One thing has driven coaches’ salaries upward like the opening track of a roller coaster over the past decade-plus: the market. As more money pours into college sports, proven, successful coaches become more valuable. In response, programs spend more to either hire in-demand coaches away or to keep other schools from doing the same.
Take, for example, Tom Herman. LSU came after the then-Houston head coach hard and, to secure his services, Texas offered him a 5-year contract worth $28.75 million in base salary. Herman had options — Texas, LSU, returning to a Houston job he cherished — and the Longhorns ponied up to make sure he viewed theirs as the best of those options.
On the other side of that coin is the coach LSU turned to after Herman spurned the Bayou Bengals: Ed Orgeron.
As detailed by Ross Dellenger of The Advocate, Orgeron signed a 5-year contract worth $3.5 million per year that is heavy in incentives and security for the coach.
Should LSU fire Orgeron without cause after the 2017 season, the school would owe him $12 million. That number drops to $8.5 million in 2018, $6 million in ’19, $4.5 million in 2020 and $1 million in ’21.
While Herman had options, Orgeron had none. LSU competed against itself for his services. Serving as the head coach of his home state’s flagship program was Orgeron’s dream, and he weighed that option against….. being a defensive line coach again?
In Orgeron’s mind, the LSU head job against other options available to him at the time was a see-saw with field mouse on one end and an elephant on the other.
Here’s how deeply Orgeron considered the LSU job before taking it, as he described the 75-minute drive between his home in Mandeville and LSU’s Baton Rouge facility on the morning he would officially become the Tigers’ head coach: “I was going very fast, I was listening to some of my favorite music, I had the window down and I was hollering the whole way.”
This means that, on that same see-saw, LSU was the elephant at the negotiating table and Orgeron was the mouse. Joe Alleva and company had every available molecule of leverage.
And the end result was a contract where LSU assumes all of the risk in a scenario where, if the Orgeron Era doesn’t work out, the fault will lie entirely on the coach.
(To be abundantly clear, this isn’t about the hiring of Orgeron in the first place. A native son with his pulse on the heartbeat of football in Louisiana and a clear-eyed vision of where LSU needs to improve, we’ve gone on record liking this hire. This is merely deconstructing the contract LSU gave him.)
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda was already on staff. The defense will be fine (Oregon brought on his mentor Pete Jenkins [defensive line] and promoted his graduate assistant Dennis Johnson [outside linebackers] to full-time when he was named interim head coach and retained both when he was named permanent head coach). To fix the offense, Orgeron swung hard at Lane Kiffin, who opted to become the head coach at Florida Atlantic instead. LSU eventually hired Matt Canada away from Pittsburgh, on a 3-year contract that pays him $1.5 million per year. To round out Canada’s offense, LSU hired Orgeron’s USC connection Tommie Robinson as running backs coach, recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach and New Orleans native Mickey Joseph as wide receivers coach.
LSU took a risk going with a head coach whose head coaching resume consists of one unsuccessful stint at Ole Miss and two solid runs as an interim. Orgeron accepted a, perhaps, slightly below market salary to allow room to hire the best possible staff. Through incentives, should he win, Orgeron will make as much as most other SEC head coaches. Should he fail to win, though, there’s the rub. Why did LSU think it was necessary to include a $12 million buyout if year one is a disaster? If LSU fails to succeed under Orgeron, the blame will fall entirely on his shoulders, either through the assistants he hired or the culture he created.
In an attempt to cobble some sense out of why LSU gave Orgeron this contract, let’s wind the clock back to late November. As we know, LSU was in negotiations with Herman’s representation heading into Thanksgiving weekend. And, as we also know, news of those negotiations went horribly public, broken by Texas pay site writer Chip Brown, during LSU’s Thanksgiving night game with Texas A&M. (Who can forget the image of Alleva looking like the loneliest man in the world, all by himself at the tippy-top of Kyle Field, as his Tigers kicked the Aggies all over the field while his attempted coup of Herman spun and spun and spun out of control all across the internet?) Houston closed its regular season at Memphis on the morning of Black Friday, and Texas concluded the Charlie Strong era in a loss to TCU later that afternoon. The Texas brass met with Herman and company that night, at which point LSU realized Herman wasn’t coming to Louisiana.
By 7 a.m. local time on Saturday morning, the deal between LSU and Orgeron was done.
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) November 26, 2016
All this to say: LSU spent a lot of time negotiating with Herman and very little doing the same with Orgeron. In fact, it appears they didn’t negotiate with Oregon at all. It looks like Alleva simply applied some white-out over Herman’s name to write Orgeron’s over it, chopped the salary down by a couple million and handed Coach O a contract to sign.
In reality, there are two factors that have pushed coaches’ contracts sky high in recent years: market-driven deals to recruit and/or retain in-demand coaches, and ADs that write bad contracts.
— FootballScoop Staff (@FootballScoop) March 10, 2017