What Is Wrong With Our Value System… Redux

by Phil Goldstein  | North Forty News

 

I worked for 30 years in intercollegiate athletics administration at four different major college programs, where I oversaw the business and budget operations. With the college football season having recently concluded, it’s time for my annual biting of the hand that fed me all those years, specifically a discourse on the unbusinesslike business of big-time college athletics as illustrated by the latest costly mistakes in hiring football coaches.

And how best to begin my message than with the tale of Willie Taggart:

In early November 2019, Florida State University fired its head football coach, Willie Taggart. He was only partway through his second season, and his record was 9-12. FSU hired Taggart after only one season at the University of Oregon, where he was 7-5. FSU paid Oregon $3 million for its trouble. In his two previous head coaching stops before Oregon, Western Kentucky University and then the University of South Florida, Taggart’s record was just 40-45. When FSU fired Taggart, they owed him over $17 million under his six-year contract. Reportedly, most of the $20 million that it cost FSU to get Taggart, then get rid of Taggart, was donated by boosters. And despite his then overall head coaching record of 49-57,Taggart was hired only a month after his firing by FSU to coach Florida Atlantic University’s football team at an annual salary of ‘only’ $750,000, plus incentives. After three seasons at FAU, and then with an overall head coaching record of 71-80, he was fired again, with another sizeable parting gift, albeit ‘only’ $1.5 million. 

Meanwhile, here we are at the end of the 2023 season and the purportedly intelligent directors of athletics of higher education’s (?!) 133 top football programs have outdone themselves from even last year’s record of dollars paid to send coaching mistakes packing of $71.4 million. This year’s cost of doing bad business was a whopping $129.9 million, an 82% increase in incompetent personnel selection.

Led by the staggering $76.8 million in contract buyout owed to Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, here are the remaining insults to employment intelligence: Dana Holgorsen, University of Houston, $14.8 million; Tom Allen, Indiana University, $15.5 million; Dino Babers, Syracuse University, $8 million; Zach Arnett, Mississippi State University, $4.5 million; Dana Dimel, University of Texas El Paso, $ .67 million; Andy Avalos, Boise State University, $3 million; Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee University, $5 million; Ken Wilson, University of Nevada, $1 million; Terry Bowden, University of Louisiana Monroe, $ .18 million; and Danny Gonzales, University of New Mexico, $ .4 million.

Relatedly, last year the University of Nebraska—Lincoln led the coaching buyouts, paying Scott Frost $15 million to go away only three games into the season. And why is that relevant? Because UNL has just announced a $450 million renovation to its football stadium, even as the four-campus University of Nebraska system, of which UNL is the flagship, is staring down a $58 million budget shortfall that will likely result in cuts to academic (but presumably not athletic) programs. 

And, like FSU in 2019, many of the announcements of coaching firings included the supposed-to-be appeasing caveat that donors, not the institutions’ operating budgets, were contributing the buyout sums. Likewise, UNL’s stadium renovation is said to be primarily donor financed. But when I think of the value to true philanthropic causes— endeavors that benefit the really needy—that $129.9 million plus $450 million could bring, that just reinforces why the profession’s value system wore out its welcome with me.

In a popular 1979 football-related movie, the leading character rails against the team’s manipulative, win-at-all-costs mentality by saying, “Every time I call it a game, you call it a business. And every time I call it a business, you call it a game.”

For me at the time that I left the profession, it had ceased to be a game, and it surely was not good business.

Until next time, be well.

Phil Goldstein is in his fourth year writing Tales from Timnath for North Forty News. Phil is a 13-year Timnath resident who is finally using his West Virginia University journalism degree after getting sidetracked 50 years ago. The views expressed herein are Phil’s only. Contact him with comments on the column at NFNTimnath@gmail.com.

 

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