Ohio State AD Gene Smith spoke last week with media regarding potentially extending head football coach Urban Meyer’s contract through 2022. During that interview, Smith was asked about giving Meyer a contract comparable to those offered to Nick Saban at Alabama or Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M. Smith quickly dispelled rumors that OSU would be giving Meyer a deal on-par with the largest in college football, stating, “Everybody has a different market, where they are. And what Alabama did was right for them and what Texas A&M did was right for them…let’s be clear. It’s not — that’s right for them, but not right for us.” Smith went on, addressing Fisher’s ten-year, fully-guaranteed contract at Texas A&M, “I’m not a big believer in 10-year contracts, I’m just not one of those guys.”
There are several things about Smith’s statements that are interesting. One is that he bemoans the state of coach compensation as “off-kilter” due to the massive contracts of Saban and Fisher but will have at least one assistant football coach making more than a million dollars next season (which exceeds the salaries for notable head coaches Butch Davis, Charlie Strong, and Lane Kiffin). While that topic does spark my interest, it was Smith’s remarks about long-term contracts that left me thinking: what if long-term coaching contracts are GOOD for college athletics?
Normally an advocate for moderating the role of sports on campus in an attempt to bring academics and athletics back into balance, I find myself wondering if locking-up proven coaches could benefit institutions, student-athletes, and the coaches themselves. Acknowledging this would mean paying coaches substantial money over an extended period, hear me out:
Extended contracts allow coaches to lead more freely.
Job security is a privilege enjoyed by very few, and it allows people to take risks and think creatively. Many coaches are not able to operate as they’d like due to concerns that one losing season can mean being fired. Those constraints make them less effective leaders; being able to do a job fearlessly can be freeing and allow for innovation.
It would emphasize what is important in college athletics.
Because wins and losses are easily tracked, they become the go-to metric for the quality of a coach and the job she is doing. But unlike in the pros, college athletics should prioritize life lessons and personal growth over wins and losses. Making a commitment to a coach that develops her players as people and then keeping her through both winning and losing seasons emphasizes to a school community what is truly meaningful and builds a sense of pride that extends beyond the scoreboard. Firing due to wins and losses a coach who is excellent at shaping young people sabotages the greater purpose of intercollegiate sports.
Offering long-term contracts to a coaches would put tremendous pressure on athletic departments to get the decision right as breaking the deal would be costly, and I’m not suggesting a school stand-by coaches who are abusive or negligent because a long-term deal was signed. But creating a true commitment between a university and one of its most important leaders could prove transformational in a community and drive-home the greater purpose of college sports.