ATHENS – It’s going to be a merry Christmas in the Smart household.
Well, let’s face it, that was probably going to be the case anyway. Compared to you and me, it’s always good to be an SEC football coach. I’m here to tell you, $3.75 million per year will go a long way in Athens, Ga.
That’s what Kirby Smart currently makes annually as Georgia’s coach. But he will be making a lot more than that before this year is over. If not, he will be sometime shortly after the New Year.
Go ahead and bank it: Smart will get a raise and likely an extension after this season. He has to.
The good news for the sixth-ranked Bulldogs (11-1), who will play No. 4 Auburn in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday, is this will be a performance-based pay increase for Smart, a merit raise, if you will. That’s not necessarily the case everywhere across the conference.
There have been six head coaching jobs open in the conference this fall (Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M). Three of them have been filled at time of this writing (lunchtime Wednesday). As a result, cash once again is being strewn from one end of the conference to the other.
Invariably, some of it has to land on Smart. After all, his team dominated the Eastern Division this season, and he is at least partially responsible for the coaching dominoes that are suddenly falling all over the SEC.
Florida hired Dan Mullen from Mississippi State earlier this week. On Tuesday, we learned that the Gators are going to pay him $6.1 million a year.
Tennessee has yet to find their coach to replace Butch Jones. Jones was making $5 million a year as the Vols’ coach. But according to several published reports, they’ve offered his prospective replacement somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 to $7 million. Apparently that hasn’t been enough to get somebody to come to Knoxville and try to put out that raging tire fire.
Heck, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops is actually making more than Smart. Stoops received a contract extension and pay increase earlier this fall that will eventually take his salary to $4.75 in a stair-step escalation format.
None of this takes into account what will eventually happen at Arkansas and Texas A&M. Considering that the Aggies paid Kevin Sumlin $10 million to go away, logic would have it that they’ll probably pay a good bit for a coach to come in.
So, coming back to Smart, Georgia is simply going to have to change his financial picture just based on the market adjustment. But, just based on the way the coaching profession works these days, Smart was going to be in position to command a raise. And that’s whether or not the Bulldogs manage to beat Auburn for the SEC title.
Officially, as one might suspect, Georgia is not going to acknowledge that.
“Oh, we’re not thinking about that right now,” UGA athletic director Greg McGarity said. “We’re just totally focused on the game this weekend. That’s all we’re focused on right now, just the SEC Championship Game.”
And, for the record, that’s Smart’s focus, too.
He was asked Tuesday night about all the coaching turnover in the conference and, specifically, about Mullen getting the job at Florida.
“I’m worried about Auburn,” Smart said, quite expectedly. “That’s my focus. That’s our concentration. We have the opportunity to play in a big game, and that’s really all I can think about right now.”
But after that?
“We’re still focused on recruiting,” Smart said. “That will continue after the game and really will become the focus point. Up until then it’s really about Auburn.”
And that’s the thing about all these coaching developments. It’s only going to make the SEC — and the Eastern Division in particular — more competitive.
Who knows what Mullen will do at Florida. But we do know he did a lot with very little at Mississippi State. He knows the lay of the land in the state of Florida, and there’s no questioning his ability to develop quarterbacks. Well, to be specific, his type of quarterback.
Mullen already made an in-home visit Tuesday evening with Justin Fields, the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country and Georgia’s top commitment for the Class of 2018. Mullen is working hard to get Fields to take an official visit.
Of this, Smart is acutely aware, whether he’ll admit it or not
“I know Dan well,” Smart said after practice Tuesday. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Dan. I think he’s a good football coach. But I’m not concerned with what they’re doing right now.”
You can bet Smart will be concerned with that by Sunday when Georgia turns its attention back to recruiting. Same as he will be with what Tennessee is doing and everybody else.
Smart is, after all, at least partially responsible for those programs making coaching changes.
Florida fired Jim McElwain a month ago due to a tidal surge of issues washing over Gainesville. Losing to Georgia 42-7 was the tipping point.
Up on Rocky Top, Tennessee finally parted ways with Jones after a slow bleed of inadequacies had been revealed during the last several years. To date, the Vols haven’t been able to get anybody to come and attempt to put out that tire fire that has been raging in Knoxville since Georgia beat them 41-0 up there. But they’re throwing a lot of money around trying to find somebody who will.
Newton’s third law states, for every action force there is an equal and opposite reaction. That law of physics also applies to SEC football coaching, or so it would seem. For every success of one head coach, there are equally colossal failures of another one in the same the same conference.
Smart is the new kid on the block in the SEC, and he has come in kicking butt and taking names. He already has earned a $150,000 bonus from Georgia for winning the SEC East. He’ll earn another $250,000 for winning the SEC Championship Game, $500,000 for making the College Football Playoff and another $500,000 for winning the national championship. Or, more simply put, he’ll make an even $1 million bonus for winning it all.
But Georgia’s success this season and the events of the last few weeks in particular will dictate that the school does more. As of November, Smart ranked ninth among SEC coaches and 23rd nationally in total compensation. That was before these latest hires. Smart will fall even further behind as these other job openings filled.
And that’s not even counting if something ends up happening with Gus Malzahn. Arkansas reportedly is flashing a bank vault to him to get him to return home to Fayetteville. Either way, he can expect a bump.
And while all that’s good for Smart, you know who it’s really good for?
Jimmy Sexton. Not only is he Smart’s agent, but he’s also agent for Malzahn, Mullen, Jones, McElwain and Stoops. Oh, yeah, and a guy named Nick Saban.
Yes, it’s going to be a very good Christmas for a lot of coaches. Then again, they kind of all are nowadays.