Urban Meyer isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith knows that.
He also knows that Meyer has 3 years left on his contract, and pretty soon, it’ll be his job to negotiate an extension.
So when Smith spoke during Ohio State’s Board of Trustees’ Talent and Compensation Committee meeting last week, the subject of Jimbo Fisher’s new 10-year, $75 million contract came up.
“I don’t even put Texas A&M in our sphere because I’m considering Urban (Meyer)’s situation with three years left on his contract,” Smith said during Ohio State’s Board of Trustees’ Talent and Compensation Committee meeting Thursday. “Talking with (Susan Basso, vice president of human resources) and (Joanne McGoldrick, associate vice president of total rewards), that’s not even someone that we’re comparing with because it’s so ridiculous.
“It’s the same way with Alabama and their total salary. Take it off the sheet because it doesn’t matter. Because it’s just no value to it. It’s a reactionary type of management.”
Naturally, that raised a few eyebrows. It was Smith who negotiated Meyer’s current contract, which paid him $6.4 million in 2017. Suggesting that $7.5 million is “so ridiculous” while $6.4 million isn’t seems petty, especially coming from one of the most lucrative athletic departments in America.
Smith’s comment was based on the belief that a 5-6 coach isn’t worth $7.5 million annually with guaranteed money. It’s a fair point. What kind of coach can suffer a losing season at a powerhouse program and then get a 32 percent raise at another school? It is ridiculous.
It’s also ridiculous to think that Smith is going to pay Meyer less than the $7.5 million annually that Fisher will make. He’ll get blasted for being a hypocrite the second the terms of Meyer’s richer extension are made public.
Smith is wrong about Fisher. And Smith is right. Let me explain what I mean.
By saying that Fisher’s contract “isn’t worth comparing to,” Smith is essentially saying that he doesn’t think Fisher and Meyer are in the same stratosphere. In 2017, they weren’t. Meyer won yet another New Year’s 6 bowl while Fisher lost his quarterback and saw his season fall apart. The last time Meyer lost his quarterback (well, two), he won a national title.
But if you just look at their accomplishments since Meyer got to Columbus in 2012, they’re actually pretty comparable:
Of course, that’s only taking a 6-year snapshot into account, and it’s completely ignoring that Meyer won two national titles in Florida while posting a combined 39-8 record in his years at Bowling Green and Utah.
Does that mean Fisher is nowhere near Meyer’s level? That, at the very least, could be debated.
Fisher’s deal is a reminder that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward, Fisher was the prettiest girl at the bar. He was willing to write a blank check to get Fisher to come turn the Aggies into one of the college football powers. Winning 7 regular-season games in College Station calls for desperate measures.
Six and a half years ago, it was Smith who was desperate to find the right replacement after the disastrous 6-7 season under Luke Fickell. With the Buckeyes facing a 2012 postseason ban stemming from the Jim Tressel era, Smith went after the most accomplished head coach available. Just as Woodward did with Fisher, Smith overlooked Meyer’s disappointing final season in Gainesville and made him the fourth-highest paid coach in America.
Smith negotiated that deal because he knew that his job depended on it. Without a premier football coach and football team, it’s not so easy to fund 37 varsity teams. Alabama funds its coaching staff and university in part because it profits $45 million in revenue from the football program alone. Of course it’s willing to pay top dollar.
And as absurd as it is to the general public for Fisher to get a fully-guaranteed $75 million to come to College Station, let’s not forget that the guy made $5.7 million at Florida State. His agent (super agent Jimmy Sexton) had leverage to dictate those kind of terms to leave a traditional power like FSU.
Speaking of agents, that’s really who Smith was speaking to with the comment on Fisher. I’m just connecting dots here, but I think Smith already did that. Fisher replaced Kevin Sumlin, whose agent is Trace Armstrong … who also represents Meyer. Armstrong knows about A&M’s financial decisions all too well, and you can bet he’ll be quick to remind Smith that Meyer could get some “ridiculous” money out on the open market.
It’s interesting though because while Smith comes off as stingy, it’s unknown who exactly he’s going to use as comps for Meyer’s next deal. Nick Saban? Dabo Swinney? Last year, those guys made $11.1 million and $8.5 million, respectively. Was Smith expecting to negotiate a deal that would mirror Jim Harbaugh’s at $7 million annually? Probably not considering Harbaugh has yet to beat Meyer or accomplish anything close to what he’s done.
Smith sounds like a guy who was extremely frustrated to see the market driven up so drastically right before his extremely successful head coach was due for a raise. I get that.
I also get that the football program will profit way more than the $8-9 million it’ll take to keep one of the elite football coaches in Columbus. Smith is wrong if he thinks there’s not enough return on investment for someone like Meyer or Saban, or even Fisher. In this era of college football, there will always be a major return for winning on the big stage.
Smith might have a point, but he’s fighting a losing battle. Something tells me he knows that.