I used to follow college football but have not done so in a number of years. Despite that fact, a recent story caught my attention and merited some brief commentary here at The New Leaf Journal. Louisiana State University has decided to part ways with its head football coach, Ed Orgeron. Two years ago, Mr. Orgeron coached LSU to the national championship in a 15-0 season that ranked among the best single seasons in recent memory. Now – LSU is reportedly paying him up to $17 million to go away.

Joe Burrow and Ed Orgeron posing with President Donald Trump at the White House after LSU won the college football national championship.
Photo taken at the White House on January 17, 2020. From left to right: Former LSU quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, former President Donald J. Trump, and soon-to-be-former LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron. Mr. Orgeron and the LSU team had been invited to the White House after winning the college football national championship. Image is in the public domain.

Coach Salaries, Buyouts, and the Missions of Colleges

I have not been following the situation with Mr. Orgeron and LSU too closely, so I will refrain from opining on the wisdom of terminating a coach two years after he led the team to a national championship in an undefeated campaign – although it bears noting that whatever issues led LSU to make this decision likely existed when it extended Mr. Orgeron’s contract after the 2019 season. However, I cannot pass up commenting on the fact that a state university is reportedly spending up to 17 million dollars to terminate its contract with a football coach it agreed to pay more than 9 million dollars annually upon renewing his contract less than two years ago. Consider that the cost of this coaching change will be greater – for the 17 million does not cover what LSU will surely pay the next coach.

There are all sorts of defenses one may make in LSU’s favor. The boosters will pay for the buyout! The football team generates revenue! These defenses have some truth in isolation. They do not, however, negate that throwing millions at a football coach to just go away within two years of paying him millions to stay is an objectively strange look for a state institution funded by tax revenue to ostensibly provide higher education services.

To be sure, neither erratic coach hiring and firing decisions nor spending upwards of 20 million dollars to change football coaches is the worst thing that an American college has done to debase itself in recent years – colleges have afflicted and are afflicting worse on students. But that fact does not change the fact that remarkably expensive stunts such as LSU’s handling of its coaching situation call into question the order of priorities at offending institutions.