Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek has a problem, and he’d like some help solving it. The athletics department he runs is responsible for paying ousted Hogs head coach Chad Morris roughly $206,000 a month for the next 49 months (barring Morris’s duty to mitigate by finding another job), and Yuracheck [gestures wildly at everything around him] would like to live in a world where a school doesn’t have to pay $10.1 million in dead money to a coach who went 4-18.
“Well, the buyout situation throughout college athletics I don’t think is great,” Yurachek said earlier this week, via Whole Hog Sports. “I mean, there’s huge buyouts in all these contracts, and I did say I thought that — and I said it in my opening press conference — that losing football games should be condition for terms of your employment to be nullified, and that’s tough to be a pioneer in that because that hurts your candidate pool moving forward.
“It has to be an industry-wide change. It can’t be one where Arkansas takes the lead on that per se or it’s going to hurt our candidate pool. I don’t see any significant changes in how we do our contracts, and we will pay what we need to pay to get the best person to take this position.”
Look, Yurachek is absolutely right that 8-figure buyouts are ridiculous and unnecessary. In a time where pubic opinion has turned against the NCAA business model and politicians of all stripes across the country are storming the castle, it’s an extremely bad look to pay a coach $10 million not to coach a game played by unpaid college students.
Big-money buyouts are so routine at this point that they’re now baked into the DNA of college football: A coach gets fired, USA Today editor Steve Berkowitz tweets out his buyout figure, and scores of people quote-tweet his tweet with the same joke about how there’s no money to pay the players. It’s a bad look. So bad, in fact, that Bill Simmons — the most influential sports writer of his time, and a writer who never writes (or, wrote) about college football — did a segment on his old TV show about dead money paid to college football coaches.
So, yes, it’s a problem for college sports, and it’s a problem entirely made by athletics directors and no one else.
This is where ADs jump in the argument and say, “The market….”
But in many cases, ADs are making their own market, then negotiating against themselves. What other SEC school was hiring Chad Morris in December 2017? His options were to leave for Arkansas or remain at SMU. Would he have really stayed in Dallas if Arkansas promised him only a $2 million buyout instead of $10 million?
It’s become a moot point now that he’s winning, but why does Lovie Smith have a $4 million buyout at Illinois? He wasn’t coaching anywhere when AD Josh Whitman hired him off the street in March of 2016. Whitman negotiated against no one to earn Lovie’s services.
Was South Carolina really in danger of losing Will Muschamp to another school in 2017, when a 9-4 season led the school to commit itself to a $19 million buyout? Was Ed Orgeron going to pass on being LSU’s full-time head coach if Joe Alleva didn’t offer him a $12 million buyout?
The answer is no, no, and a third, emphatic, redundant no.
So, sure, it’d be great if schools could fire a coach for poor performance and not spend the next year cutting six-figure checks for that poor performance — great for ADs and, ultimately, great for the perception of college football as a whole. But don’t expect Arkansas to lead that charge when the Hogs hire Chad Morris’s replacement next month.