- Mike Fish
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Michigan coach Lloyd Carr can't win.
Florida's Urban Meyer won the campaign for a spot in the Tostitos BCS Championship Game over Carr and the just-as-deserving Michigan Wolverines. That's tough enough for Carr, who is as competitive as they come on the sidelines. But it gets worse. Meyer is in possession of a contract that contains enough post-season perks to make Carr green with envy, and those perks will all kick in come championship game time.
According to a review of contracts obtained by ESPN.com under state open records laws for many of the nation's top football-playing public schools, Carr's deal at Michigan has a provision that the university will pay him an additional two month's salary (totaling $127,500) for a BCS bowl bid -- in this case, the Rose Bowl presented by Citi -- and also includes a vague clause that says the university has the discretion to award another unspecified bonus if he leads Michigan to the national title game.
That $127,500 isn't bad, of course, but it doesn't measure up very favorably to the windfall Meyer is about to enjoy. And the controversial BCS standings deprived Carr of that extra discretionary money.
At Florida, Meyer's successful late-season stumping earned him a bonus of $150,000 for appearing in the championship game, to go along with the $75,000 he pocketed for the SEC title and another $50,000 for an almost certain final ranking in the Top 10. And Meyer gets another guaranteed $100,000 if the Gators beat Ohio State to win the national title on Jan. 8.
Oh, and if Florida wins, you can bank on the folks in Gainesville jumping on yet another clause in Meyer's contract that gives him the right to open a review of the "adequacy" of his contract after the 2007 season.
If Carr were a spiteful man, he'd have the right to be a little envious.
College football's bowl extravaganza is upon us. And judging from the fine print in their contracts, Meyer, Carr and most of the other top coaches who will be patrolling the sidelines over the next few weeks are padding their already-CEO-like salaries with lucrative incentives on the feel-good end to their seasons.
While the players fatten up on steak dinners, trek to the local theme park and bag an assortment of goodies that range from DVD and MP3 players to designer sunglasses and Bulova watches, Jim Tressel, Les Miles, Meyer, Carr & Co. eye far richer perks: cold hard cash. (A note: Private schools such as Notre Dame and Southern Cal aren't subject to open records laws, and Penn State considers itself exempt from Pennsylvania's law, so ESPN.com could not obtain salary information for their coaches.)
Just getting to a bowl game is enough to trigger five-figure bonuses for most coaches.
Talk about holiday cheer.
Hip-hip-hooray, for example, for Georgia Tech's Chan Gailey. Even coming off season-ending losses to rival Georgia and to Wake Forest in the ACC title game, Tech's Toyota Gator Bowl bid activated an "extension bonus" in Gailey's contract that tacks an additional year onto his new five-year deal. That's a nice holiday perk, considering Gailey made nearly $1.2 already this fall. He also collects a $25,000 postseason bonus, along with 10 tickets for family and friends to Georgia Tech's Jan. 1 game against West Virginia.
A review of the contracts obtained by ESPN.com shows that among the coaches of teams ranked in the Top 25, Boise State's Chris Petersen, in his first year, is low on the totem pole with a total compensation package worth $500,000. But because his ninth-ranked and undefeated Broncos will step up against Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Night, Petersen figures to clear another nearly $250,000 in performance-based bonuses. That includes $100,000 for the school's first-ever BCS game.
Back to Meyer for a moment. Two seasons ago, Florida's athletic department nearly tripled his compensation when it hired him away from the University of Utah. And it didn't cost Meyer a single penny to bid adieu to Salt Lake City. His contract with the Utes called for him to pay a financial penalty only if he left for a job at one of three other schools: Michigan, Notre Dame and, oh yeah, Ohio State.
Notre Dame was in the mix for his sideline services for a while, but Florida ultimately won out, partly by padding Meyer's new deal with a $500,000 signing bonus and annual longevity bonuses totaling $2.1 million, plus the usual his-and-her cars and country club membership. And if the education in Gainesville isn't up to snuff, Meyer's three children can look elsewhere for Harvard-quality schooling, thanks to $600,000 for educational expenses the university will pay the coach over the six-year contract.
So maybe next to those kinds of numbers, the total of $375,000 in postseason bonuses he'll get if Florida beats Ohio State seems piddling.
Tressel's postseason deal from Ohio State is more direct than Meyer's at Florida, and maybe even more enticing. For Tressel, the BCS title game gig is good for an extra $200,000, and a victory in the Arizona desert obligates the Buckeyes to tear up his current contract, which has been in place since only last February, and renegotiate a brand new deal.
Tressel first had that clause inserted into his contract after Ohio State defeated Miami in a two-overtime title game classic following the 2002 season.
A year later, then-LSU coach Nick Saban played the BCS title game against Oklahoma for what amounted to Sooner coach Bob Stoops' contract. If the Bayou Bengals were to win the title, a sweet clause in Saban's contract required LSU to pay him "at least $1 more than the highest-paid college coach" – who, at the time, was Stoops. Saban won the game, but still left for NFL money and the Miami Dolphins a year later.
Today, Stoops remains among the best-paid college coaches at $3.45 million a season.
Les Miles, who replaced Saban in Baton Rouge, makes roughly $2 million a season, with a guarantee that he will be paid "no less than the third-highest salary within NCAA Division 1" should LSU claim another national title under his watch. If he wins a conference title, he's promised the same financial rank among SEC coaches. And commencing next fall, Miles is guaranteed to be among the conference's five highest-paid coaches by winning at least 10 games.
And just for driving across I-10 to the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Miles banks $100,000 for his Tigers' BCS date opposite Notre Dame.
Stoops is among fraternity members who will collect $100,000 for his team's BCS bowl appearance. If his Sooners, currently ranked seventh, finish in the final Top 10, his contract says he's owed an additional $75,000.
On the other end of the spectrum, Texas' late-season swoon against Kansas State and Texas A&M cost Longhorns coach Mack Brown $100,000. That's $75,000 he won't get because he didn't win the Big 12 South Division, and the difference between a $50,000 bonus for making it into a BCS bowl and a $25,000 bonus for Texas' appearance in the non-BCS Alamo Bowl in San Antonio on Dec. 30.
But nearly every coach -- well, maybe not so much for lame ducks Larry Coker at Miami, Fla., and Dirk Koetter at Arizona State -- is a winner, no matter the magnitude of the game. Consider some of the other big money that was, and is, at stake:
• It's in the fine print that Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer gets $67,500 for a Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance (including $17,500 for additional radio/TV obligations), 10 tickets to the Georgia Dome affair and a $40,000 "entertainment fee" for his coaching staff at the bowl. His offensive and defensive coordinators also bank $50,000 bonuses, his associate head coach and recruiting coordinator $25,000, and his assistant coaches $20,000 apiece.
• Mike Leach pockets $25,000 for Texas Tech's date opposite Minnesota in the Insight Bowl, though a Pacific Life Holiday or AT&T Cotton Bowl invite could have earned him twice that -- the same $50,000 he'd have received for a BCS bowl.
• Missouri's Gary Pinkel gets a month's base salary (about $20,000), plus another $15,000 if the Tigers notch their ninth win of the season against Oregon State in the Brut Sun Bowl.
• Tommy Bowden also has a ninth-win incentive for his Clemson Tigers in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl against Kentucky. It's a richer payoff ($50,000) than Pinkel would get.
• The college game's newest $2-million coach, Rich Rodriguez, earns $25,000 for West Virginia's Gator Bowl appearance, with the additional lure of $25,000 if his 13th-ranked Mountaineers end up in the final Top 10.
But, hey, this postseason money grab might be nothing more than a peek into the ungodly sums that institutions of higher learning, hungry to snag a winner, can throw at the feet of their football coaches. At the college level, there is no labor cost and no salary cap, and the bulk of the compensation can be paid through shoe and apparel companies and TV and radio shows.
The effect often is that the X-and-O guys pull down more than the university presidents who sign their checks.
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
It's bowl season, when the livin' gets a lot easier for coaches who stand to make some big-time bucks in bonuses.