news in the sports world these days concerns the annual orgy of college-football-coach-firings, though it’s been displaced, at least temporarily, by the “Tiger Woods Affair” involving the golfer’s strange non-golf-course-driving vis-a-vis his favorite Cadillac, to wit, crashing it out of bounds into both a fire-plug and a tree, thus making all the dogs in his neighborhood wary of his property and probably furious about the whole thing. It’s no small matter that his wife took a club (a three-iron would do nicely) and busted out both rear windows while practicing her swing at 2:30 a.m.

The police have been thwarted in all their efforts to find out exactly what happened, but the answer is quite simple, though just a rumor. The president, certain that the police have acted stupidly, suggested to Treasury Secretary Geithner that he should inform Attorney General Holder that Tiger was just like AIG – too big to fail – whereupon U.S. Marshals were sent to Orlando to see that the “Tiger-tale” would be either unavailable or spun into an action making him notable enough to become ABC News person-of-the-week for not actually breaking the fire-plug and thus flooding his whole neighborhood. Thus endeth the lesson involving “L’affaire”...or at least the one involving the car.

Big-time NCAA coaches have either purposely hit upon a plan to set themselves up for life, or university presidents and athletic directors are too dumb to recognize talent (or non-talent), or recruitment-gone-south has saddled coaches with players who perhaps belong in trade-schools instead of shoulder pads until they graduate to the National Football League or to similar outfits in other countries such as Spain, where watching quarterbacks knocked senseless is almost as gratifying as watching bull-stabbings.

In the case of the first suggestion above, check out Al Groh, just fired at Virginia and paid $4.33 million to go fishing. Or, take the case of Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe, who is pulling down a cool $2.2 million for the privilege of being fired and going job-hunting during the recession. Earlier this year, Billy Gillispie, the Kentucky basketball coach, collected $3 million from the University of Kentucky to be put out on the street and take his chances, with another $245,000 to his lawyers. It’s a cruel world out there for ex-coaches and their lawyers.

In a recent case, that of the firing of football coach David Elson at Western Kentucky, the financial profligacy is glaring. Elson signed a contract extension last January that named him the coach through 2016 – that’s just last January. He’s already been fired by the same guy, athletic director Wood Selig, who gave him that extension...and just a paltry $500,000 to be fired. The team has lost every game, not surprising at least in conference-play for its first year in the premier top-tier NCAA Division I, putting it in the company of such teams as Alabama and Florida, the best in the nation. The knee-jerk reflex was simply to fire the coach, not the athletic director for having a mind obviously on vacation or maybe entirely off the reservation. That half-a-mil is taxpayer money. Western does not pay its way...not by a long shot.

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, who hired Kragthorpe, said “It just didn’t seem like the right fit from Day One.” Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart, who hired Gillispie, said that Billy just wasn’t a good “fit.” Properly translated, these statements mean that both Jurich and Barnhart are “bad fits” and should be fired and forced to make restitution for the millions they’ve cost their universities. But, just as with the failed banks, these coaches and athletic directors have been given huge bonuses for failing. Both Barnhart and Jurich should be at least in the $600,000 per year range with a couple cars furnished, along with country club memberships and all the rest. Their boards of trustees are occupied by turnips.

Perhaps the latest of the elite is Charlie Weis, hired by Notre Dame in 2004, given an extension in 2005 worth perhaps $30-40 million to last through 2015, and – yep – just fired. Unless he allowed the ND brass to bamboozle him, he’s probably good for at least $15 million for the privilege of heading back to a coaching job in the NFL, from whence he came. Maybe Weis just wasn’t a good fit. Or, there’s Phillip Fulmer, longtime coach at Tennessee until last year, when the university paid him a cool $6 million for the privilege of being “sacked” – get it – SACKED, just like his quarterbacks too many times. Yeah, he was a bad fit! He only won 152 out of 254 games (a mere 60%), two conference titles and a national title.

A big deal is being made now of the $500,000 the University of Kentucky athletic department (separate entity from academia, of course, a huge business) is awarding the university for non-athletic scholarships, about 33 at $15,000 a pop. The football team gets 83 every year. Since the middle 90s, the university has awarded $4,845,000 to coaches (one basketball, two football) for the privilege of getting rid of them. That money would have meant 323 more scholarships at today’s price, much greater than 15 years ago, but it went down the drain and bought nothing. The only thing for a coach to do that’s better than coaching is – yep – getting himself fired. The students can eat cake.