It's kind of late in the year for talk of college football coaching contracts. That sort of thing is usually sorted out in January and February, so that coaches can be renewed/extended/further enriched in time for National Signing Day. But when you've just won a national championship you're entitled to savour it, and also to bask in your newfound leverage.
Gene Chizik has leverage. He just won a national championship, and the university already locked up the offensive coordinator who helped make it possible. So it's not surprising that the time has come for Chizik to get paid. His salary will now be $3.5 million per year, which according to my amateur calculations places him fourth behind Nick Saban, Les Miles and Bobby Petrino. Given that two out of the three have won BCS championships and Bobby Petrino just got through guiding Arkansas to a BCS bowl, that sounds about in line to me.
What is a little surprising is that Gene Chizik's new Auburn contract a) contains a huge buyout and b) contains no penalties for investigation by the NCAA and or SEC. Why are these news, you ask?
With regard to the buyout, getting rid of Chizik without cause this year would cost Auburn $10 million, which is a lot even by SEC contract standards. The buyout drops precipitously thereafter (to $7.5 million in 2012, $5 million in 2013, $3.5 million in 2014 and zilch in 2015). Obviously Auburn is unlikely to get rid of Chizik coming off a national championship unless Auburn football becomes an absolute 2-10 three ring circus. But still it's not play money, even a couple of years down the line. Auburn had better hope that Jay Jacobs really does have the right guy for the job and that 2010 was not a flash in the pan. Because getting out of this deal will be prohibitive over the next two seasons.
Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News has the salient provisions on the investigations clause. Put simply (or as simply as we lawyers can put things) Chizik's contract used to say this:
"In the event an investigation is instituted by Auburn, the SEC or the NCAA into alleged major rules violations or significant or repetitive violations involving Coach and/or the football program, during the pendency of the investigation, University shall have the right, after written notice to Coach, to suspend payment of any amount owed to Coach under Paragraph 15 or 16. If, at the conclusion of any such investigation, it is determined by the University and the NCAA that no major rules violations occurred in connection with the football program, any payments due to Coach under Paragraph 15 and Paragraph 16 but previously suspended will be paid by University within thirty (30) days with interest at a rate equal to the Auburn University Cash Pool Earnings Rate."
Apropo of very little, I find the phrase "Auburn University Cash Pool" as excellent an example of unintended hilarity as ever tiger prowled the earth. You'd think they'd have to be more specific on the plains. Really, which Auburn cash pool? But I digress. Now the Head WarPlainsTigerChurchRenovatingBackpackDropper's deal says:
Coach agrees he will comply with Southeastern Conference Rules and be bound by and comply with the enforcement, penalty, and other disciplinary provisions and procedures of the NCAA and of the Southeastern Conference, including but not limited to the provisions of Article 4 of the Southeastern Conference Constitution and the Southeastern Conference Bylaw 19.8."
The plain distinction between the two is that Chizik still agrees he won't break the rules, but he now won't be monetarily accountable if someone else's actions trigger an investigation by the University, the conference, or the folks in Indianapolis.
I'd like to say that this is a huge departure from the agreements that other coaches have (because really that would be a way better story and would allow me to take shots at Auburn which, let's face it, is both fun and easy), but I don't think that's entirely accurate. After having reviewed dozens of college football coaching contracts over the years (we SEC football fans love us some FOIA requests, don't we?) I've noticed that universities handle this differently. Many take the route Auburn has with Chizik. Many, perhaps the majority, add that coaches will be responsible if an investigation is triggered by their conduct or that of anyone under their direct supervision (like an assistant coach). I don't know of any schools that take the strongest stance, the one Auburn just chose to deviate from (if an investigation arises we're going to dock you, and we'll sort it out later if everything's cleared up). In fact Auburn basketball coach Tony Barbee objected to the language in his contract, and Auburn agreed to remove it. Given the protracted nature of NCAA investigations, such a punitive provision put into literal effect could mean years of coaching without pay. I would not want to work under that kind of agreement, and cannot imagine any sane person wanting to, either.
So I'm not saying that Auburn just told Gene Chizik to go ahead and cheat, there won't be any consequences. That's untrue and would be an unfair and inaccurate reading of this new provision. But what I can say is that no provision in a contract of this magnitude is included for no reason at all. When you're paying the kind of money that SEC coaches pay their agents and SEC schools pay their counsel, you get attention to every single pronoun, comma and seemingly insignificant letter of boilerplate. Somebody bargained for this paragraph on Gene Chizik's behalf. There's a reason it was among the things they chose to bargain for rather than something else. To me the major takeaway is that Chizik does not appear to be on the hook if somebody else did something they shouldn't have, and I suspect the reason for that is that there is at least a remote chance in Chizik's mind that somebody may have done something to trigger an investigation. If it wasn't him it appears he won't suffer financially, whereas before he would have. I imagine Terry Bowden approves, though he'd rather not say so on the record. Until later . . .