SDS Roundtable: Will the COVID-19 pandemic slow down the SEC coaching carousel in 2020?
Each SDS roundtable discussion involves the SDS staff providing individual answers and comments to questions covering a wide range of sports and non-sports topics. In this discussion, we ask the question: Will the COVID-19 pandemic slow down the coaching carousel in 2020?
A bit of background …
Four SEC programs fired their head coach after the 2019 season. The combined buyouts topped $25 million (though some of that has been mitigated by subsequent employment).
Four more SEC coaches will enter the 2020 season on the proverbial hot seat. Temperatures and buyouts vary, but patience is running thin with Gus Malzahn, Will Muschamp, Jimbo Fisher and Derek Mason.
The question is: Given all of the unknowns and money already lost, could an SEC program really justify firing and paying a head coach $10M+ not to coach?
Jon Cooper, SDS co-founder
With everything that’s on the table, it is basically job security for coaches, meaning there’s a very small chance they get fired. Of course, there could be coaches who may retire given the circumstances; however, it would be shocking if there was a larger-than-average coaching turnover from 2020-21 seasons. There’s a very real chance at least a portion of the season is played in the spring, and if that comes to fruition, it’s unlikely that any programs fire a coach and hire another one with the season just a couple months away in 2021.
Connor O’Gara, Senior national columnist
I absolutely think it could impact the coaching carousel. It better. These buyouts are absurd, and it’s sad that it might take a pandemic bursting that bubble for universities to realize that. If nothing else, that needs to change how these negotiations go with head coaches. We need to see more incentive-based buyouts instead of so much guaranteed money still on the table.
As for 2020, I wouldn’t be surprised if it impacted coaches like Will Muschamp and Gus Malzahn. Let’s be honest. If Muschamp had a $1 million buyout last year, he would have been fired. If that were the case this year, not even a pandemic would stop that. But if he goes 6-6 with a decent offense in Year 2 with Ryan Hilinski, is South Carolina really going to have enough of a case to fork over an 8-figure buyout? I’m starting to seriously doubt that given how much everyone is being impacted by this.
The shortened season thing could also help football coaches defend lower win totals. Obviously. I thought the canceled college basketball season made for a much quieter coaching carousel in the college basketball world, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing happened in college football, not just in the SEC but across the board.
Michael Bratton, News editor
This is one of the more interesting questions I have for college football in 2020 and looking ahead to 2021. Schools will have to walk a fine line here as paying a large buyout may not be realistic for many while simply allowing a coach to return because they can’t afford to be bought out could lead to fan apathy for the next 12 months.
If the season is played out in full and no games are missed, which we are all hoping for, this won’t be much of a problem, but if any games are missed, the impact on the financials could be devastating for nearly every program in the nation.
This scenario definitely helps Derek Mason as Vanderbilt already is dealing with issues with the program’s finances, so there’s a good chance he is brought back in 2021 regardless of how the Commodores perform on the field.
South Carolina isn’t hurting like Vanderbilt, but Will Muschamp might also be given an extra year due to his healthy buyout. That’s not something many fans want to hear. However, it actually could help South Carolina finally take off under Muschamp based on the fact it might take 2 seasons before the full effect of Mike Bobo’s hire in Columbia is felt.
There wasn’t a single head coaching change in the SEC following the 2018 season and the way things are going, it seems very unlikely that we’ll have any in 2020 barring some unforeseen scandal.
Chris Wright, Executive editor
I hope my colleagues are right, but color me skeptical.
You would like to think that the bad optics of firing and buying out a coach would dissuade a school president from doing so, but let’s be honest.
In this league, it always means more.
In this league, bad optics are a losing record, thinning crowds, losing to your rival or continuously falling short of expectations.
In the real world, there’s no way you’d fire a coach in 2020 and pay him millions not to coach. But in the real world, there’s no way you’d guarantee somebody $75 million to coach a college football team, either.
I’d like to believe that this pandemic has reset priorities, changed views and eliminated greed or the notion that money is ever-flowing, but that’s naive.
If South Carolina goes 5-7, Will Muschamp is getting fired. If Texas A&M goes 8-5 again, Jimbo Fisher might very well be on thin ice.
The best we can hope for is that this pandemic changes the buyout structure for the next coach.