Maybe Mike Tomlin shouldn’t have said “never say never, but never” regarding the possibility of coaching at Southern Cal or any other college program.
Lincoln Riley has bolted Oklahoma for USC, thanks in large part to a compensation package that reportedly includes 24/7 use of a private jet for his family. Brian Kelly reportedly will make $15 million per year at LSU.
With college players now able to earn money from entities other than the schools for which they play, it becomes even easier to justify cramming more of the cash that doesn’t go to the players into the pockets of the coaches. And it’s already happening.
The question becomes if and when the NCAA arms race will attract NFL coaches. As the money goes up and up and up, it eventually becomes an issue. Either NFL teams will offer more money and greater security, or NFL coaches will opt for the 10-year, fully-guaranteed that makes them the de facto emperors of their university and, depending on the location of the school, the entire town.
There’s no harm in listening. That’s why Cardinal coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t perform an agitated mic drop when asked about Oklahoma, didn’t rattle off names of other NFL coaches who haven’t been asked about vacant college jobs. It’s not an insult to be linked to a job at a college program; it’s leverage. Kingsbury won’t rule out Norman, Oklahoma because he wants more money from Bidwill, Michael. That’s why Kingsbury’s people leaked the Oklahoma interest to Schefty. And it’s why Kingsbury would be foolish to rule it out.
Or maybe he’s actually interested. Per discussions with multiple sources, whether and to what extent NFL head-coaching contracts allow a departure for a college job depends on the precise language used by a given team. Some deals allow the coach to leave for a college job. Others don’t.
A separate question becomes whether the NFL team would exercise its prerogative to block the move. Although the coach can’t be forced to stay on the job with his NFL team, he can be prevented (by court order, if need be) from coaching anywhere else. Some teams won’t want to force a coach to stay against his will. Some may be happy to be able to make a change without owing the former coach a buyout. Others won’t want to create a scenario in which contracts become not worth the paper they’re written on.
Regardless, the explosion in compensation for college football coaches inevitably will impact pro football. If NFL teams don’t pay more to coaches on the way in, coaches may be looking for a way out. And they may be getting a new range of options unrelated to other NFL teams.