Contract jumpers put stain on college football

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Funny, isn't it? For years, opposing recruiters have been telling the best high school football players not to go to Penn State because Joe Paterno won't be there long. And Paterno has stayed. And stayed. And stayed.

Is it just me or does it seem as if Paterno is the only college football coach staying anywhere these days?

Brian Kelly jumped his contract at Cincinnati to take the Notre Dame job. Pete Carroll bailed on Southern California to go to the NFL's Seattle Seahawks. Lane Kiffin left Tennessee after just one season to replace Carroll at USC.

The college game is worse for all of it.

The college game has never seemed sleazier.

It has been a tough six weeks for the sport. Forget the never-ending complaints about the Bowl Championship Series leaving us unfulfilled and with no true national champion. Three prominent coaches -- Mark Mangino of Kansas, Mike Leach of Texas Tech and Jim Leavitt of South Florida -- were forced to resign or fired because of alleged abuse against players. Then came the premature departures of the high-profile Kelly, Carroll and Kiffin.

Awful, just awful.

I have to admit it's hard for me to work up a really good case of angst over the abuse allegations against the coaches, especially Leach and Mangino. The accusations against Leavitt are serious -- that he grabbed a player by the throat and slapped him in the face, then lied about it. But Leach? He supposedly mistreated a player with a minor concussion. And Mangino? According to reports, he made a series of insensitive, humiliating remarks to players.

Insensitive, humiliating remarks? Woody Hayes and Bear Bryant must be sick in their graves. In their coaching days, tough love and the occasional slap on the side of the helmet were considered good, old-fashioned disciplinary tools. Now, it's abuse? I'm not sure that's all good.

But, clearly, times change. So will coaches. They soon will realize that what happens at practice doesn't necessarily stay at practice. There are no secrets anymore. This abuse, if that's what you want to call it, won't be a long-term problem.

If only that were the case with the contract jumpers.

It has long been a problem in college athletics, but it seems especially ugly right now. Kelly didn't care about his Cincinnati players, who were coming off an undefeated season and headed to the Sugar Bowl when he left. All he cared about was the Notre Dame job. Carroll left USC just when it appears the NCAA is getting ready to come down on the school for rules infractions. And Kiffin barely had time to unpack in Tennessee before heading to USC, this despite Tennessee officials taking a big chance on him after his nasty firing by the Oakland Raiders and sticking by him when he repeatedly embarrassed the university with silly, thoughtless public comments. This was gratitude?

The coaches probably aren't having any trouble sleeping. Kelly and Kiffin said they had to take their dream job. Carroll said he went to Seattle for the NFL challenge, as if there weren't about 33 million other reasons. But what of the players they left behind? The ones whose parents they promised they would help develop as young men, educate and perhaps lead to the NFL? And what of their assistant coaches, many of whom are out of work? What of their families? And what of the universities that hired them and paid them extraordinary salaries? The schools are left with just two alternatives when a coach wants to skip on his contract -- make him stay in a big-money job he really doesn't want or let him go. That's not much of a choice.

But as despicable as the coaches are, they aren't the real villains. That would be the university presidents, at least in the cases of Kelly and Kiffin. The presidents -- more than the coaches -- have made contracts meaningless. You know the problem is pervasive when Notre Dame -- allegedly a school with great integrity -- sees no problem swooping into Cincinnati and stealing its coach.

The same presidents who complain how coaches' salaries have gotten out of hand are the ones responsible for the astronomical salaries. A coach gets a big raise only because his school wants to keep him or another school wants to lure him away.

There is an easy way to solve this problem, of course. All the presidents have to do is get together and agree not to take another school's coach while he is under contract. But you and I know that never will happen. The presidents always are going to do anything -- up to and including selling their souls -- to get what they think is the right man to win for them and bring them countless millions and priceless fame.

A more feasible solution would be to make the buyout in a coach's contract so exorbitant that he couldn't leave early. Kiffin's was $800,000 at Tennessee -- barely anything. But what if that buyout were $10 million or $15 million or $20 million? Kiffin would have stayed, I guarantee it.

You might argue Kiffin wouldn't have agreed to take the Tennessee job under that condition. I will tell you he wouldn't have been the right man for the job if he hadn't.

As it turned out, Kiffin wasn't the right man for Tennessee at all.

It's kind of hard to wish him well at USC, isn't it?



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