Penn State is like the cost-conscious consumer who purchases a new VW Beetle in 1966 for $2,000 and, being handy with tools, somehow keeps it running for 46 years. But that old, dependable ride can't carry its driver any further, so now he has to go to the showroom and price newer models.
Make no mistake, as the Nittany Lions begin the process of replacing Joe Paterno, they are about to get a serious case of sticker shock. The cost of head coaches, like that of the kind of luxury vehicles needed to keep pace in a Football Bowl Subdivision world, where performance is expected to be accompanied by prestige, has gone way, way up. And if Penn State wants to remain in the fast-lane Big Ten race, it had better be prepared to pony up.
It might be a coaches' market this year, as Penn State is one of a dozen schools looking for a head coach. Vacancies exist at BCS schools Arizona State, Illinois, Kansas, Ole Miss, UCLA and Washington State.
With Ohio State hiring Urban Meyer on Monday, the financial ceiling of big-time college football was raised. Architect of two BCS national championship teams at Florida, Meyer will guide the Buckeyes for the next six seasons and, the administration hopes, cleanse it of the tattoos-for-signed-memorabilia scandal that cost Jim Tressel his job and soiled the university's reputation.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said Meyer would receive an annual base salary of $4 million, plus another $2.4 million in "retention payments" spread over the life of the contract. He can also qualify for supplemental bonuses, such as for winning conference and national championships. Such add-ons can run up to $1 million.
Meyer's compensation could approach $5 million per year if he meets certain incentives, putting him in the rarefied company of Texas' Mack Brown ($5,192,500), Alabama's Nick Saban ($4,683,333) and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops ($4,075,000). He immediately becomes the Big Ten's highest-paid coach, his base salary eclipsing the $3,785,000 paid to Iowa's Kirk Ferentz.
Agents for high-profile coaches who are making, or might make, themselves available for a fresh challenge can't expect all their clients to now enter the exclusive $4 million club. But they'll demand, and get, highly favorable arrangements that only a few years ago would have been considered exorbitant. It is no longer unusual for a coach with an established track record, or even one who gets hot at the right time, to command a salary in excess of $2 million a year, and sometimes $3 million.
Dr. Aubrey Kent, director of Temple's Sport Industry Research Center, was asked what impact Meyer's salary would have on the market value for the next PSU coach.
"Generally, I would think not much," Kent said in an email response. "Unless Penn State can find another multiple championship winner and proven consistent winner who just happens to be rested and available. Since Penn State has so much in common with Ohio State (size, conference, tradition), it will be used as a logical comparison, but if I was asked to predict I would see their number likely falling in the $2.5-3.5 million range, obviously depending on who they target."
Said Tony Barnhart, CBS Sports analyst and host of "The Tony Barnhart Show" on CBS Sports Network: "I don't know what Penn State is thinking, but my experience is that when somebody gets a big contract like (Meyer's), everybody has to go higher to remain competitive."
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