In an interview with a Detroit TV station Monday, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was asked if he’s worth the $5 million salary (plus bonuses and incentives) he’ll earn in 2015. His response? “No.”
The Detroit Free Press’ Mark Snyder transcribed Harbaugh’s more detailed explanation, which has some good self-awareness in it — but Harbaugh said he wouldn’t take a pay cut to try to set a precedent at the college level.
And why would he? He’s being paid around market value, if not a little higher — but the seven-year, $40.1 million contract he signed isn’t outlandish for an elite coach. With all the money flowing into power conferences through TV deals, Michigan’s athletic department could afford to shell out that kind of money to a guy who’s won at Stanford and with San Francisco.
Of course, with all that money around, it begs the question: Why can’t the players get a cut of it? Why has the market shifted so drastically toward paying coaches when college football is, to an extent, a players’ game?
We’ll see how Harbaugh does, but there are only a handful of coaches at the college level who have proven to have a championship-level impact on their programs. Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are the first guys that come to mind there. Does Gene Chizik win a title at Auburn without Cam Newton? Probably not.
It works both ways for coaches, though, who run the risk of getting fired because 1) they weren’t able to bring in good players or 2) they didn’t turn recruiting success into wins. A lot of those coaches get buyouts, though — Notre Dame, as of last year, was still paying Charlie Weis more than Brian Kelly — which provides a far better cushion than when a player loses his scholarship because of a devastating injury.
The hours for being a college football coach, too, are insane — if you’re not recruiting, watching film, meeting with players, running practices, preparing game plans, etc., nearly 365 days a year, you’re behind the competition. Though it’s not like college football players exactly have an easy schedule, between practice, class, film study, workouts, study hall and the like.
I guess the main point here — yes, Jim Harbaugh is worth the money to Michigan, because that’s what the system calls for. And that’s unfortunate, because if the market value for a top coach was, say, $2 million a year, the $3 million a year difference maybe, just maybe, could go into a fund for the players. Which, divided among 85 scholarships, would come out to a little more than $35,000 a year — it’s still below their actual value, but at least it’s a livable wage and better than $0.