Joe Moorhead’s buyout was between $4 million and $7 million, depending on what he’s making at Oregon.

Ralph “Shug” Jordan famously coached football at Auburn for 25 years, winning 67.5% of his games, including 60% of his SEC games. The nearly 90,000-seat Auburn football stadium bears his name. A statue of Jordan has been commissioned.

Gus Malzahn, Auburn’s most recent football coach, won 66% of the games he coached, 59.1% of his SEC games, nearly mirroring Jordan’s win percentages. For Malzahn, there will be no statue and certainly no renaming of the stadium. No, he has been fired.

Rick Cleveland

And get this: Auburn must now pay Malzahn $21.4 million not to coach. That’s right, Auburn must pay Malzahn more than $10 million in the next 30 days, and then $2.68 million a year for the next four years. For that king’s ransom, Malzahn must do exactly nothing.

Malzahn just completed the third year of a seven-year contract that called for him to make $49 million. Keep in mind, we are in middle of a pandemic that has affected college sports, just as it has every facet of our society. Across the country, colleges and universities are cutting sports and scholarships. Athletic departments, even entire conferences, are taking out loans to stay in business.

And, amid all this, Auburn is going to pay a guy more than 21 million semolians not to coach.

This is just one more sign of the times — albeit, a gigantic marquee — in big-time college sports. Everywhere you look, schools are paying coaches not to coach. In fact, Arkansas is paying two. Chad Morris was bought out for $10 million, two years after Bret Bielema was bought out for $11.9 million.

What was it Sen. Everitt Dirksen once said? “A billion here, a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money…”

Dirksen was talking about government waste. The government has nothing on college sports, especially since the government prints money and the universities don’t. At South Carolina, the Gamecocks’ buyout of recently fired Will Muschamp is just north of $13 million. Muschamp is good at this. Before that, he got $6.1 million from Florida — not to coach.

Tennessee reportedly paid Butch Jones, recently hired at Arkansas State, approximately $8 million not to coach. Texas A&M bought out Kevin Sumlin reportedly for $10 million. LSU negotiated out of its contract with Les Miles for a paltry $1.5 million. But — and, boy, this is a big BUT — LSU would have to pay Ed Orgeron $27 million if it fired him this year.

Last year, Ole Miss bought out Matt Luke and Mississippi State bought out Joe Moorhead. Compared to the likes of Auburn and Arkansas, the Mississippi schools got off cheaply. Luke’s buyout was reportedly $6 million. Moorhead’s was between $4 million and $7 million, depending on what he’s making at Oregon. Still, in Mississippi, that’s real money.

There are reports that the Rebels’ Lane Kiffin is among the people Auburn considering as a replacement for Malzahn. Kiffin reportedly makes $3.9 million at Ole Miss. And we must wonder if Auburn is willing to pay someone over $5 million a year not to coach, what would they pay someone to really coach? The Rebels might not like the answer.

But let’s get back to Auburn and Malzahn. You might ask — and it would be a good question — how Auburn got into a situation where it would have to pay a football coach $21.45 million not to coach. Here’s the short version: In 2017, Malzahn led Auburn to 10 victories and the SEC West Championship. In one three-week stretch, the Tigers defeated Alabama and Georgia, both ranked No. 1 at the time.

At the same time, Arkansas was about to fire Bielema and hire a new coach. Malzahn, who had played and coached at Arkansas and had been a highly successful high school coach in Arkansas, was reportedly No. 1 on the Razorbacks’ list. So Auburn renegotiated its contract with Malzahn to keep him. The new contract called for $49 million over seven years. Real money.

And now let’s get back to Shug Jordan. Remember him? The most Jordan ever made at Auburn was $42,500, and that was at the end of his career in 1975. That computes to $203,000 today when coaches make ten times that — and even more — and they don’t even have to blow a whistle, much less call a play.


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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.