How much will it cost Florida State to keep Jimbo Fisher?

Streeter Lecka

I've seen increased chatter lately about whether FSU will give Jimbo Fisher an extension, and if it can afford to do so.

Fisher's contract runs through the 2016 season, and he makes about $2.8M annually as a base salary.

I think this is largely a non-issue. There is every reason to believe it gets done.

Could Texas fire Mack Brown, come after Fisher and offer him an unmatchable $7M contract -- the first in college history? Sure. But it's never wise to worry about things beyond one's control.

Jimbo Fisher is 28-3 in his last 31 games after a 12-7 start as a head coach. He'll likely be somewhere between 31-5 and 33-3 in his last 36 by the end of the year. By all accounts, he has matured a lot as a head coach of late, and is treating and managing coaches and other staff in a much better way.

He is going to get a lot of money from Florida State. And FSU will pay it. Happily. Because it has a very good head coach who can leverage the considerable resources of the program.

My question isn't whether it will get done, or if it should get done, but rather, how much will it likely cost FSU?

To answer that, let's start by looking at who makes more than Fisher.

Obviously, the list (this is not the incorrect USA Today list, which misleadingly includes the cost of the buyout from former schools in the annual salary) includes the six national championship coaches.

Nick Saban, Bob Stoops, Les Miles, Urban Meyer, Mack Brown and Steve Spurrier. These coaches make an average of $4.25M a year. Coaches get paid for the past performance of national titles. Jimbo Fisher does not belong in this category as of yet.

If he wins the national title this January (and now this seems much more likely than when I wrote this a few weeks ago), I'll have to write a new article.

Putting those six aside, let's take a look at the top-10 paid head coaches who have not won a national title. They include Kirk Ferentz, Charlie Strong, Gary Patterson, Mike Gundy, Brady Hoke, Butch Jones, Lane Kiffin, Mark Richt, Brett Bielema and Bo Pelini.

Those coaches make an average of $3.3M, only $500,000 more than Jimbo Fisher makes.

Four of these contracts are from programs that nobody would consider to be top-15, given to coaches they feared would bolt.

Kirk Ferentz at Iowa makes just shy of $4M, which is nuts. He is the highest paid head coach to not have won a national title, and Iowa is in a bad spot when it finally faces buying him out. This was a massive overshoot by the administration in guessing where contracts were going. Ferentz is always rumored for NFL jobs, as well, which is a much higher paying league, and something against which the Hawkeyes had to protect.

Gary Patterson also fits the category. Often rumored for Texas and other big jobs in recent years, TCU is paying Patterson $3.8M.

Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State) and Charlie Strong (Louisville) both received interest from bigger and better programs in the off-season, and both were given contracts of $3.2 and $3.5M, respectively, within the last two years.

Florida State should realistically not worry too much about losing Jimbo Fisher to another school. Sure, there are some schools for which he would likely leave if they offered an obscene amount of money, but as compared to the four schools above, the list is of schools considered a threat is much smaller for Fisher.

So let's get back to the $3.3M number.

On the one hand, you might argue that Fisher is a better coach than most or all of the coaches on the list. And few would disagree. From that perspective, Fisher should be paid more than the average of $3.3M.

On the other hand, Florida State is a place that offers extreme job security. It is the clear No. 1 program in a BCS conference. The ability to get talent relative to the other teams in the league, combined with the schedule, allows the head coach, if he is doing well (and not even great) to rack up wins. And Florida State is not so football crazy, or so out of whack in its expectations, that it will fire a head coach for consistently producing double-digit win seasons. Some places, like Auburn and Tennessee, must overpay considerably because their expectations are much greater than reality. Butch Jones will not be at Tennessee and making $3.1M in 2017 if he has not won the SEC East. Ditto Gus Malzahn and the SEC West. And what happens when a coach making more at a school with crazy boosters gets fired? He gets bumped down to a coordinator salary while the coach at the school like Florida State keeps chugging along.

Given that, FSU is a place where a coach can stay for a long time. It's a place where he won't have to uproot his family if he is doing well by reasonable, objective standards. A place without crazy, activist boosters. And staying a long time means making a ton of money over a career, even without making the most money in a single year.

Additionally, Fisher's success through 50 games is a rather important benchmark historically when determining whether it is wise to invest in a head coach. Among first-time FBS head coaches who started 40-10 or better include: Urban Meyer, Pete Carroll, Mark Richt, Chip Kelly, Bob Stoops and Larry Coker. And Spurrier and Meyer, though not first-time head coaches at Florida, both hit the mark. Les Miles started 41-9 at LSU, though he did not do so at Oklahoma State.

I expect Fisher to be given a contract that is somewhat close to the average of the top-10 coaches yet to win a national title. Probably a bit more, given that new contracts usually go above the norm as the market continues to push.

Perhaps $3.75M.

$3.75M is about a 33-percent raise over Fisher's current salary of $2.8M. And it's a number that would not require immediate renegotiation in the year or two following the execution of the contract.

And I'd set it up with a very lucrative bonus package, that could make Fisher the highest paid coach in the country in a national title year.

I think FSU is one of the schools best positioned to offer heavy bonus packages, because many of the significant incentives are very reasonably reached playing in the ACC. This is not the case in some of the tougher conferences, where division and conference titles are more rare. Florida State has won the ACC 13 times in 21 years of membership.

To make incentives work, they must be reachable, and offer potentially more to the earner than the extra base salary they replace. For FSU, that means making winning the conference more often than not (say, three out of every five years) a lucrative proposition.

I'd offer $200,000 for a division title, an additional $150,000 winning the conference (because this gets FSU into a BCS-type bowl), an additional $350,000 for making it in to the college football playoff, an additional $300,000 for making it to the championship game, and an additional $1.75M for winning it all.

Here are some examples of what he might be paid for different outcomes:

  • Atlantic Division Title: $3.95M
  • Conference Title: $4.1M
  • Conference Title & spot in 4-team playoff: $4.45M
  • Conference Title, spot in 4-team playoff & making national title game: $4.75M
  • Conference Title, spot in 4-team playoff & national title: $6.5M

The $3.75M base is very competitive among coaches who have not won a national title. And the incentives for winning the national title ($6.5M total compensation, including bonuses) would make Fisher college football's highest paid coach in that given year.

I think that's a contract that would remain competitive for several years. And I think it is something Fisher would sign.

What do you think? How much will it take to keep Jimbo Fisher in Tallahassee?

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