TULSA — Nick Saban, owner of a two-game losing streak, received a pay raise the other day. The Alabama football coach now is making $6.8 million a year, plus a variety of bonus possibilities.
One notable sports business analyst says it’s money well spent.
“The business model seems to work for them, so I don’t know what the issue would be,” said Bob Stoops, business marketing major, University of Iowa, 1983.
Stoops, of course, dabbles in football, too, coaching a squad that famously beat Saban’s Crimson Tide 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl five months ago. OU pays Stoops a princely sum; $4.5 million for the upcoming season.
College football salaries are getting crazier and crazier. Upwards of a million dollars a year for some assistant coaches. Many times that for coaches at big-time programs.
Here’s the conundrum. Such salaries are unseemly on a college campus. Paying a college football coach 68 times, or 45 times, as much as a physics professor just doesn’t seem right amid the ivory towers.
But I can’t condemn such largesse. I figure Stoops and Saban have 45, or 68, times as much responsibility as the average prof. Win the Sugar Bowl. Keep the fans happy so the coffers stay full. Keep your players academically eligible and off the police blotter.
Heck, let’s go off campus. Stoops’ salary is in the neighborhood of Scotty Brooks’ reported annual salary to coach the Thunder. Who has the tougher job?
Brooks’ responsibilities are to keep Russell Westbrook reigned in, get Kevin Durant open shots and know when to replace Thabo Sefolosha with Jeremy Lamb. No 2 a.m. phone calls when Kendrick Perkins’ party down in Beaumont gets so wild the cops are called. No having to run Hasheem Thabeet because he didn’t make a community appearance at a local school.
Stoops has to make sure Trevor Knight throws straight, Zack Sanchez remembers the right coverage and Sterling Shepherd can block the strong safety on a sweep. And deal with the 2 a.m. phone calls, and the players who skip class, and befriend the big donors who keep the brick and mortar and massive paychecks flowing.
Sure, the NBA is big business. But so is college football, despite anything you hear to the contrary.
The Iowa business marketing grad points out that Saban’s check — or his own — isn’t likely to bounce anytime soon. Saban’s salary isn’t crazy if you compare it to what ’Bama makes off football.
“When you compare it to what maybe they bring in, probably not,” Stoops said. “Compare it to what they were bringing in before he got there and before the program’s doing what it is now. Business is business. I don’t think anybody pays something that they’re not able to afford, or that doesn’t put them in a positive position. That’s in all businesses.”
The Saban story at Alabama is the Stoops story at Oklahoma. OU’s athletic department was losing money before Stoops’ 1998 arrival. Losing ballgames and hemorrhaging cash. That changed and changed quickly.
“In our case, I don’t know, we’ve given roughly 40 to 44 million dollars to our academic programs and the university as a whole over the last 10 years,” Stoops said Thursday night during a pep rally at the OU-Tulsa campus. “That seems to be a pretty positive business model. When before Joe Castiglione and president Boren got here, I think they were losing money. (The university) was funding the athletic program.
“So listen, numbers are numbers. Those numbers seem to be pretty positive. I imagine Alabama’s are, too. I don’t know what they are. But at the end of the day, I think everybody thinks anybody can do something. ‘They can just throw anybody in there.’ Well, they had several people ahead of (Saban), didn’t do real well and they probably weren’t making the kind of money they are now.”
That’s an inconvenient truth. But truth it is.
“I’ve chased kids to class since 1988,” Stoops said of his first full-time job, at Kent State. “I’ve tried to get kids to do the right things since then. When you go to the NFL, they can cut guys, bring a new guy in. I tell our guys all the time, ‘We don’t get to get new guys.’ We need to get our guys to do it right.”
But only since 1998 has Stoops carried the burden of so much responsibility. When Castiglione hired Stoops away from Steve Spurrier’s Florida staff, Stoops had no idea what he was in for. Assistants make suggestions and come up with ideas. Head coaches make decisions.
“As a head coach you make decisions every minute,” Stoops said. “Virtually every head coach I've had that's gone on from me, within a month has said, ‘I had no idea with all that comes at you on a daily basis with so many kids and so many decisions to be made.’
“Obviously when you get in a pattern where we have for 16 years, we have a lot of processes and systems that are in place that are ironed out now that we feel positive, but you constantly manipulate those or change them. So no, none has any idea until you're in that position, until you're the one that has to make that decision every 10 minutes.”
Some day, the well might run dry. The television money that flows through college football might decrease. Those heavy paychecks might indeed bounce.
And the money paid to football coaches might remain unpopular throughout campus. Except for one enclave. Those paychecks make perfect sense in the business college.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.