Kansas football’s two recent head coaches, former coach Turner Gill and current coach Charlie Weis, have produced four of the most financially inefficient coaching seasons in NCAA history.
The trend began in the winter of 2009 when Kansas signed Gill to the largest contract in its football program’s history at five-years for $10 million. Gill’s signing marked the beginning of four years of the most inefficient coach-spending by a university.
The cost-per-win metric, measured by dividing salary by wins, can quantify a contract’s barging-value. Coaches with a low cost-per-win are financially efficient because they tend to produce wins for a program-friendly salary. The metric isn’t perfect—it can’t quantify winless seasons—but is a basic reference point of financial efficiency for a team’s spending.
Gill’s firing came after coaching Kansas to a 5-19 record in two seasons. Kansas paid Gill $800,000 per victory. He coached Kansas to two wins in his final year, becoming one of four coaches to receive over a million dollars per win that season.
Enter stage, Charlie Weis.
Weis signed a 5-year contract worth $2.5 million per season in December 2011, topping KU’s previous record with Gill. It was the 21st largest salary amongst NCAA coaches at the time.
The pay reflects Weis’ high-profile body of work: three-time Super Bowl winner as offensive coordinator, head coach of Notre Dame for four years, along with one-year coordinating stints for the Kansas City Chiefs and University of Florida. His house-hold name instantly raised expectations for the program.
“Sometimes you have to pay for past accomplishments,” said Danny Parkins of 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. “You have to pay for what you hope for what will come in the future, and that happens a lot with coaches.”
Weis was the right person to elevate Kansas into the Big 12 elite, Kansas athletics director Sheahon Zenger said at Weis’ introductory press conference.
Weis’ two seasons at Kansas have produced similar results to Gill’s.
Weis coached Kansas to one win in his first season, setting the NCAA record for highest cost-per-win. Weis’ $2.5 million cost-per-win in 2012 equaled the average amount of money spent per-win by the major conference schools (Big 12, Big 10, Pac-10, Big East, SEC, and ACC) on their entire football programs between 2008 and 2010, according to a BizJournals.com report.
His three victories this season lowered his cost-per-win to $833,000, second highest in the nation.
Kansas owns the highest cost-per-win for the fourth straight year in the Big 12. TCU’s Gary Patterson is second highest at $780,190 per win this season.
Baylor’s Art Briles led the conference in smallest cost-per-win at $220,578 per-win. He coached the Bears to 11 wins, winning the Big 12 and earning an invite to the Fiesta Bowl.
The Big 12 average cost-per-win is $524,878 in 2013.
Weis’ Kansas teams are 4-20 in his two seasons, earning $1.25 million-per-win. The Big 12 average is $552,557 in the same time-period.
Winning is the top priority at Kansas, other aspects of a program must be considered when determining its success, Kansas assistant athletic director Jim Marchiony said.
“A program has more aspects to it than just wins and losses,” Marchiony said. “Ultimately that’s what coaches are judged on. But there are other things as well.”
Weis’ on-field results are underwhelming, but his recruiting could change that. This season’s freshman were his first recruiting class without Gill’s imprint, and it averaged 2.93 stars, Kansas’ best since 2009, according to Rivals.com. His 2014 class is ranked last in the Big 12, but lack of open scholarships from last year’s large class brings its ranking down. Weis has until April 1, 2014, National Signing Day for recruits, to improve his recruiting class.
Marchiony said a team’s academic standing and its behavior off the field are the other things considered when evaluating a coach’s performance.
The football team set its record for highest GPA in the fall semester last year at 2.83, according to a KUSports.com report. The team jumped a half-point from Fall 2011 to Spring 2012, Weis’ first semester as head coach. Kansas led the Big 12 with 19 players on the conference’s all academic team this season.
Weis’ teams behave off the field. He’s explicitly dismissed three players for violating team rules, including a former five-star recruit. Both of his seasons have seen one player charged with a DUI, each receiving a three-game suspension. Five players have been arrested in Weis’ tenure. Missouri has 18 football player arrests in the past three years, not including its coach Gary Pinkel’s two DUIs.
Kansas isn’t getting the value other programs in the Big 12 are getting from its coaches, but it’s possible that was never the goal. Zenger said at Weis’ introductory press conference that the hire “puts Kansas on the national map,” after Gill’s program-demoralizing stint. Weis’ performance at Notre Dame didn’t warrant another chance as head coach. Becoming a household name because of that job—and three Super Bowl rings—likely did.
Better recruits are coming to Lawrence compared to the Gill-era. The team is behaving in the community and its academics are better than ever. Memorial Stadium attendance dipped 12 percent this season, but attendance across the nation has trended downward since 2010. Perhaps Weis’ recruits performing to their potential can fix waning attendance. Kansas fans will support a winner, evidenced by averaging 46,784 fans per home game during the 2007 Orange-Bowl winning season.
Kansas might never match the financial efficiency of other universities with its Weis contract. This season’s cost-per-win decrease from $2.5 million to $833,000 is a start. Weis’ contract has bargain-bin potential, proven by Briles’ outstanding results with similar pay. Weis is fulfilling his auxiliary duties, but needs to start fulfilling his on-field duties. If Kansas football continues improving, Weis could become a bargain hire. Without improvement, memories of Turner Gill will haunt fans and the athletic department’s book-keepers.