As I was sitting still in traffic late Friday morning, a hip-hop song that I’d heard many times before penetrated my conscience.
One word, repeated three times by popular rapper, Kendrick Lamar — “Loyalty, loyalty, loyalty.”
Then, in an ironic twist, I heard my cell phone ping. It was an alert from Sports Illustrated.
“Tennessee fires athletic director John Currie.” A couple of hours later as I’m sitting in the Ford dealership waiting for my wife’s car to get serviced, a young lady sitting close by, who will probably be deaf in about 10 years because of the way-too-loud music emanating from her iPhone earbuds, was bobbing her head to a hip-hop song.
Guess which one. Yep. Loyalty, loyalty, loyalty. But then, this part you’re going to think I made up, but I kid you not, it’s real.
My phone pings again. Another alert, this time from Bleacher Report. Jimbo Fisher named Texas A&M HC After 8 years at FSU.
The irony was too much to handle. I couldn’t help but to think that a higher power was at work, trying to send a message. But what could it be, I wondered, even as I scrolled down our sports Twitter feed looking at all of the area high school football players tagging schools, coaches and online recruiting services, hoping to get seen by someone — preferably a Division I school.
And then it hit me. There, indeed, was a message that the football recruiting gods were trying to deliver to me so that I can deliver it to you, football prospect, and you too, football prospect parent.
Here’s the message: These schools ain’t loyal.
I pondered on it for a while, and then hot off the presses, another message downloaded into my high school football, student-athlete loving soul: These coaches ain’t loyal, either.
That last fact was sort of justified by this tweet from Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois.
No call, no text, you could of said something ...— Deondre Francois™ (@_Dirtie12) December 1, 2017
But when you're talking about loyalty, you have to extend it. Neither are the ADs, nor the boosters not even most fans. They just aren’t loyal…not to you the high school athlete. But there is a loyalty at work among all of the aforementioned football people groups. You can probably guess what it is.
And not for the same reasons why your seventh grade son or your 12th grade football player wants to win. When you start penetrating into the world of the Jimbo Fishers and the John Curries and the Nick Sabans and the Kirby Smarts, this grand old game of pigskin begins to pull mightily at the purse strings.
Ultimately these big named, blueblood universities are multi-million dollar corporations that feed into the multi-billion dollar industry that is NCAA Division I College Football, and they have just one bottom line objective in sight — increasing the bottom line.
Every year around this time, at least a few college football head coaches are made out to be liars — whether voluntarily or involuntarily — when the good ol’ coaching carousel gets gassed up and ready to roll.
That’s because these coaches have spent the last few months convincing hungry, wide-eyed athletes that they’re going to be around. That their loyalties are only with the school they’re currently at. That there are no coaching changes on the horizon or no administrative challenges to fix.
Nope. No truth to that rumor that I’m heading off to Big Bucks U, West.
Recruiting scandal? Nah. Fake news. It’ll blow over.
What it is, really, is that many of these coaches are pressured, by virtue of the nature of their high-dollar, high-pressure jobs, to say and do whatever they must to lure you onto campus. Or to make you think you’re getting lured onto campus.
This pressure comes partly from a competitive streak and will to win from coaches, yes, but, also from boosters with deep pockets and ADs trying to keep school chancellors and presidents happy, and fans who are constantly howling from their collective belly of grossly myopic, unrealistic expectations for national championships, despite the fact that there are almost 130 Division I football programs and only one national title trophy doled out per season.
And if you don’t think it’s about money, just take a gander at how drastically the game has changed over the last few decades.
Let’s start first by looking at the baseline figures of Fisher’s new deal at Texas A&M. The former Florida State coach signed on the dotted line for a 10-year contract worth $75 million. That’s 7.5 million a year, in case you’re counting at home.
I did a little research to find out what my personal all-time favorite football coach, the legendary Tom Osborne from Nebraska made in his heyday. When Osborne started coaching in the 1970s, his starting salary was a paltry $25,000 annually. He would migrate into the six-figure range eventually, but only after coaching 25 years and winning several national championships.
In an Associated Press article written back in 2009, Osborne was quoted as being astounded at the fact that then-Nebraska coach Bo Pelini was making $1.85 million annually. Chump change compared to any Power Five deal that’s getting brokered right now.
Let’s go back further for comparison’s sake. My buddy and fellow sportswriter Bill Renje dug up this little financial factoid on the legendary Alabama coach, Bear Bryant. When ‘Bama lured Bryant away from Texas A&M in the late 1950s, he was considered as the nation’s top coach, but he was paid $17,500 per year for 10 years.
“Oh, well, you know, there’s inflation and changing times and yada yada. Surely that figure is comparable to what’s being paid now, right?”
The 2017 equivalent for Bryant’s $17,500 annual salary for, again, being the Nick Saban of his time, would be just $149,000 a year. Toward the end of his career in the late 70s, he was making $45,000 per year, the modern-day equivalent of about $142,000.
Last year in a foxsports.com article that listed the 20 lowest-paid Power Five coaches in the nation, the greatest-to-least list began with Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez who was the high man at $2.86 million annually, and ended with Big 12 cellar dweller Kansas and its coach, David Beaty’s $801,109.
This kind of money talks. In fact, it has a big mouth.
And let’s not even begin to talk about all of the other beneficiaries of big time college football, like merchandisers who profit from the “amateur athletes’” jerseys, while it remains NCAA-illegal for the athletes themselves to make one cent off of their own numbers.
What about NCAA officials themselves, like President Mark Emmert who made upwards of $2 million dollars in 2013 overseeing an operation of so-called amateur athletes.
Even at the FCS level, it’s crazy. Take Liberty University coach Turner Gill who received a total financial package from the school valued at $750,116 for Liberty’s fiscal year ending June 30, 2015, according to an article from aseaofred.com
So much more I could say. So many more examples to draw from. But I don’t have the time nor the space, so let’s get back to that loyalty thing.
High school athletes: As you are watching all of these crazy coaching sagas play out, and as you’re listening to all of these coaches pump your heads up with all of these pipe dreams that raise your hopes to play and their rate of pay, I leave you with a challenge.
First, be careful. Be discerning. Yes, there are some solid coaches out there who, despite their fat checks, will keep it 100 with you at all times. Yes, there are some big named programs who do have coaches that truly care about the student in the athlete and the young man inside the jersey. But there are also many who will be quick to sell you a false bill of goods to make things easier for themselves.
Secondly, don’t underestimate the wisdom of your high school coaches. Sometimes your high school coach will tell you some things that you — and, let’s be honest, your parents — don’t want to hear. Like, “Go the JUCO route,” or “Consider these solid Division II and NAIA programs.”
You know why? Because at the end of the day (I hate that phrase), the end game for most high school coaches is not what you do on Friday nights, but what you receive while walking across that graduation stage in mid-May.
Thirdly, I don’t care if you’re a 5-star recruit or a .005 one, go into your college search with an academics-first mind. Choosing the right coach is important. Picking the scheme that accentuates your talents is great.
But for your own benefit and lack of stress, go find the school that you can feel comfortable with academically that will help you with your non-football goals. And ride with that school, even if the coach or AD or whoever, gets off the train. Ride with it, because you’re doing it for loyalty to your own life aspirations.
I love what Newton High football coach Terrance Banks says regarding the college decision — and it’s been stated in similar ways by other coaches I’ve encountered over the years. He says: “You’re not just making a four-year decision. You’re making a 40-year decision.” That means, if football — or any sport for that matter — is the only thing factoring into your school choice, you’re doing it wrong.
And lastly, since you know many of these coaches, schools, ADs, boosters and fans are only loyal to winning and the money or prestige it gives them, you must, again, make the choice to be loyal to yourself. Be loyal to your own goals and aspirations. Don’t tie your identity down to star-rankings, Division I or Power Five offers. Don’t expect these coaches and schools to care for you better or more than you care for you.
If you don’t know by now, turn on the TV during these coaching searches, follow the number trail and then realize that ultimately, most household name programs and coaches are looking out primarily for the who they see in the mirror.
But here’s the kicker, beloved high school student-athlete: So should you.
Gabriel Stovall is the proud sports editor of The Covington News. He can be reached for tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can follow him on Twitter: @GabrielStovall1 or @CovNewsSports.