Michigan State blew up the market for college football coaches last season by giving Mel Tucker a massive 10-year contract as the Spartans charged out to a 9-1 start in his second campaign.
It was a bit puzzling at the time.
Tucker's overall record as a head coach was 16-13 at that point, covering not even three full seasons at Colorado and Michigan State, but things looked promising in East Lansing. And there were already rumblings LSU and maybe even some NFL teams were plotting to lure the 50-year-old coach away from the Spartans.
Since that 9-1 start, Michigan State is 4-3, including Saturday's 34-7 loss to Minnesota, a thorough beatdown coming on the heels of a decisive loss last week to Washington.
“I’m really not happy with what I’m seeing,” Tucker told reporters. “I don’t accept it.”
In the long run, Tucker could be worth every penny of the fully guaranteed, $95 million deal. It would be way premature to make any definitive judgments. But then again, it was premature to make Tucker one of the highest-paid coaches in the country.
The coach-as-savior mentality is rampant in college football. A good coach can have a huge impact on a program, especially after years of incompetence.
Look no further than Kansas for proof. Lance Leipold has the Jayhawks 4-0 for the first time since 2009. The turnaround behind quarterback Jaylon Daniels has been remarkable for a program that hadn't won more than three games in any season since that '09 campaign.
Still, the rush to find and then lock up a great college football coach has given coaches all the leverage and led decision-makers — athletic directors, university presidents, well-heeled boosters — to make highly questionable financial decisions. Tucker's deal is far from the first and maybe not even the most questionable.
Nebraska just paid an extra $7.5 million to make Scott Frost go away a few weeks before his buyout was scheduled to be cut in half. This business is crazy.
The contract Tucker got reshaped the market and made extra-long megadeals the norm for any established and successful coach.
If Tucker was worth it after 16 victories, of course Ryan Day, Jim Harbaugh, James Franklin, Brian Kelly, Dabo Swinney, Kirby Smart, et al, were worth at least that.
Miami is a private school and does not disclose how much it pays its coaches, but it has been mostly assumed the school gave Mario Cristobal a market-rate megadeal to leave Oregon and be the Hurricanes' savior.
Clearly, that's going to take a while.
A week after a lackluster showing at Texas A&M, Middle Tennessee handed the Hurricanes what can reasonably be called one of the worst losses in program history.
"We all came here for a purpose and a reason. We’ve got a lot of work to do," Cristobal said.
The Blue Raiders came in 2-1, including a blowout loss to James Madison. They weren't even one of the favorites to win Conference USA.
“It was a butt-kicking,” MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said. “We were the tougher team.”
The cost of a savior has skyrocketed in college football, while the chances of actually landing one has never been more fraught with risk.
No, the other one.
Hendon Hooker and No. 11 Tennessee will likely head into October as a top-10 team and maybe the biggest challenger to Georgia in the SEC East.
The Volunteers beat Florida for just the second time in the last 18 seasons, with Hooker putting on what has become a typical show: 349 yards passing, 112 rushing, three total touchdowns.
Nobody pegged Josh Heupel as a savior when he came to Knoxville to replace Jeremy Pruitt after the 2020 season. Heupel was viewed as a safe pick by athletic director Danny White, who took his UCF coach with him to Rocky Top.
The results have been very good so far, but realistically the Vols are probably still a long way from being a threat to Georgia and Alabama in the SEC. See: 453 yards passing by Florida's Anthony Richardson.
As for that other UT, Texas dropped to 2-2, losing at Texas Tech in overtime.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
A week after losing to Tulane, Kansas State beat No. 6 Oklahoma for the third time in four tries since coach Chris Klieman took over in Manhattan. Liberated from Nebraska's dysfunction, quarterback Adrian Martinez was brilliant for the Wildcats, accounting for five touchdowns. ... Compounding a bad day for Sooners fans, No. 7 USC and former OU coach Lincoln Riley stayed unbeaten with a late touchdown drive at Oregon State. The Trojans have 14 takeaways and zero giveaways through four games. ... M issouri's overtime loss to Auburn and beleaguered head coach Bryan Harsin will rank among the most painful in school history. After Mizzou's second-team preseason All-America kicker Harrison Mevis missed a potential winning chip shot on the final play of regulation, Tigers running back Nathan Peat let a game-ending TD slip out of his hands about a foot away from the goal line in OT. Whether that allows Harsin to keep his job another week almost seems like a moot point. ... America's team, Appalachian State, played yet another bonkers game. This week the Mountaineers blew a 28-3 first-half lead and lost to James Madison. ... Since losing to App State, No. 23 Texas A&M has won two straight. The offense other than Devon Achane is still not much to get excited about for the Aggies, but it was enough to beat No. 10 Arkansas. ... It was the full Bo Nix experience for No. 15 Oregon. The Auburn transfer threw a Pick-6 that went 95 yards and helped get Washington State to the verge of an upset in the fourth quarter. Nix then led the Ducks on two late scoring drives to keep them undefeated in non-Georgia games. ... No. 5 Clemson has won 10 straight games after a wild overtime victory against No. 21 Wake Forest. The good news for the Tigers was quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei played his best game since 2020. The bad news was a defense that was supposed to be Clemson's strength got carved up by Sam Hartman and the Deacs. No. 12 North Carolina State comes to Death Valley next week for another ACC Atlantic showdown. ... C.J. Stroud and No. 3 Ohio State toyed with Wisconsin, scoring more points against the Badgers than any opponent since former highly respected coordinator Jim Leonhard took over the defense in 2017. ... How to cure an ailing offense? North Carolina's defense did the trick for Notre Dame.
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