Greeson: Coaches' pay an investment in the SEC

Greeson: Coaches' pay an investment in the SEC

November 7th, 2013 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Alabama head coach Nick Saban leads his team on to the field in this Oct. 26, 2013, file photo.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

POLL: Are college football coaches overpaid?

USA Today released a flow chart of what the nation's college football coaches make.

It's obscene. It's over the top and off the charts. There are three-win coaches who have cost universities more than $5 million this year. Hello, Bret Bielema and say hi to the family.

The numbers are overwhelming. There are 70 college football coaches making more than $1 million this season. Yes, 70, including a few such as Cal's Sonny Dykes, who will receive compensation and bonuses of almost $2.4 million for the 1-8 Bears, who are a 17-point underdog against USC. And speaking of USC, the Trojans are on the hook for the almost $2.6 million Lane Kiffin makes annually despite firing the former Boy Blunder -- a move that has jumpstarted USC and has been followed by a three-game winning streak.

It can be difficult to accept or grasp salaries that have so many extra digits, although we'd all like to give it a shot. Heck, Warren Buffet made so much money that if the dropped a brief case of hundreds during his work day, it technically is not worth his time to pick them up considering he made roughly $12 billion in the last year according to Forbes. Yes, billion with a 'b.'

So the money is a by-product of the system, and in this system, true worth is determined by what someone else is willing to pay, be them baseball cards, employees or football coaches.

The romantic and fundamental view of the educational experience is beset with disbelief that there are 50 college football coaches -- including 13 of the 14 in the SEC -- who received more than $2 million last year. College is about education and the pursuit of knowledge and amid the cut backs of university budgets, it's hard to fathom for the purist.

The pragmatic in each of us, however, has to understand that for the $5.54 million given to Nick Saban, he is arguably the best value in all of sports and possibly any open market decision out there, considering Saban generated more than $40 million in donations to his university.

The money spent, albeit eye-popping, is not the mistake. Not in today's arms race that is college sports, when the best investment in the history of Alabama was Saban. Those are not my words. That's what university chancellor Dr. Robert Witt said in an interview on 60 Minutes last weekend. In case you're curious, Witt's base salary is about $487,000 to run the joint, or less than a tenth of what Saban makes to rule college football.

Witt's right. This money is, an investment, especially in the SEC, where being good means big money and being bad means big money lost.

So let's review the USA Today numbers on each of the coaches in the SEC and what the school has spent on them (that total includes salary, already reached bonuses including signing bonuses and any buyouts paid to hire new coaches):

1. Nick Saban, Alabama -- Total: $5,545,852

Review: Saban is so worth his salary, here's saying the rest of the SEC would pool its resources and try to pay him $6 million not to coach Alabama. (Of course, Alabama would then offer him $7 million to keep coaching.)

2. Bret Bielema, Arkansas -- Total: $5,158, 863

Review: Wow. Hey Arkansas, I would have won the same number of games the last six weeks and I would have done it for way, Way, WAY less. No wonder Bielema hates fast-paced offenses, he makes so much money he feels he needs to spend a lot of time on the field.

3. Butch Jones, Tennessee -- Total: $4,860,000

Review: UT had to pay more than $1.4 million to meet Jones' buyout and he got another $500,000 as a signing bonus. That's a lot of coin, though, so maybe they are building brick-by-golden-brick.

4. Les Miles, LSU -- Total: $4,459,363

Review: He's worth it if only to hear his random quotes and cracked wisdom. God Bless Les Miles.

5. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina -- Total: $3,322,500

Review: Spurrier has captained the USS Gamecocks to a historic run, so yes, the Ole Ball Coach deserves it.

6. Mark Richt, Georgia -- Total: $3,314,000

Review: With all the injuries the Bulldogs have suffered, here's hoping he's given the Georgia team doctors a little bump.

7. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M -- Total: $3,100,300

Review: Think how much more Sumlin could have made if he got a cut of Johnny Football's signing business. And if Texas A&M thinks Sumlin's getting too much, wait until the offers start coming this offseason and you have to match or get off the pot.

8. Gary Pinkel, Missouri -- Total: $2,800,200

Review: Last year this was a waste of money. This year, as Mizzou steam rolls toward the SEC East title, he looks like a bargain.

9. Will Muschamp, Florida -- $2, 734,500

Review: Here's the fundamental truth of the powerful purse strings of the SEC. Florida is one of the five most successful athletic programs in the country and they can muster only the ninth-best paid coach. Of course, like the BCS rankings or the recruiting review, being ninth in the SEC means you are No. 22 in the country.

10. Dan Mullen, Mississppi State -- Total: $2,700,000

Review: Now this is the part of the list where you suspend belief. The average income in the state of Mississippi is less than $37,000 and almost all of the workers in that state have had a better year than Mullen.

11. Gus Malzahn, Auburn -- Total: $2,440,000

Review: Granted, the Tigers had to pay more than $10 million to buy out the former staff, but considering the relative Malzahn's relatively low salary and the Tigers relatively lofty ranking, it's doubtful anyone in Auburn Nation is having second thoughts.

12. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss -- Total: $2,005,500

Review: Right there with Malzahn as the best bargain in the league this side of Saban.

13. Mark Stoops, Kentucky -- Total: $2,001,250

Review: No one cares what the football coach makes as long as basketball coach John Calipari is happy.

14. James Franklin, Vandy -- Total: $1,842,771

Review: His historic run at Vandy could mean double that number on the open market.