College Coaching Contracts Need to Change


Penn State has finally found their man to replace Joe Paterno – New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brian. This comes almost six weeks after their search began, and reports claimed Dan Mullen was at the top of their list. Based off what Penn State will be paying O’Brian ($950K in base, $2.3 mil total) it appears they were never willing to pay enough to lure a coach like Mullen. But after two straight years of coaching rumors regarding Dan, a question of why coaching contracts allow this has to be raised.

Do you know why NFL coaches don’t jump from one team to the other? Or NBA coaches? Or MLB coaches? It is because they have non-compete clauses in their contracts. That is, they can’t make a lateral jump to a competing franchise. Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino recently jumped from the NFL to the SEC, but the SEC (or college football) is not in direct competition with the NFL. Sean Payton can’t leave the Saints for the Buccaneers if they offer him more money, he has to wait until his contract expires.

Penn State, Miami, Florida, or any other program is in competition with Mississippi State. Whether the Bulldogs play them or not, those programs are within the same Football Bowl Subdivision structure and are therefore in competition for the same goals…so they should not be able to steal one another’s talent.

When I worked in the corporate world, I had to sign a non-compete contract before I started the job. I could not go to work for any other company who manufactured/sold the same product within a 150 miles radius of where I was working. I’m sure a lot of you have also signed a non-compete clause with the company you work for.

The problem with college coaches is they do not have non-competes. Ole Miss can take Arkansas State’s head coach, North Carolina can take Southern Miss’ coach, Texas A&M can take Houston’s coach, Arizona State can take Pittsburgh’s coach. These coaches are free to go anywhere they want with virtually no restrictions. How did this happen?

Not only do college football and basketball coaches have this luxury that almost no other industry allows, but their contracts ALWAYS include massive buyouts if they get fired. Every time a coach has a good year, they want the administration to re-up their contract. The coach has all the power in this negotiation because the administration is in fear the coach will leave for another program that will give them a long-term deal. So they “lock-down” the coach, even though they are still one year away from getting canned and the school forks over millions while they sit on their couch!

If the NCAA would require non-competes in coach’s contracts it would prevent programs from losing large sums of money because of the racket coaches and their agents have going. The buyouts aren’t the problem, but the fact that a coach can sign a contract and then leave for a lateral position is.

At the time of the Penn State rumors, Dan Mullen had three years remaining on his contract. That should have meant he was completely off limits to Penn State or anyone else. The Nittany Lions would have to hire a FCS coach, or an assistant in college or the pros (which they eventually did). MSU, or any other school, should not have their hand forced to re-up their coach’s contract or give a raise because of this speculation. A contract may not mean anything to coaches, but if it had a non-compete clause then it would.