The preference of University of Minnesota officials to hire a football coach presently employed at the Division I level carries with it a significant disadvantage: Coaches with those jobs invariably come with buyout clauses in their contracts.
That's a recent byproduct of the ever-increasing spending in major college sports, where school officials pouring money into athletic salaries and facilities have decided they need protection should their coaches seek greener pastures. It's not unusual for coaches even at non-BCS programs to have $1 million-plus buyouts, which raises one more obstacle in the Gophers' quest.
Rumored candidates such as Temple's Al Golden and San Diego State's Brady Hoke both have hefty buyouts, $1.5 million for Hoke and a reported $2 million for Golden (Temple is a private school and is not obligated to make its contracts public). Most other potential candidates have buyouts in the $500,000 range.
The question is whether Minnesota will be able to pay a significant buyout just to free a coach from his existing contract. University Regent Dean Johnson said Monday that it's "going to be difficult -- no doubt about it'' for the Gophers to pay a large buyout.
The reason, Johnson said, is Minnesota's current athletic budget, which still requires about $3 million from central administration to break even. Big Ten neighbors Iowa and Wisconsin balance their budgets with no central administration support, partly because the Big Ten Network now provides conference members about $7 million annually.
Johnson said some Regents have made it known they would like to see Minnesota balance its athletic budget without central administration support in the very near future. One reason that could be difficult is that the athletic department still is paying $5.2 million in buyout costs associated with the firings of former men's basketball coach Dan Monson and football coach Glen Mason. The athletic department took out an eight-year loan for $550,000 per year from central administration to pay those buyouts, and is considering taking out another loan from central administration to pay the $750,000 buyout of fired coach Tim Brewster, a figure that will rise with transition costs for the outgoing and incoming staffs.
Athletic director Joel Maturi refuses to discuss whether paying a significant buyout figure for a candidate could deter Minnesota's interest.
"We have a budget in place for a new coach and staff," Maturi said. "This would include all money we might be responsible for."
There's no doubt that buyout clauses have curtailed some previous potential hires.
"That's really an interesting phenomenon that's come up in recent years," Grant Teaff, head of the American Football Coaches Association, said of buyout clauses. "That is a deterrent [against coaches leaving] in all honesty. Which is why universities have them, as a way to protect themselves."
Here are key buyout facts for most frequently rumored candidates for the Minnesota job (figures from USA Today coaches' database, obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests):
• Hoke has a buyout of $1.5 million until Dec. 15, when it drops to $1 million. Might the university wait two weeks to save $500,000?
• Golden received an extension last spring believed to be worth about $1.2 million, with a buyout of at least $2 million, according to published reports.
• Connecticut coach Randy Edsall earns about $1.5 million, but he has "only'' a $500,000 buyout. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen earns $1.2 million, and is believed to have a buyout similar to Edsall; Mississippi State officials have not complied with a request for Mullen's contract.
• The best bargains, in terms of salary and buyout: Houston coach Kevin Sumlin ($750,000 salary, $600,000 buyout), Air Force coach Troy Calhoun ($775,000 salary, $565,000 buyout) and Southern Mississippi coach Larry Fedora ($685,000 salary, $400,000 to $500,000 buyout).
Of course, if the Gophers want to avoid a buyout, it could look at Randy Shannon, who was fired over the weekend by Miami (Fla.). Or consider interim coach Jeff Horton, who previously coached at UNLV and Nevada.
"Never had one,'' Horton said of a buyout clause. "Never had anyone who wanted me bad enough to buy me out [of a contract].''
Maturi is finding that's not the case with the other coaches on his list.