June 10, 2011
Officially, the BCS championship trophy is worth a little over $30,000. For Auburn coach Gene Chizik, though, bringing the crystal football to campus last year was worth more than $1 million in bonuses — and, as of this morning, is now worth at least $1.4 million more in a contract extension that increases his salary by a full two-thirds:
AUBURN, Ala. (AP)—Auburn football coach Gene Chizik has received a new contract nearly doubling his salary after leading the Tigers to a national championship.
Auburn announced a deal Friday worth $3.5 million a year through 2015. Chizik could make up to $4.5 million with incentives.
He made $2.1 million in salary last season, but received another $1.3 million in bonuses after the Tigers went unbeaten and won the national title.
With the bump, Chizik joins two coaches he beat last year, Oregon's Chip Kelly and Arkansas' Bobby Petrino, as the latest additions to the $3 million club, pushing total membership (by my count) to eight head coaches nationally, up from seven coaches in 2010. (Two longstanding members, Florida's Urban Meyer and Ohio State's Jim Tressel, parted with their huge salaries after the season under very different circumstances. That's also not counting Brian Kelly and Lane Kiffin at Notre Dame and USC, respectively, whose salaries are private.) Half of those coaches reside in the SEC, all of them in SEC West: Within the division, Chizik still sits behind cross-state nemesis Nick Saban ($6 million per year), LSU's Les Miles ($3.75 million) and Petrino ($3.56 million), who — considering he and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz are the only $3 million coaches without at least an appearance in the BCS title game — obviously has a very good agent. Along with million-dollar offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, Auburn is shelling more for its top coaches than anyone nationally except Alabama and Texas.
That's a mere two-and-a-half years after Chizik's hiring was met with literal boos and general disgust after Chizik's arrival from a 5-19 stint over two dismal years at Iowa State, which reflects both his meteoric rise during last year's championship run and the new challenge he faces to live up to it in such a high-powered neighborhood. With the early exits of surprise stars Cam Newton and Nick Fairley and a decimated lineup across the depth chart, the Tigers are a good bet to fall out of the top 25, and possibly much worse than that against another loaded schedule. With the Saban Death Star humming as ominously as ever in Tuscaloosa, Chizik still faces the burden of establishing Auburn as a program with a consistent presence on the national stage, and not a perennial Outback Bowl outfit that was lucky enough — or unscrupulous enough, whichever you prefer — to latch on to a freak-of-nature quarterback as he was passing through en route to the NFL.
Success can create an equal and opposite reaction: As much goodwill and patience as a crystal football can buy a coach, $3.5 million comes with a roughly corresponding level of added pressure to contend for more. Chizik has vastly exceeded all expectations to date, and certainly earned his entry into the elite tiers of his profession — only six other active coaches this fall will have a national championship on their resumés, two of whom (Joe Paterno and Florida Atlantic's Howard Schnellenberger) are a more than a quarter-century removed from their last titles and at least a step or two removed from complete control over their current programs. Chizik is at the top. The story now becomes whether or not, or how long, he can stay there.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.