Change has its price
by Luke Brietzke
Mar 21, 2010 | 4519 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
AUBURN — The past 18 months have shown that Auburn isn’t afraid to pay whatever it takes to win.

That has meant paying more than $7 million in buyouts during that time.

The latest portion of the payment stems from Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs deciding to fire men’s basketball coach Jeff Lebo last week.

During his six years, Lebo’s team stayed out of trouble and kept the program out of further NCAA trouble despite inheriting a team under NCAA sanctions. That six-year stint, however, included just one postseason appearance and no showings in the NCAA tournament.

Jacobs said hours after firing Lebo that he knows Auburn should be competing for championships.

Now, with the program prepared to move into a new $90 million arena, Jacobs and Auburn want to find a way to transform the program back into a winner.

Auburn’s commitment included shedding itself of Lebo and his $785,000 salary — a very low mark among SEC coaches. The next step is luring in a coach worthy of a competitive SEC salary, perhaps in the $2 million range.

“We are committed to winning at Auburn, and of course we will honor the contracts of coaches when changes that we believe are in the best interests of our student-athletes and our athletic programs are made,” Jacobs said.

Lebo is due a $1.5 million buyout, pushing the university’s sum to $7.1 million.

Lebo’s buyout provided the latest in a series of such settlements Auburn has paid during the past 18 months.

That trend began in October, when then-football coach Tommy Tuberville fired offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. Because Franklin signed a two-year contract, Auburn owed him the remainder of his $280,000 contract that year, as well as the same sum in 2009.

Tuberville resigned two months later. Jacobs said Tuberville’s job was not in jeopardy when the coach elected to resign. Auburn wasn’t required to pay the buyout because of the resignation instead of termination. However, Jacobs decided to pay him the buyout anyway, saying Auburn felt it was “the right thing to do.”

First-year defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads also signed a two-year contract, meaning the university still owed him $305,000.

Auburn hired Gene Chizik 10 days after Tuberville’s resignation. He immediately dismissed the entire coaching staff, giving Auburn seven more dead contracts to pay through June.

That meant that after Chizik filled out his coaching staff, Auburn was paying 20 football coaches.

Auburn also paid Al Borges, another former offensive coordinator, a $325,000 buyout after Tuberville fired him at the end of the 2008 season.

With football and men’s basketball widely considered the major revenue sports in college athletics, the buyouts could prove to be wise decisions.

They could also be expensive gambles.

With so much money getting poured into athletics nationwide, winning has become more important to justify such investments.

Thus, a bad hire following the hefty buyouts could send the program into a hopeless spiral of spending.

Jacobs’ football hire turned out well in Year one, when Chizik led Auburn to an Outback Bowl victory and an 8-5 season.

With a new arena and plans to spend for a big-name coach, Jacobs hopes his basketball search will conclude with similar results and that he will see a similar return on his most recent decision.
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