Coaching contracts are some funny 40-page documents when you think about how they’re structured.
There’s a lot of focus on salaries, number of years, performance bonuses and other job perks (like Will Muschamp’s $2 million life insurance policy). But for as interesting as those numbers may be, they’re not always the most important ones.
For both parties, a crucial section of any coaching contract is the buyout clause; that is, how much the university must pay to fire a coach, or how much a coach must pay to take another job elsewhere.
Extensions can be signed and raises can be given, but the only amount that really matters when the axe starts falling is the buyout guarantee.
The ruthless and highly-competitive nature of the SEC makes buyouts especially important. So with that in mind, let’s examine how some of the conference’s coaches stack up here:
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn
Take, for instance, the contract extension Malzahn recently signed with Auburn. The new agreement lengthens Malzahn’s deal by one year (until Dec. 31, 2020) at an average annual salary of $4.725 million. That’s the exact same average salary Malzahn made under his previous contract; the only difference in terms of salary is he’s making $500,000 more in 2016-17 and $500,000 less in 2018-19. The deal is now slightly more front-loaded, as he’ll make more money sooner.
What really matters, though, is Malzahn’s buyout. The fourth-year Tigers coach sits on a blazing job chair right now after going 7-6 (2-6 SEC) last season. Yet because of the added year, which is in no way guaranteed, Malzahn’s total buyout compensation increases from roughly $6.7 to $8.95 million.
Takeaway: Auburn’s extension is silly for a number of reasons, as AL.com’s Kevin Scarbinsky eloquently explains here. From its perspective, the extra year was important to project stability to future recruits.) But the school must now pay more if Jacobs & Co. think Malzahn needs to go.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin
Like his SEC West counterpart Les Miles, Sumlin’s contract has also been the subject of heavy discussion lately.
Last December, there was a report vehemently denied by Texas A&M chancellor John Sharp that claimed Sumlin’s contract — which pays him around $5 million per year — included a $20 million buyout.
But Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples seems to have solidified that assertion, writing that Sumlin’s buyout would be $15 million “payable within 60 days” of termination if he were fired in December.
On the other side of the buyout clause, the deal gets really interesting in 2017 — assuming anyone would want to hire Sumlin away from College Station. According to NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread, Sumlin’s buyout clause is actually void once the calendar flips forward to Jan. 1. Meaning?
“Texas A&M wouldn’t get a dime if he were to leave, as long as he stays through a potential bowl appearance at the end of the 2016 season.”
Takeaway: Maybe Johnny Manziel should hand the “money” moniker over to his old college coach. Either Texas A&M fires Sumlin after an awful year and pays an exorbitant sum of money (less likely), or Sumlin skips town for a comparable or better job after a good-to-great season. It’s a win-win for Sumlin, and probably bad news for the Aggies.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops
Even if UK sends Stoops packing any time before Dec. 1, 2017, the fourth-year Wildcats coach will still earn all of his remaining salary (Mark Story, Lexington Herald-Leader).
Stoops makes $3.5 million a year and is under contract through June 2020, which means firing him now would incur a cost of almost $14 million.
So let’s just reiterate to highlight this insanity: Stoops (12-24 record as head coach) could go 4-8 this fall and Kentucky would still have to pay eight figures for him to not coach in Lexington.
Takeaway: Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart couldn’t get rid of Stoops if he wanted to, and if the Wildcats miss bowl season again this year, he’ll probably feel that way.
LSU coach Les Miles
Last November, Miles’ buyout total took center stage in the very public discussions about his job status at LSU.
The exact dollar amount the university would have to pay to fire Miles is unclear. NOLA.com — citing an anonymous source that was definitely not athletic director Joe Alleva — reported that boosters were on board with paying a ridiculous $15 million sum in order to rid the school of Miles.
USA Today reported four days later that the buyout total at the time could have been closer to $11 million.
As of last month, Staples seems to have the most up-to-date number on his books: a $12.9 million payout due over a six-year window if Miles goes before Dec. 31.
Also included in the buyout, per USA Today, is an “offset provision related to Miles’ income from other employment would remain in force throughout that period.”
Miles is scheduled to make $4.3 million annually through 2019.
Takeaway: Trying to predict what happens here is like trying to predict a Mad Hatter play call on fourth-and-1, but whatever LSU owes is probably still a crazy sum. Hold onto your seats, folks.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema
Bielema’s buyout decreases over time, but the structure is still pretty darn friendly to the Head Hog.
Arkansas would have to pay Bielema $15.4 million if he were fired before 2018, $11.7 million before 2019, $7.9 million before 2020 and $4 million in the final year of his contract, according to AP reporter Kurt Voigt.
If Bielema took another job this calendar year, he’d owe Arkansas $3 million, with that buyout steadily decreasing all the way down to $250,000 in the final year of his deal (2020).
Takeaway: The big man gets a fittingly big buyout clause. Bielema isn’t leaving Fayetteville any time soon, unless its of his own accord.
Florida coach Jim McElwain
McElwain knows all about the buyout clause after paying part of his monstrous $7.5 million buyout when leaving Colorado State for Gainesville. Florida, for its part, owes Colorado State $3 million over six years.
If Florida fired McElwain, he would be owed $2.25 million for each year left on his current six-year deal, reported Steve Berkowitz of USA Today. So for you English majors out there, that’s $11.25 million due if UF cans him this year.
But if McElwain was fired and took another job in the conference within 90 days (a la Muschamp joining Auburn), Florida would dock his buyout compensation by “the total amount he would get as base salary and other unconditional payments from the other SEC school.”
Now, if McElwain somehow decided to leave Florida for another job, things get a little trickier, he’d owe the school between $1.5 and $3.5 million. UF would also have to pay a portion of that money to Colorado State, per the Orlando Sentinel’s Edgar Thompson.
Takeaway: The SEC clause in McElwain’s contract is a little restrictive, but he’d probably have no trouble finding a good coordinator gig outside the SEC if things went south at Florida.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones
Now for some decidedly less ridiculous numbers.
Tennessee would owe Jones $2.5 million for each year remaining on his contract, which runs through 2020, reports Patrick Brown of the Times Free Press.
And Jones, who now earns $4 million per year, would have to pay $4 million if he left of his own volition prior to Feb. 28, 2017.
Takeaway: UT officials probably demanded this relatively reasonable buyout after learning they’d be getting “#BrickByBrick” Twitter updates from Butch every morning.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp
Muschamp jumps around a lot, and he tends to take assistant coaches with him (just ask Auburn), so Coach Boom’s new deal discourages him from leaving the Gamecocks in the near future.
According to The Post and Courier’s David Carviello, Muschamp’s first-year buyout price tag is a hefty $7 million, or more than double his $3 million annual salary, and the buyout would decrease by $1 million in each subsequent year.
Now if South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner starts to regret giving Muschamp a second chance, the school would have to dish out 70 percent of the coach’s remaining “guaranteed compensation,” per Caraviello.
Florida reportedly had to pay Muschamp approximately $6.3 million after firing him in 2014.
Takeaway: Things better work out quickly for Muschamp in Columbia, because there isn’t as much financial protection for him this time around.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart
Smart would owe $3.75 million if he leaves in 2016, $3 million if he leaves in 2017, $2.5 million if he leaves in 2018, and continues to descend along those lines the final three years.
If Georgia terminates Smart it would owe: $13.5 million in 2016, or $10.8 million in 2017, or $7,050,375 in 2018, or $4,700,250 in 2019, or $2,35,125 in 2020, or 62.67 percent of his remaining salary if it happens in 2021.
Takeaway: Smart’s alma mater is showing some major love to its Alabama-grown coach here, and rightfully so. There’s not much keeping him from leaving Georgia, but there are very few more desirable jobs out there.
Missouri coach Barry Odom
The AP reported in December that Odom is required to shell out $2.35 million if he takes another college or NFL job before Feb. 28, 2019, which is equivalent to one year’s worth of salary for the new Tigers coach. The amount owed decreases in following seasons.
Takeaway: We know one thing: Odom’s buyout is substantially more expensive than the one former boss Mack Rhoades had to pay when he bolted for Baylor ($800,000).
Alabama coach Nick Saban
Saban has so much power at the negotiating table that there is actually no buyout clause in his Alabama contract.
According to ESPN’s Chris Low, the Crimson Tide coach “makes $7.2 million annually, but could leave without penalty any time he wants to for another job.” His deal with former employer LSU was also without a buyout clause.
Takeaway: Saban’s agent wins almost as much as his client does.
Hugh Freeze, Dan Mullen and Derek Mason: MIA?
Strangely, none of these buyout figures seem to have been reported by mainstream media outlets. Their contracts probably include them, although it’s possible they fall under the category of Saban’s and don’t contain one at all.
In the case of Mullen, maybe he only has to give up his dope sneaker collection.
Takeaway: If you happen to have copies of these contracts handy — we know you do — please forward them to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org