Jim Harbaugh’s contract at Michigan is being reported as worth $37 million for seven years, plus bonuses. That’s quite an inflationary spiral over the past three decades, when you consider we were all astounded when Texas A&M gave Jackie Sherrill a six-year deal for a total of $1.7 million in January 1982.
The assertion was that this was the first million-dollar contract guarantee for a college coach. The Aggies came up with this historic deal to take the 38-year-old Sherrill away from the Pittsburgh Panthers.
As I said, it was astounding, to the point that my sports editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press sent me to College Station, Texas to write a Sherrill piece and cover his first game on Sept. 4, 1982.
I got to sit with Sherrill for a half-hour or so at Tom’s BBQ. I have to say, the barbecue was laid out on butcher paper and it was fantastic.
The Aggies’ opponent for this game was Boston College. The Eagles were an Eastern independent of modest repute. For years, they had been scheduled by the major conference teams in much the same way that teams from the Sunbelt Conference or the FCS level are scheduled today.
Boston College would come to town, takes its defeat, accept its check and head back to Chestnut Hill.
The idea that the Aggies, with their million-dollar coach, would lose this first game to BC did not occur to anyone in A&M’s 12th Man crowd.
Except, the Eagles had this sophomore quarterback, a little bit of a fell’er called Doug Flutie, and he threw over and scrambled through Sherrill’s defenders as if they were standing still.
The final was Boston College 38, Texas A&M 16.
I remember there was a Jesuit priest who had considerable importance at BC sitting in the row behind me in the Kyle Stadium press box. By the middle of the third period, it was clear the visitors were way too good for the Aggies.
I turned to the priest and said: “Come on, you want to … go ahead and break out a big smile.’’
He shook his head and said: “I’m too polite.’’
That victory made BC a dot on the football map and that dot turned into much more than that. On Nov. 23, 1984, Flutie threw the touchdown pass to Gerald Phelan to beat the Miami Hurricanes inside the Orange Bowl.
The quarterback won the Heisman Trophy a couple of weeks later. Sherrill took the Auggies to three straight Cotton Bowls in the 1985-87 seasons, but the NCAA started investigating. The Aggies went on probation and he resigned after the 1988 season.
He went to Mississippi State for 13 seasons, retired in 2003, right about the time the program in Starkville was going on four years of probation.
But as I said, that barbecue at Tom’s was great.
ADDENDUM: Harbaugh’s first game for Michigan will be on Sept. 3 – at Utah. It won’t be nearly the surprise that Boston College delivered to Sherrill if college football’s newest high-paid coach were to lose that one.