Schools pay out $31 million to fired coaches

Athletic departments whose teams play football in the Football Bowl Subdivision have committed more than $31 million to head coaches in recent weeks. The largesse didn’t go to the coaches who will lead their teams on the sidelines next season. No, this spending free-for-all covered parting gifts for their coaches to hit the road.

Gene Chizik, formerly of Auburn University, hit the biggest payday with a $7.5 million buyout. Cal’s Jeff Tedford didn’t have a buyout, but Cal will have to pay out the remainder of his contract to the tune of $6.9 million. The University of Tennessee, which only recently finished paying off former coach Phillip Fulmer, who was fired four years ago, will now pay coach Derek Dooley $5 million to leave.

Another buyout that stands out is the $2.1 million Ellis Johnson is due from Southern Mississippi. Not only is the figure on the high side for a school in a non-automatic-qualifying BCS conference, it also amounts to 11 percent of the total revenue the school's athletic department generated last year.

Although some buyouts sound onerous to the athletic departments, many are payable over a number of years and have repayment options. Some, like Chizik’s, specify the buyout be offset by any future income from a coaching or broadcasting job he might get. Other buyouts, like in the case of Idaho’s Robb Akey, terminate upon the coach being hired by another school.

If the current numbers sound staggering, the trajectory of buyouts in new coaching contracts will surely astound. If former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema doesn’t work out for Arkansas, the Razorbacks will owe him a $12.8 million buyout if they fire him within three years. Should Bielema choose to leave, he (or his next employer) will have to pay Arkansas $3 million if he leaves within the first year, a figure reduced by $500,000 in each succeeding year.

Many of the buyouts are covered by donations to athletic departments.

In 2010, Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour told MercuryNews.com that Tedford’s $2.3 million yearly salary was wholly funded by donations to the athletic department.

“Donors decide they have a particular interest,’’ Barbour said. “And in this case, donors were interested seeing Jeff is compensated fairly.”

Cal no doubt hopes those donors will continue to open up their checkbooks, because Tedford will be paid his salary through 2015, alongside the salary for the new head coach.