UNDER THE RADAR: The Root Causes of Instability in The College Coaching Market
Coaching Market Volatility: This weekend highlighted the increased volatility of the college coaching market as Arkansas, Texas A&M, Arizona State and Nebraska joined the list of schools who'd already fired their coaches. While many have pointed to this year's new December signing day as a reason coaches are being fired more quickly there are a number of other factors that have grown over the last few years adding to that volatility.
The Money Is Too Big: The money being paid to coaches has grown exponentially. In 1994 Tennessee’s Phil Fulmer's contract became the first one to publicly disclose an annual salary in excess of $1 million. Once that seven-figure barrier was broken the flood gates opened. Today many assistant coaches make more than that. The more a coach and his agent talk about money, the more the fan base resents anything less than total success. How many times have you heard/seen or read a fan asking “Do you know how much we’re paying this guy?” And if you think the pressure is big now, just wait until the first coach breaks the 8-figure barrier.
Staff Sizes Are Too Big Part 1: With coaches demanding larger staffs to run their operations it means more and more people with access to every minor detail that could reflect poorly on a coach. Many of the fringe employees or interns enjoy the prestige of being part of the organization and are all too willing to talk to boosters or friends when things aren’t going well. Those rumors and bits of information find their way onto social media sites where they take on a life of their own and take on the aura of truth.
Staff Sizes are Too Big Part 2: With the explosive growth of college football support staffs, it places more pressure on the budgets of college athletic departments. Each staff member adds salary/benefit costs. Football buildings need more office space to house the increased staff. While big-time college football is still profitable, the profit margins are falling. The best way to boost profit margins is to win and if that lags the financial pressure is a very real consideration.
The College Football Playoff and Conference Championship Games: If you’re not in one or both, your fan base is not happy.
Team Owners: With the financial pressures facing athletic departments, there is an addiction-like dependency on booster money. While a booster who may be worth $100 million dollars can’t even begin to sniff at owning an NFL team, that booster can parlay a tax-deductible multi-million dollar gift into access, leverage and input to a high-profile college football team. Boosters are given exclusive access to practices, to signing day events and stand on the sidelines at games. Every athletic director will take their calls. Look deeper at almost every recent firing and you’ll see the smoke of booster fires set by people who feel their donations entitle them to have a say in how the team is run.
Buyouts--Money Talks: No matter how big a coach’s buyout clause may be, there is often a booster willing to write that check. Once the school takes that check they give that booster a say in who comes next. Boosters don't write those big checks without a strong opinion on who they want to see in that job. (Their opinions are generally formed by what they see and hear in the media).
This Ain’t The Pros: In the NFL coaches are dealing with grown men who are paid professionals. College Football requires at least 4-5 years to really recruit a class of freshmen who will learn the values and expectations of your program and as seniors pass it on to the younger players. Also, unlike pro football, in college you can't make trades and sign established veteran free agents to make your team better in a hurry.
Your Market Outlook--Expect Continued Volatility: Because of the big money, the input of boosters and impatient fans who can find each other and organize on social media we are in an extremely volatile college football coaching market. Expect these trends to remain for the foreseeable future.