In this Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, file photo, then-Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre watches during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Washington State in Boulder, Colo.

They call this time of the year – with so many coaching changes – college football’s Silly Season – and it is.

Rick Cleveland

It is especially busy this year.

It is also expensive. And we’ll get to that.

Monday we learned that Ole Miss has hired recently fired Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre to become its new defensive coordinator. MacIntyre replaces Wesley McGriff following what was one of the worst defensive performances in history of the Southeastern Conference.

Today is Tuesday, and we have two more high profile changes. Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo reportedly is leaving to join Mack Brown’s comeback train at North Carolina.

Meanwhile, at Mississippi State, we learn Mark Hudspeth, associate head coach, tight ends coach and acclaimed recruiter, reportedly will leave the Bulldogs to become head coach at Austin Peay.

Keep in mind, highly regarded Magnolia State recruiter Tony Hughes, let go weeks ago as head coach at Jackson State, is still in the market for a job. Might Hudspeth’s departure open a spot on State’s staff for Hughes? Or is Hughes headed for Florida and a reunion with Dan Mullen? Or will Ole Miss, which made a play for Hughes this time last year, make another?

So much uncertainty.

Also keep in mind that while all these coaching changes take place, prospective college players are choosing their college destinations. The early signing period begins on Dec. 19, a week from Wednesday.

The Silly Season could also be called the $illy $eason. This is a time when college athletic departments spend real dollars as if it were Monopoly money.

Exhibit A in this $illy $eason: North Carolina. The Tar Heels recently fired former Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora. They must pay Fedora $12.2 million over the next four years not to coach. The Tar Heels have agreed to a five-year contract to pay the 67-year-old Brown a base salary $3.5 million per year plus incentives. This means that, for the next four years, North Carolina will be paying at least $6.5 million to two football coaches. That’s a lot of dough for a basketball school to pay for that other sport.

Bear Bryant (left) congratulates John Vaught after a 10-8 Ole Miss victory in 1968. Can you imagine what these two guys would make now days?

There’s plenty of silliness to go around.

Take Colorado. The Buffs will pay MacIntyre nearly $5 million over the next three years, while he presumably coaches the defense at Ole Miss. Meanwhile, MacIntyre is set to make $1.5 million a year in a three-year deal at Ole Miss. Do the math: MacIntyre will make $9.5 million over the next three years. That’s pretty good money in Oxford. And then consider: The most John Howard Vaught ever made at Ole Miss was $27,500 a year. And he lived quite well.

More silly still: Arkansas fired Bret Bielema last year, still owing him $12 million through 2020. For doing nothing, Bielema gets a check for $320,000 a month through Dec. 31, 2020.

And then Arkansas agreed to pay another coach, Chad Morris, a salary of $3.5 million for six years. Arkansas finished 2-10 this season. By my math, paying two head coaches a total of $7.5 million, Arkansas paid $3.75 million per victory. Break out the champagne! Woo Pig Sooie!!!

I sometimes wonder what Vaught, who won six SEC Championships, would think about the money coaches make these days. And I also think about how coaching salaries have far out-paced inflation during my lifetime.

When I was a barely shaving 23-year-old sports editor of the Hattiesburg American, Mack Brown was a 24-year-old wide receivers coach at Southern Miss. Both of us made about $13,000 a year, which was why we played one another in tennis several times a week. It was about the only entertainment we could afford.

Mack’s goal, which he told me several times, was to become a head coach as quickly as possible so he could make some real money. Back in 1975, he was talking $60,000, maybe even $70,000 a year. Now, he makes more than that in a week.

Silly? No, $illy.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.