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Football vs. Philosophy

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

The toe bone’s connected to the foot bone,

The foot bone’s connected to the anklebone

The anklebone’s connected to the leg bone,

Now shake dem skeleton bones!

– Children’s song

November and December were exciting months in the world of college football and the events causing the excitement not only involved money but highlighted the differences between, let us say for purposes of illustration, college athletic departments and their philosophy departments.

Few philosophy graduates will turn out to watch a philosopher in action. If a particularly brilliant philosopher publishes a particularly brilliant paper on some philosophical subject, alumni will generally not make large contributions to the philosophy department in order to reward the department for its member’s success.  If a university decides it made a mistake giving a philosophy professor tenure (a status that guarantees the professor that, absent exigent circumstances, he or she cannot be fired) the university that wants to rid itself of the professor rarely offers him or her millions of dollars to relinquish the privileges given the professor when tenure was awarded.

The foregoing came to mind because of the munificence bestowed upon a variety of football coaches during the waning months of 2012. Such munificence is made possible because of vast sums bestowed upon athletic departments by university graduates who are grateful for the fine education the university provided them.  Four schools serve to make the point although there almost certainly are more.

At the conclusion of a particularly disastrous season for the University of Colorado’s football team, Jon Embree, its coach, was fired.   Although Coach Embree had a five-year contract and had only worked at the University as head coach for two years, the university agreed to pay him $1.5 million and one of his assistants, $750, 000, in exchange for their leaving the football program immediately.  Since the university still had a football team, however, it had to find another coach.  Creating great excitement, it looked briefly as though it would hire Butch Jones, a renowned coach working at the University of Cincinnati.  Colorado hoped to lure him by offering to pay him $2.7 million a year, a much greater sum than anyone in that school’s philosophy department earned.  Fortunately for the university, Butch turned it down.  It was fortunate because it turns out Butch was a great deal more expensive than the salary he was offered suggests.  We know that because Butch was hired by the University of Tennessee a few days after turning down Colorado.

Tennessee agreed to pay Butch $18.2 million over six years.  That consisted of an annual base salary of $245,000 plus  “supplemental compensation” of $2,705,000 for annual pay of $2,950,000. In addition, he got a $500,000 sign in bonus.  Since Butch was leaving before the end of his contract term with the University of Cincinnati, he was required by his contract with Cincinnati to pay it $1.4 million and Tennessee agreed to pay that on Butch’s behalf.  Those were not the only costs associated with changing football coaches at Tennessee. When Tennessee fired former head coach, Derek Dooley, (before hiring Butch) it agreed to pay Derek $5 million, a sum payable in installments over 4 years. In addition, if Butch doesn’t want to keep the Dooley coaching staff, the university agreed to pay the staff an additional $4 million for terminating their contracts. The simple act of changing coaches may end up costing Tennessee more than $25 million. The Colorado-Tennessee coach shufflings were not unique.

Alabama’s Auburn University fired Gene Chizik, its head coach, in November 2012, having signed a contract extension with him two years earlier.  Because of its contractual obligations, Gene will be paid $7.5 million and if his coaching staff is fired by his replacement, the university will pay the staff $3.5 million.  Lady Luck smiled on Auburn and it was able to hire Gus Malzahn, who had been the head coach at Arkansas State, as Gene’s replacement.  It will pay Gus a base salary of $500,000 and an additional $1.8 million from miscellaneous sources.  In addition Auburn will pay $700,000 to Arkansas State which is the amount Gene is obligated to pay Arkansas State since he didn’t fulfill his contract.  (That $700,000 is treated as a loan to Gus that is forgiven over 5 years.)

The University of California at Berkeley wanted to show that notwithstanding its financial difficulties, it could play with the best of them. In November it fired Jeff Tedford who had been head coach for 11 years and had the best record of any head coach in that school’s football history.  The last three seasons had not been stellar, however, and as is the custom in football, when that happens the coach is fired.  (If a philosophy professor gives a poor lecture there are no such consequences.)  Pursuant to his contract Jeff will be paid $5.4 million by California if he does not find another job.  California has hired Sonny Dykes from Louisiana Tech to replace Jeff.  Sonny’s replacement at Louisiana Tech will be Skip Holtz who was just fired by South Florida after having received a contract extension last season. South Florida will pay Skip $2.5 million for having fired him before his contract was up.  Etc.

Christopher Brauchli is an attorney based in Boulder, Colorado. He can be reached at: brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu