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Brian Kelly, Lincoln Riley, Jim Harbaugh, Mel Tucker, and the No-Good, Very Bad College Football Ecosystem

By Stephen Douglas
USC Introduce Lincoln Riley
USC Introduce Lincoln Riley / Kevork Djansezian/GettyImages
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With college football's regular season winding down the coaching carousel has begun to spin. This year it's spinning a little more eratically than usual with some of the biggest-name coaches at some of the better college football schools being lured away to other high-profile gigs with large amounts of money. To type it out like that, it kind of sounds like any other year, but this is this year so we must treat it like it is the end of days.

It seems that the ultimate face of everything wrong with college football right now is Brian Kelly. Not because of anything that happened in the past, but because he left the Notre Dame Fighting Irish head-coach-less as they sit on the brink of a New Year's Eve bowl game and perhaps the College Football Playoff. If that sounds familiar, it's because he did the same thing when he left Cincinnati in 2009. Obviously, this is not unprecedented.

Kelly's real crime seems to be the way he told his players: through text, letting them know he was leaving and he'd have more details at a 7am meeting. A meeting which lasted 11 minutes. Every bit of this offended people. From the message to the length to the fact that it was still dark outside. Some things are more important than having your salary doubled!

Meanwhile, he's doing the exact same thing every other coach changing jobs is doing. Lincoln Riley and his staff left "under cover of darkness."

Riley added some of his own mythology to his tale when he told Scott Van Pelt last night that he hadn't even spoke to USC until this weekend, as if the coach had no idea they would even be interested. What incredible shock to find out someone is willing to double your salary out of nowhere. We're supposed to believe this? That Riley just woke up after two hours of sleep and decided to move his family and his dogs "Boomer" and "Sooner" across the country? That's a very impulsive decision!

But Riley and the others are getting paid handsomly to basically work 24/7/365. Dan Mullen didn't spend the season recruiting and he was fired nine days ago.

Riley, Kelly, and everyone else who just left their team this week has to get to work because they're making the kind of money that demands results. Waiting weeks or months to get to work recruiting at their new job would put them behind their competition. And those jobs would haven't been waiting for them so they had to take the jobs now, during the current season. It doesn't matter how sh-tty that is to the unpaid labor, that's the reality we live in.

The real problem is college football. It's a f--ked up system that rewards some of the worst people for being the best coaches. Scholarships are offered and taken back. The only hard and fast rule is that if you fire a coach you have to keep paying him.

The sport chews up and spits out young athletes with no real compensation beyond room and board and a chance to be in an Applebee's commercial if something unique happens. There is nothing inherently good about this system except for the entertainment value to fans and the ability to make money for the schools. Just because you hate the coaches doesn't mean you shouldn't also hate the game.

Just last week Penn State and Michigan State gave giant new contracts to coaches who will not win their conference. The guy who can win the Big Ten this weekend, Jim Harbaugh, is currently being lauded for giving any bonuses he earns this season back to the university to give to athletic department employees who took pay cuts during the pandemic. Like many stories of people giving money out of their own pocket in America (like a GoFundMe so a fully-insured person can afford their medical bills) it's not the heartwarming tale it's sold as.

Basically, if Ohio State had beaten Michigan last weekend, like they have every year for the previous decade, then no bonuses would be handed out and all those people could kick rocks. Meanwhile, you can be certain if Harbaugh wins the National Championship, or probably even just the Big Ten this weekend, he'll be looking to renegotiate his current deal. And why shouldn't the guy who just won the B1G be paid as much as they guys he just beat? For some reason I think the University of Michigan will be able to find the money it takes to retain Harbaugh and keep him happy in Ann Arbor. I have no idea where this money could come from, but I bet they can find it if there's a happy ending to the season. Weird how they can't find it for the athletes or the employees who needed to make sacrifices for the good of the school.

So yeah, it's fine to be mad at the coaches for any number of reasons. But to act like Brian Kelly taking another job is the worst thing going on here is stupid. There's no good way (or hour of the day) for a coach to inform his players that he's leaving. It sucks, but this is how things work.

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