Whatever happens with this Mack Brown and Texas situation, the whole paradigm of coaching salaries is going to shift

On surface, this whole Mack Brown thing at Texas seems like a total f’n disaster. Everyone knows the basic details, but to quickly summarize: it appears, and it could be wrong because we never completely know what happens in back rooms, that UT-Austin tried to force Brown out and make an end run at Nick Saban, who has won three of the last four national championships. It flopped — Saban claims it never happened — and now it looks like Brown will remain the coach at Texas. The actual report is more like this:

If his future is up to him, it’s actually somewhat ironically in line with what Saban said in his remarks after signing an extension with Alabama. Mack Brown has had a rough run these last few years — if you take out games against Kansas and Iowa State, he’s 12-16 vs. the Big 12 over the past half-decade or so, and Texas (which should always be a top-five recruiting class) is down at No. 11 for recruits for ’14 — but given how long he’s been there, and that he did deliver a BCS Championship in a game literally no one thought he could win, he should be able to write his own exit. I do agree with that. Pride has definitely become an issue, but a body of work should allow you certain liberties in terms of how you go out. I think Brown earned that. There are much better reads on all this, from guys smarter than I by leaps and bounds, here and here. (And remember — if Colt McCoy doesn’t get hurt in Saban’s first title game with Alabama, Mack Brown might have two BCS Championships, including one only a few years ago. Would we still be panting to get him out of there then?)

The bigger issue here for me, and probably for society, is that eventually (whether it’s next week or next year or in three years), Mack Brown will leave Texas, and someone is going to replace him — and that’s going to shift the entire paradigm of coaching salaries. There were rumors floating around (not sure of the pedigree of ’em) that Saban’s potential haul in Austin could have been 10 years/$100 million/stake in the Longhorn Network. If you know how to do basic division, that means he’d be making $10 million a year. Most remarkable about that: the first-ever million dollar coach was back in 1982 (Jackie Sherrill at Texas A&M). Now Saban is making north of $7 million, Bret Bielama and Mack Brown make north of $5 million, another 14 coaches make $3 million or more, and 70 — seventy — coaches make over $1 million. This is at a time when colleges are laying off staff, mind you. I’m not going to go deeply down that road, as it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges (remember in The Program, where someone says “80,000 people don’t come out to see a chemistry experiment”), but check out this sequence from The Dallas Morning News:

As David Ridpath read the news Tuesday about Mack Brown’s impending departure at Texas, the Ohio University professor of sports administration flashed back to a decade-old conversation.

He and Donna Lopiano, the founder of the Women’s Sports Foundation, were discussing when they would see the first $10 million coach in college football.

“If it does happen, it will be at Texas,” Lopiano, a former Texas women’s athletic director, told him.

Phrased another way: there’s a possibility that, within 1 or 2 years, someone is going to get $10 million to coach college football. The hot name right now is James Franklin, over at Vanderbilt; purportedly he’s making $3 million per right now. College coaching carousels are a bit like Presidential elections or determining when to have a kid: you go when you’re ready. If you’re a hot prospect from a smaller school, you win 11 games, and you decide to stay … well, if you win six games the next year, no one’s really looking at you again. That’s how Urban Meyer went from Utah to Florida back in the day, and you see the same stuff every year. Here’s Vanderbilt’s 2014 schedule. We don’t know who’s coming back to all these programs, but 9-3 is realistic. If that happens and there’s a push for Brown to be out at Texas, Franklin might be ready to swoop in. That’s what Kirk Herbstreit is all about.

Think about this too: as these salaries become market-driven, there are only a few major football schools (Texas, ND, Michigan, OSU, maybe a Florida/LSU/USC type) that can afford to go north of $5 million per for a guy. Remember: in 1982, one coach made $1 million. Now 70 make that. Right now we have 17 coaches making $3 million. In 2032, could that be 75 coaches making $3 million? Then if you want the best, you need to outbid the others. The market will blow up. USC just paid (reportedly) about $3 million (a little less) for a guy that barely won consistently at U-Washington. How much crazier can this all get? (Much.)

The salaries are ridic, and they’re only going to get worse. Whatever happens with Brown, Texas, his successor, etc. is only going to drive it all that much higher. Welcome to the new reality. Expect this map to shift even more as lower-profile state schools try and pay more to keep their guys, and bidding wars ensue all over:


Ted Bauer