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Why College Football Coaches Like Jimbo Fisher Get Paid Big Money Buyouts to Not Coach

College football is big business in America. Major programs rake in tens of millions of dollars from ticket sales, merchandise, sponsorships, and media deals. With so much money on the line, the pressure to win is immense. Losing coaches often find themselves out of a job. But thanks to lavish contracts loaded with guaranteed money, these fired coaches rarely walk away empty-handed.

Just look at the recent firing of Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher. Despite signing a gigantic 10-year, $95 million fully guaranteed contract in 2021, Fisher was fired in November 2023 and Texas A&M now owes Fisher is absolutely staggering - $76 million in total! This shatters the previous record for biggest buyout in college football history, set when Auburn paid Gus Malzahn $21 million to leave in 2020.

Put another way - Texas A&M has to pay Fisher around $9 million for each of his winning seasons in College Station. He went 9-1 in his first year in 2018 but after that never won more than 8 games in a season for the Aggies. Yet Fisher still walked away with nearly nine times that $9 million figure as a parting gift.

This begs the question: Why are schools willing to pay coaches like Fisher such outlandish sums even when they fail to produce wins? The answer lies in understanding the warped priorities of major college football programs in 2022.

For an athletics department, firing a coach means admitting failure - that the tens of millions invested in the coach were for naught. But these schools often operate more like pro sports franchises than institutions of higher learning. Their business is winning games and making money. Texas A&M is the perfect example. Eager to become a college football juggernaut, the school hired Fisher away from Florida State in 2017 with a gigantic $75 million contract, at the time the largest in college football history.

When early returns were positive, with Fisher leading the Aggies to a 9-1 campaign in 2018, the school doubled down. In 2021 they tore up Fisher's original contract and gave him a new 10-year deal worth $95 million, all guaranteed.

This is despite the fact Fisher's teams were showing stagnation, going 8-4 in 2019 and 9-1 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The Aggies were hoping to buy long-term championship contention by guaranteeing Fisher nearly $10 million per year.

The investment backfired terribly. After signing his mega-extension, Fisher's teams went 8-4 in 2021 and then plummeted to a disastrous 3-7 start in 2022. With the program trending in the wrong direction, Texas A&M had seen enough.

But firing Fisher so soon into his fully guaranteed mega-contract means paying him the full remainder to leave - a dizzying $86 million sum that broke the record for the largest buyout payment in college sports history.

This buyout alone illustrates how desperate schools like Texas A&M are to become football powerhouses, willing to assume massive financial liabilities to lock down a coach they hope can deliver wins and championships. Of course, the irony is that paying coaches exorbitant sums to lose games diverts precious resources away from the school's academic mission. For example, the nearly $100 million Texas A&M owes Fisher could provide free tuition for two years for over 8,000 in-state students.

Yet very few university leaders view these coaching contracts as bad investments, at least publicly. With conference realignment threatening revenue streams, athletic directors insist they must pay top dollar for coaches to remain competitive on the football field.

Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork defended Fisher's massive buyout, stating "That's the one-time funds. The ongoing payments that are required in the contract, those will be athletic department funds...we have a lot of new revenue coming our way."

In other words, the school is so flush with cash from its football program that it can nonchalantly shell out $86 million to a failed coach and not bat an eye. As long as the revenue keeps flowing via lucrative SEC deals, the school will keep gambling big money on coaches.

Of course, Texas A&M is far from the only school doling out massive buyouts. LSU recently paid Ed Orgeron $16 million to leave just two years after he led them to a national title. Arizona forked over $7.5 million to Kevin Sumlin after losing 70-7 to a rival. Nebraska paid an eye-popping $15 million to Scott Frost despite his losing record.

These sums are possible because coaching salaries have skyrocketed. In the high-stakes world of college football, schools feel they must guarantee coaches exorbitant sums to keep them from jumping ship to rivals.

Brian Kelly was making around $2 million per year at Notre Dame before LSU lured him away with a 10-year, $100 million deal this past offseason, all guaranteed. The buyout if LSU fires him is a staggering $77 million.

These sort of financial liabilities have become commonplace in the quest for gridiron glory. Over the last two decades, massive conference TV deals have transformed college sports into a multi-billion dollar industry.

In their pursuit of victory, programs have prioritized winning games above all else, willing to divert mountains of money from academics to athletic department budgets. Lavish salaries and facilities are now the norm at major programs.

College presidents approve these exorbitant coaching contracts hoping to reap the benefits of fielding an elite football team. A winning tradition draws in donations, applications, and sponsorship money.

The financial windfall from a successful football team is why schools continue to provide coaches like Jimbo Fisher with outrageous buyout clauses. If they refused, a rival school could lure the coach away.

Critics argue these buyouts are out of control. At public universities, they represent a gross misuse of funds that should be going towards education. But athletic directors insist they must pay the escalating market rate for coaches in order to compete.

Until university leaders re-examine their priorities, we'll continue to see coaches cashing massive buyout lottery tickets on their way out the door, paid handsomely for failing at their jobs.

Jimbo Fisher's $86 million golden parachute from Texas A&M represents everything wrong with college sports today. Academic institutions are twisting themselves into knots trying to run quasi-professional sports franchises.

School presidents approve crippling financial liabilities to coaches because they believe fielding a winning football team is central to the university's brand, prestige and bottom line. They are willing to grossly overpay a coach for the chance to achieve gridiron glory.

This win-at-all-costs mentality has warped athletic department priorities. When coaches like Fisher fail to produce victories, schools should admit their investment didn't pay off. Instead, they double down and pay the coach even more money to go away rather than face the embarrassment.

Until priorities are realigned, the price of losing in college football will continue to be shockingly high. Coaches who fail on the field will keep cashing in big on their way out the door. Schools are trapped in an expensive arms race chasing the fleeting thrill of football success.

Fans frustrated by buyouts should realize who is really at fault - the university presidents and administrators who enable this dysfunctional system. Schools have only themselves to blame for guaranteeing coaches like Jimbo Fisher outrageous sums of money the athletic department can't afford to pay.

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