What’s a 9-4 season worth in college football? For Arkansas Razorbacks Coach Sam Pittman, probably about $7 million a year.
Pittman earned $3.75 million this year under his current contract, ranking him 12th among the 13 public university Southeastern Conference coaches. He surely earns more than the coach at the SEC’s only private school, Vanderbilt, which doesn’t disclose its salaries.
That’s the deal Pittman signed two years ago, but a college football contract doesn’t work like contracts elsewhere. If a coach exceeds expectations for a year or two, as Pittman has done, he can renegotiate. If he doesn’t meet expectations – again, it only takes a year or two – he can be fired but still collect his money. Arkansas’ last fired head coach, Chad Morris, still earns a hefty paycheck from the university while coaching a high school team in Texas.
As the state paper reported in December, Pittman has hired the agent, Jimmy Sexton, who represents the conference’s biggest name coaches. Sexton’s initial offer to the university was about $50 million over seven years, doubling Pittman’s salary. And that was before the Razorbacks beat Penn State in the Outback Bowl New Year’s Day.
Will Pittman get that much? He’ll get close. Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek, who’s also due for a new contract, won’t have much choice.
For football coaches, there is a direct and unmistakable relationship between how many games they win and their value in the marketplace. When the Hogs win, they can fill the 76,412-seat Razorback Stadium with fans who buy tickets, food and T-shirts. When they lose, many of those seats go empty, and rich boosters donate less to the program.
Winning programs even attract students to the university. As reported by the Tuscaloosa News in September, enrollment at the University of Alabama was 25,580 in 2007, the year Nick Saban became head coach. After six national championships, it was 38,320 in the fall semester, according to the University of Alabama’s website. Saban’s success has surely been a big reason why. The publicity he generates is incalculable, and people want to be associated with a winner. That’s why he earned $9.7 million in 2021.
Saban is the greatest college football coach ever, and that includes Fordyce native Paul “Bear” Bryant. Pittman isn’t that, but he is the perfect fit for Arkansas right now. These salaries are getting out of hand, but I don’t want to lose him.
Yurachek also will be forced to pay Pittman what he’s asking because Yurachek can’t control the market. Agents like Sexton can set the rates for their clients, play schools against each other, bid the salaries up and then profit from the commissions.
The University of Florida is paying its new coach, Billy Napier, more than $7.4 million, and he hasn’t taken that struggling program from two wins to nine in two years, as Pittman has done. If Florida says Napier is worth that much, then that’s about what Pittman is worth to Arkansas, until a comparable coach at a comparable school lands an $8 million deal. Then all the salaries will follow. Paying your coach less than other schools’ coaches are paid also sends a message to recruits that your program is less stable than it could be.
Pittman along with basketball coach Eric Musselman ($4 million a year) are the highest paid employees, by far, at the University of Arkansas. Some of its other employees are biology professors who will help the state reduce its chronic undersupply of doctors and education professors who will produce the next generation of badly needed teachers.
The marketplace has decided that Pittman’s value is far higher than those others, for two reasons. One is supply: There are more people capable of teaching biology and education than can coach the Arkansas Razorbacks to nine wins. The other is demand: A person’s market value is determined by society’s values, and we have decided as a society that winning football games is the most important thing a university does.
Is that the message we want to send? Regardless, it’s the one we’re sending because that’s how we really feel about it.
Don’t blame Pittman. He may be asking for $7 million after nine wins, but only because society, and the market, have said that’s what they’re worth.