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Gene Chizik gone, but not forgotten by Auburn’s payroll department

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Gene Chizik epitomizes what’s wrong with college football — or at least one thing that’s wrong with college football. It’s a little like shooting fish in a barrel, picking on college football, but let’s take aim today at awarding hefty guaranteed contracts to average coaches.

Chizik, I’m sure, is a perfectly nice guy, but he’s also the luckiest guy in America this week despite being fired by Auburn. Forget trying to win the PowerBall — rise to mediocrity in college coaching and you don’t have to work another day in your life!

In your wake, you’ll leave schools who will bitch and moan about their athletic budgets, using the cash hemorrhage they created as an excuse to spend more cash on yet another coach destined to be fired, yet cry poor when it’s suggested they pay a modest stipend to the athletes who, after all, are the reason for college sports. Aren’t they?

In 2007, Iowa State gave Chizik a six-year deal worth $6.75 million, guaranteed. For their investment, the Cyclones got five wins over two seasons — $1.35 million per victory. For that kind of dough, you’d expect a conference title or an NCAA investigation or something.

Yet because of that performance — and the way Chizik handled the Tigers’ defense as an assistant from 2002 to 2004 — Auburn hired him as head coach in 2009. He made $2.05 million in that season alone. In 2010, with a guy named Cam Newton as his quarterback, Chizik led Auburn to a national title — or rather, with a guy named Chizik as coach, Cam Newton led Auburn to a national title. Chizik earned $2.1 million in salary and $1.1 million in incentive bonuses. Two years later, Chizik is unemployed.

Yet he’s still bringing home the bacon, and he can afford to hire someone to fry it up in the pan. He has been getting that Iowa State parting gift while earning money from Auburn, and now Auburn will support him for the next three years, despite a 3-9 season in which the Tigers produced blowout losses of 63-21 (Texas A&M), 38-0 (Georgia) and 49-0 (dreaded foe Alabama) despite Chizik’s supposed defensive prowess.

Auburn renegotiated his deal after the national title, giving him $3.5 million annually through 2015 and a buyout clause. It was a tapering scale that started at $10 million if he had been fired last season. This season, he gets just $7.5 million. Auburn’s total tab for the firing is $11.09 million, including Chizik’s assistants. That’s not enough to buy your way out of the ACC, but it’s not chump change, either. And just four years ago, Auburn bought out Tommy Tuberville for $5.083 million. That’s Hollywood alimony money.

Sadly, Chizik and his assistants have to take their money in monthly installments — no big payday for them! Auburn’s students working two jobs will be happy to know the school is spending $208,334 a month to pay football coaches for absolutely nothing. Of course, that’s for just 36 months. And there is this super-harsh clause: If any of the coaches find jobs during that 36 months, the new salary will be deducted from the buyout money. Ouch!

How do Auburn fundraisers ask their alumni for money without bursting into flames?

(There is one out: If Auburn is found to have violated NCAA rules during Chizik’s tenure, the university doesn’t have to pay. Talk about the rock and the hard place: probation or $7.5 million. But Auburn weathered the Newton investigation and probably will pass the current one as well — unless administrators fall on their swords and confess in order to avoid paying Chizik. Wouldn’t that be something?)

When the renegotiated deal was announced, attorney Russ Campbell, who helped Chizik broker the deal, said: “The financial gains to the university are going to be long term, and they’re going to far exceed what any of the coaches get.”

Well, no. Winning a national championship was probably lucrative up to a point, and it helps with recruiting. But 3-9 negates all of that, although I suppose most football schools, if given a choice, would happily pay $11 million to buy that glass trophy.

The saddest part of all this: Chizik will probably eventually land a college job again, if not as a head coach, then as a defensive assistant. It’s not sad that Chizik will work, of course, but that he likely will take a job at the expense of someone else who needs the money worse than he does — and quite possibly is more qualified, despite that national title. And sadder still, if he attaches himself to the staff of another mediocre head coach, he can one day look forward to yet another buyout — as an assistant. It’s not head coach buyout money, but a person can live on it.

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