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The Bowden Buyout

2008 October 16
by Skip Sauer

In the comments, J. A. requested a post on coaching buyouts in the wake of Tommy Bowden’s departure at Clemson.** The fundamental point is that buyouts are not the key economic issue. They key issue is that coaches salaries, particularly in Tommy Bowden’s case, are proxies for player talent. Bowden was paid $1.8 million per year in part because of his ability to stock the Tiger dressing room with loads of (largely uncompensated) talent.

The $3.5 million buyout is being paid out of a “rainy day” fund that has been built up specifically for this, or some similar purpose. The contract states that it will be paid out over six years, or about $600,000 per year. This is the right context: buyouts are a form of insurance in a high stakes game; tragedy triggers the “lump sum” buyout, but it is effectively an annual cost, part of the cost of doing business in major college football. Moreover, $600,000 is not a ton of money in today’s college football world. And in the context of Bowden’s salary and ten year’s of coaching at Clemson, it’s a decent reward for a pretty good job. Further, if Tommy takes another FBS job, I’d bet those payments will cease.

I’m not sure if he needs another job though, in the psychological sense, as the pressure clearly showed in his demeanor in recent years. Also, despite the severance in employment, his family has a good bit of orange blood in it now, as his two kids are Clemson alumni. He could stay put and be, as he put it on Monday, Clemson’s #1 fan. One thing that is poorly understood is that Clemson fans deeply appreciate the work he has done to reconstruct the program, but the game day results over ten years were not good enough. Tommy was “building a Ferrari” but always had a missing part or two, and when the car crashed (repeatedly) it looked ugly.

The hullabaloo over Bowden’s buyout, and indeed over mid-season departures is overdone. I find it hugely ironic that pundits who piled on the media pressure are now decrying the result. Pat Forde would be exhibit #1. Ironically, Tommy’s father and brother, who one might expect to be bitter, are not. Indeed, Terry’s column earlier this week hit the nail on the head.

**Disclaimer: this poster is employed by Clemson University and is a season ticket older. He expects a fired up team on Saturday against Georgia Tech. Go Tigers!

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