Neither of the current SEC Hot Seat occupants did anything to cool the talk their exits from the SEC coaching fraternity. Ole Miss’ Houston Nutt laid an egg at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, blowing a 13 point lead in a five minute span of the fourth quarter. This was the program’s second consecutive season opening loss. Georgia’s Mark Richt’s team looked uninspired and unmotivated in a 35-21 drubbing by perennial Cinderella Boise State, a team that had never beaten an SEC opponent.
The two schools’ fans took to message boards, Twitter, Facebook and talk radio to vent their frustrations and calls for heads to roll easily drowned out those calling for patience. But should the two administrations decide that changes are necessary, expect the price to be steep.
Last fall, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution estimated Richt’s buyout to be on the order of about $5 million. Add in the cost of any replacement’s first year’s salary—let’s say $3.0 million assuming they get an already established head coach—and UGA faithful had better hope that the braintrust is making the right decision. The round figure of $8.0 million doesn’t take into account any contractual obligations to assistant coaches, so $8.0 million might even be quite conservative.
Last May, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger estimated Nutt’s buyout to be even sweeter. Nutt would get $6.0 million if there are three or more years remaining on his contract. Again, throw in another $3.0 million to attract a top-drawer replacement and $9.0 million is the conservative estimate.
If the season is dreadful enough for Ole Miss and Georgia, there’s little doubt that two new coaches enter the brotherhood next year. Losing football programs in the SEC are budget busters. Ticket sales drop off. Concessions dry up. Donations dwindle. Even enrollment suffers. So while a conservative estimate of $17.0 million is a staggering sum to replace the two SEC veterans, when faced with fiscal losses that drag out for two or more years the schools may decide that they have no choice but to pull out the checkbook.
Exit Question: What if Nutt and Richt go miracle maker and meet in Atlanta for the SEC Title? Not bloody likely, but coming close to that outcome might be the thing that saves them and ensures that the two programs are stuck in mediocrity for years to come.