Column: Stoops firing should make coaches nervous

There wasn’t any real need for it, no matter how much Arizona

was embarrassed by losing to woeful Oregon State.

The Wildcats weren’t going to be in the Rose Bowl, or any other

bowl. The season was already lost when university officials decided

that head coach Mike Stoops had to go.

Besides, who fires college coaches in the middle of the season,

before first quarter grades are even in?

But fire him Arizona did, declaring the Stoops era over in

Tucson after 10 straight losses to FBS schools.

It was all done in a very civilized manner, of course.

Statements issued by both sides, platitudes flying everywhere. Just

to keep everyone happy, there was even a special parting gift of

$1.4 million.

The money wasn’t a problem, though it never seems to be in

big-time college athletics. Arizona will soon be collecting another

$15 million or so a year under a new Pac-12 Conference television

deal, giving it plenty of money to pay off Stoops and enough for a

lucrative contract for the man who will take his place.

”If you’re going to play in the big leagues, you have to do

what you have to do,” university President Eugene Sander said.

That should make a lot of would-be coaches happy. New television

deals and conference realignments across the country mean millions

more will flow into those football programs, and some of the dough

will go to boosting coaching salaries beyond even their current

astronomical levels.

It should also make them very nervous – that other schools may

follow Arizona’s lead and not think twice about canning a coach in

midseason rather than waiting until the end of it, when they’re

usually fired.

”People criticize coaches for their lack of loyalty or

whatever, but look at what’s happens to him,” Nebraska coach Bo

Pelini said. ”Loyalty goes both ways you know.”

Not anymore it doesn’t. Sure, every game was always important in

a sport where only a dozen or so are played each season. But now

there’s a chance every game could be a coach’s last.

That’s the price you pay in the big leagues. Coaches know that

if they don’t get results, management will bring in someone else

who can.

It was never supposed to be this way in college athletics, where

student-athletes toil for books and board while everyone around

them seems to be getting rich. Back in the day when the captain of

the team was named Biff, everyone wore letter sweaters and the

coach helped with the team laundry, loyalty really was a two-say

street.

Now coaches recruit more players than they will need, and don’t

think twice about sending them packing if they don’t fit in. Always

a free minor-league training ground for the NFL, college football

looks more professional every day.

Except, of course, the players don’t get paid.

Coaches do, though. Win a national title and you’re set for

life, as Auburn’s Gene Chizik discovered when he signed a new deal

during the offseason that could be worth up to $4.5 million a year.

That put Chizik in the upper stratosphere of coaches, along with

the likes of Mack Brown of Texas ($5 million a year) and Nick Saban

of Alabama ($4.7 million).

The new coach at Arizona probably won’t get that much, but it’s

safe TV money will help get him something north of $3 million with

some incentives. That might prove attractive to someone like Chris

Petersen, who now labors for $1.5 million a year at Boise State,

just above the $1.24 million the NCAA said was the median pay for

FBS head coaches in 2009.

Whoever is hired will head to Arizona knowing that the window of

opportunity for winning will narrow even more with a big salary. By

firing Stoops now – even after a 1-5 start – Arizona made it clear

that the rules have changed when it comes to winning.

That’s probably what promoted Bob Stoops – the Oklahoma coach

who happens to be Mike’s brother – to warn coaches to be careful

about the job they choose ”or you’ll end up like my brother.”

Not that Mike Stoops will be applying for food stamps anytime

soon. His contract not only paid him handsomely, but he’s leaving

with another $1.4 million to tide him over until he gets his next

job.

That could come at Oklahoma, where he coached with his brother

before getting the head job at Arizona. Bob Stoops, whose team is

undefeated and ranked No. 3 in the country, said earlier this week

that just might happen.

”Sure. I mean, if I’ve got enough money to,” Brother Bob

said.

Consider it a done deal. Because, among the elite in college

football these days, money is never a problem.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated

Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or

http://twitter.com/timdahlberg