Grace periods are out, buyouts for college football coaches are in

As coaches in college football earn more and more, universities are becoming less and less patient.

by Andrew Krammer

Across the college football world, a head coachâÄôs job used to come with what seemed like a four-year, automatic tenure.

As big money contracts continue to escalate in revenue sports for universities, head coaches across the country are seeing their âÄúgraceâÄù periods cut short.

Akron fired Rob Ianello (2-22), Kansas fired Turner Gill (5-19) and Memphis axed Larry Porter (3-21) this year; all after hiring them to turn around programs just two years ago.

In the the six years prior to this one, three head coaches total had been fired after two seasons.

With the University of Minnesota showing such commitment with a seven-year contract to Jerry Kill, itâÄôs unlikely heâÄôll follow suit in the two-and-done trend.

âÄúWe believe strongly in the values, integrities, ethics and coaching ability of Jerry Kill,âÄù athletics director Joel Maturi said. âÄúThatâÄôs why we wanted to make a statement to him, his staff and our fans that weâÄôre going to stand by this guy.âÄù

His tumultuous first season included a 3-9 record, embarrassing home losses against nonconference opponents North Dakota State and New Mexico State and a very public seizure at the end of a Sept. 10 game.

But while enduring his seizure disorder, Kill did not miss a single game. He also got himself a new contract through February 2018 and earned a dedicated following by delivering emotional victories against Iowa and Illinois at home.

âÄúHe should definitely get four years,âÄù University sophomore Levi Paulson said when asked of KillâÄôs grace period. âÄúThe guy seems to bring the right attitude and is obviously dedicated; it just takes time.âÄù

Despite the big contracts, programs across the country are exercising the âÄúbuyoutâÄù option when coaching prospects donâÄôt turn out the way they would have liked.

While Kill will likely be around for more than two years, he only had to look across to the IlliniâÄôs sideline last Saturday to see firsthand a coachâÄôs run cut short.

IllinoisâÄô head football coach Ron Zook was fired after last SaturdayâÄôs loss to the Gophers, ending his 2011 campaign at 6-6.

After he was brought in by Illinois in December of 2004, Zook took three years to turn the dismal Illini into 2008 Rose Bowl participants and earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors for the 2007 season.

But, three mediocre years followed with six straight losses to finish his 2011 season, and the highest paid state employee in Illinois was fired.

Instead of riding with Zook for two more seasons until 2014, they opted to âÄúbuy outâÄù his contract and get rid of him for $2.6 million.

As so much of an athletic departmentâÄôs revenue relies on a couple of sports like football and menâÄôs basketball, universities are frequently left with the decision to either buy out an often expensive contract or allow the coach to stay and continue the risk of lost revenue.

KillâÄôs new contract pays him $1.2 million a year and is following the national trend of increasing collegiate coaching salaries.

The average FBS head coachâÄôs compensation in 2011 was $1.47 million, an increase of almost 55 percent since 2006, according to the USA Today.

To put it in perspective, the average salary of college professors nationally in 2008-09 was about $80,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If the University were to buy out KillâÄôs contract to hire someone else, it would have to pay him $600,000 for each year left on the contract.

When the University bought out Tim BrewsterâÄôs contract in 2010, it only had to spend $600,000 to axe the final three years off of his deal.

Minnesota constructed a lower buyout for Brewster when it gave him a three-year extension before the 2010 season.

Maturi calls it the âÄúrecruiting realityâÄù âÄî to extend or cut coaches near the end of their contracts, instead of waiting until they expire.

âÄúWhen you get down to one or two years left,âÄù Maturi said, âÄúit is used against you in recruiting by other institutions who tell the recruits âÄòthat coach isnâÄôt going to be there [all four years].âÄôâÄù

Just a stoneâÄôs throw south, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz earned $3.86 million last year âÄî enough to make him the highest-paid person in Iowa and highest paid coach in the Big Ten.

 In fact, four of the top-five paid people in Iowa were collegiate coaches. Iowa State University football coach Paul Rhodes was third on the list with earnings of $1.1 million in fiscal 2011.