The Santa Maria High Saints football team is playing for the championship trophy this weekend, after which Saints players will be looking to perform at the next level of the game.
This also happens to be the final regular-season game weekend for many college teams, some of which will be moving on to bowl games — and quite a few of those teams will be going to a bowl without their regular-season coaches.
There are 230 public universities with Division-1 football programs, but only a handful started the season months ago with even a shred of hope of making it to the final four teams that will compete for the national championship.
It’s all a matter of expectation for college football fans. If the team for which you cheer doesn’t have a shot at the national title, there’s a good chance you are bitterly disappointed. After all, tickets to home games are not cheap.
Unfulfilled dreams of a national title hit hardest at the head coaching level, a point made abundantly clear in the final two weeks of regular-season play as many coaches were fired.
When a coach is fired from an elite Division-1 school the cash registers start ka-chinging. As of the first of this week, the estimated cost of buying out fired coaches exceeds $60 million, a figure that may swell as more coaches are sent packing.
For context, that buyout total exceeds what about half the Division-1 universities spend on their entire athletic programs — for all sports.
Close to our home, UCLA fired Coach Jim Mora after yet another mediocre season for the Bruins, and the school’s athletic department and boosters are on the hook for more than $12 million, the price of breaking Mora’s contract.
Most big-time contracts have clauses that let the firing school off the hook if the released coach takes a coaching job at another university. But some have to pay the full amount. Getting a check for $12 million to lounge by the pool all day can be enticing, especially for the older, veteran coaches.
The young men playing college football have a bittersweet deal — they beat each other up for a college scholarship. The guys wearing the head coach’s cap at elite football schools have an even sweeter deal — they make millions, often whether they win or lose.
The top six highest-paid college coaches earn a combined $44 million-plus a year, and a couple of those will not be anywhere near the championship final-four playoff.
For example, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher’s base salary is $5.7 million a year, and his Seminoles will be trying to win only their sixth of 12 games of the season this Saturday. To Jimbo’s credit, he has led FSU to three conference titles and one national championship during his tenure.
On the other hand, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh is the third-highest-paid college football coach, at $7 million a year, and his conference/national title record is all zeroes.
No. 1 on the pay chart is Alabama’s Nick Saban, at $11.1 million a year — probably because his Crimson Tide teams have won eight conference titles and five national championships in recent years.
We bring this up because the college season is winding down and we thought maybe some context about winning and losing — and paying — might be in order.
And also to offer this advice: When you talk to your youngster about career choices, you can skip the part about growing up to be cowboys — unless it’s the Dallas Cowboys.