Halfway through the 2015 college football season, Maryland decided to pay coach Randy Edsall $3.1 million not to coach the Terrapins in their final six games.
Edsall, who had a 22-34 record in four-plus seasons at Maryland, was expected to help establish the Terrapins in the Big Ten, which they joined in 2014. In June, Maryland rewarded him with a three-year contract extension worth $7.5 million that was to start in 2017, although only $500,000 of the new deal was guaranteed. But the team started the 2015 season 2-4 and lost its first two conference games by a combined score of 77-28.
Despite the money committed to Edsall, athletic director Kevin Anderson decided he couldn't wait to make a change.
After Maryland lost badly to Bowling Green on Sept. 12, attendance at the Terrapins' next two home games dipped dramatically. So did interest in the school's fundraising efforts for a new $155 million football facility. Anderson decided it was better to cut his losses, even if it cost the school a few million dollars.
"I've always felt like that athletics directors, if they have a tough year or a tough couple of years, they look at what they owe the coach versus what it's going to cost them in lost donations, lost ticket revenue and things like that," said agent Jimmy Sexton, who negotiated recent buyouts for former Florida coach Will Muschamp and others. "That's how I would maybe look at it."
It's certainly how other schools have weighed the decision in recent years. Coming into this season, traditional heavyweights Auburn, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Texas were carrying dead money on their financial books to pay off former head football coaches.
Collectively, those aforementioned schools owed their former coaches about $51.35 million in contract buyouts. USC also owed former coach Lane Kiffin an unknown amount after he was fired midway through the 2013 season. Because USC is a private institution, details of Kiffin's contract with the Trojans aren't available through state open-records laws.
"Some of them probably just want the problem to go away," Sexton said. "They probably say, 'Hey, I'll sell hope in the future by hiring a new guy.' It might cost them several million dollars to do it, but with these athletics-department budgets being so big, they can fit paying a coach a million dollars for three or four years into their budgets. You can make it work. It's not easy, but it's not like they have a $40 million budget and owe a coach $6 million. The big schools can afford the buyouts."
Making struggling coaches go away often comes with a huge price tag in college football:
• Notre Dame owed former coach Charlie Weis about $18.9 million when he was fired in November 2009. The Fighting Irish have already paid Weis more than $14.8 million not to coach, including an initial payment of about $6.6 million. The Irish were scheduled for two additional payments to Weis of more than $2 million this year.
Weis, who helped the New England Patriots win three Super Bowl titles as their offensive coordinator, is also collecting buyout money from Kansas, where he was fired four games into the 2014 season with a 6-22 record in two-plus seasons. The Jayhawks owed him more than $5.6 million.
• Florida owed Muschamp about $6.3 million in go-away money when he was fired in November 2014 after compiling a 28-21 record in four seasons. He was quickly hired by Auburn as its defensive coordinator and received a $1.6 million annual salary, the highest among FBS coordinators. This season, the Tigers have limped to a 4-3 start, and the Gators are off to a surprising 6-1 start under first-year coach Jim McElwain. Muschamp is making a combined $3.7 million from Auburn and Florida, which is more than what all but 12 head coaches in the Power 5 conferences were paid last year.
• Money doesn't seem to be much of a factor for Auburn when it decides to flip the switch on a coach. The Tigers paid more than $12.5 million in buyouts to the past two head coaches they fired -- Tommy Tuberville and Gene Chizik. Tuberville, who is now Cincinnati's head coach, was paid more than $5 million after Auburn forced him to resign in 2008; the Tigers paid Chizik $7.5 million after they forced him out in 2012.
• On Nov. 30, 2014, Nebraska fired Bo Pelini, who averaged 9.4 wins in his seven full seasons (he also won a bowl game as interim coach in 2003). The Cornhuskers are paying him $7.9 million, or about $1.59 million annually over five years, not to coach them anymore. Nebraska is paying his replacement, former Oregon State coach Mike Riley, about $2.7 million in the first season of his five-year contract. The Cornhuskers are off to a disappointing 3-5 start.