Brian Kelly and LSU headlined college football’s wild week of coaching moves

The extraordinary moves made by college football programs—namely Scott Woodward’s decision to hire Brian Kelly to replace former head coach Ed Orgeron—last week have thrown a sport already heavily criticized for its lavish spending into a deeper divide.

LSU fans were shocked at Woodward’s move to hire Kelly away from Notre Dame, after expecting Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley to take the job before Riley opted to accept the head coaching job at USC. Just a day after Riley’s announcement, Woodward announced his pick on Tuesday, Nov. 30: Kelly would be trading the blue and gold of Notre Dame for the purple and gold of LSU. The two decisions shook college football in an unprecedented 36 hours.

Two of the winningest college football coaches in recent memory left their programs to take over fellow powerhouse schools, signing contracts that are each expected to eclipse $100 million over a decade. Additionally, Kelly left a team that has a chance to advance to the College Football Playoff.

Sports Illustrated talked to more than a dozen people within college athletics in various capacities about what the coaches’ hiring and salary decisions say about the broader context of college sports.

Stakeholders fear the big-money contracts will start a ripple effect that will further widen the gap between college football’s haves and have-nots. One U.S. senator told SI the decisions will spark more congressional interference in the college world, while administrators say they are concerned about further impacts on Olympic sports, which have routinely borne the brunt of the spare-no-expense spending on football.

While the U.S. economy struggles to rebound financially in a post-COVID-19 world, college football coaching salaries are spiking to exorbitant levels, contracts are extending to record lengths and buyouts are at a historic high. No year has included so many early-season firings, as schools have spent more than $90 million to show coaches the door in this season alone.

Some of the sources who spoke to SI believe social media has directly impacted decisions. Fans and boosters, searching for the new Nick Saban, have empowered themselves, while athletic administrators are losing contract battles with the game’s real movers and shakers: agents.

“It’s bats— crazy,” says one conference commissioner who asked for anonymity. “The schools clearly aren’t in control.” Read the full story.

This story originally appeared in a Dec. 3 edition of Daily Report. To keep up with Baton Rouge business and politics, subscribe to the free Daily Report e-newsletter here.

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