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
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
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
”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
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
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
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
Consider it a done deal. Because, among the elite in college
football these days, money is never a problem.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated
Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or