Balancing wins and losses with dollars and cents


Balancing wins and losses with dollars and cents

Deciding whether to fire a college football coach often comes down to balancing wins and losses with dollars and cents.

Five coaches were fired Sunday, including Gene Chizik at Auburn just two years after he led the Tigers to a national championship. The five schools are on the hook for about $14 million in buyouts to their former employees. Auburn owes Chizik $7.5 million.

That's a lot of money to pay someone to not work for you, but it can be even more costly to keep a coach who is not only losing but draining a program in other ways.

``What we all look for is: Is there a plan in place? Is the plan showing signs of progress? Is there energy around the program?'' Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said Monday.

``If there is no energy, no sign of hope, we're not gaining traction in recruiting or in people investing in our program, and we're not winning, you've got to make a change.''

The 39-year-old Bjork is in his first season at Ole Miss after quickly working his way up the ladder in intercollegiate athletics. Before he was hired by Mississippi in March, he was the AD at Western Kentucky. He didn't hire Rebels coach Hugh Freeze, but he's definitely not in the market for a replacement after a promising 6-6 first season in Oxford.

Making the decision to change coaches in any sport is as much about the future as the present. Colorado fired Jon Embree on Sunday after only two seasons, a rarity even in today's win-now atmosphere. The Buffaloes were one of the worst teams in the country, going 1-11 with an inexperienced roster and a first-time head coach.

At a news conference Monday, Colorado AD Mike Bohn said he was most concerned about the ``trajectory'' of the program.

``The importance of the third year, and if you don't have the momentum ... you begin to think we did not make the decisions quick enough,'' Bohn said.

Bohn said lagging ticket sales and waning interest from fans was a factor.

It always is. As much as athletic directors can't be expected to make decisions that satisfy the whims of fickle fans, the folks who buy tickets definitely have a say.

``You operate off a zero-base budget,'' Bjork said. ``Let's say looking at past trends you budget $14 million in football ticket sales and halfway through the season you are projecting $11 or $12 million. That's a problem.''

Especially after a university spends a few hundred million to renovate its stadium - as California just did.

The school invested $321 million on renovations and the newly remodeled Memorial Stadium opened this season. Jeff Tedford could not have picked a worse season to have the worst record of a mostly successful 11-year tenure as Bears coach. He went 3-9 and AD Sandy Barbour faced this choice: Fire a coach the school still owes $6.9 million or face the prospect of brand new luxury boxes being left vacant.

Barbour decided the short-term loss would be outweighed by the long-term gain of a new coach revitalizing the fan base. Cal is one of 12 FBS schools with a head coaching vacancy, including four in the Southeastern Conference.

Ole Miss made a similar decision after last season when it fired Houston Nutt, who had three years left on his deal and a $6 million buyout.

``Right now that's holding us back in terms of our full commitment to football because that's looming out there,'' Bjork said.

The Catch-22 is no coach is going to take a contract without a significant buyout these days because schools are so quick to cut guys loose in search of the next big thing. And once a coach does have some success, schools feel obligated to quickly give long extensions because, well, what recruit is going to commit to play for a coach with two years left on his contract?

``That's always a tough balance,'' Bjork said. ``If you're not investing are you committed? If you're over invested and you negotiate a big buyout are you making a mistake you'll have to pay for later?''



Johnny Manziel speaks.

The Texas A&M quarterback has been off-limits to the media throughout his spectacular first season playing for the Aggies.

With his regular season over, and Manziel the Heisman front-runner, A&M decided to lift the restrictions on Johnny Football and held a teleconference with reporters for him on Monday.

``It's kind of nice now to be able to kind of let you guys know how I am a little bit more,'' he said. ``There's so many question marks out there.''

This is certain: Manziel is poised to become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. He's the front-runner in the straw polls conducted by Heismanpundit.com and ESPN.

He'll benefit from the fact that there are no serious Heisman candidates playing for Alabama or Georgia in the biggest game of the weekend.

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron saw his Heisman chances vanish with that late interception in a loss to Texas A&M. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has put up great numbers, but played poorly in the Bulldogs' big games against South Carolina and Florida.

Collin Klein and Kansas State play this Saturday against Texas, trying to sew up a Big 12 title. Klein threw three picks in a loss to Baylor to relinquish Heisman front-runner status to Manziel, but a great game against the Longhorns could tighten the race again. Robert Griffin III sealed up his Heisman last year by lighting up the Longhorns in the season finale.

If you're looking for a player who could make a final statement capable of changing the Heisman race, keep an eye on Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones. He's one of the best players in the country and is capable of having the type of game that forces voters to rethink their ballots the way former Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh did when he wrecked Texas back in 2009.



- It has no BCS implications, but the Sun Belt championship will be decided in Jonesboro, Ark., on Saturday when Middle Tennessee (8-3, 6-1) faces Arkansas State (8-3, 6-1). Both will be heading to bowl games.

- With the hirings and firings at this time of year also comes the squelching of speculation and rumors. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and Boise State's Chris Petersen spent part of their Mondays batting aside questions about other jobs.

- Yes, if things break a certain way this weekend, the Orange Bowl could be Kent State against Georgia Tech.

- Speaking of the MAC, Kent State plays Northern Illinois in an intriguing conference title game that could also impact the Heisman Trophy race. Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch is third in the nation in total offense at 363 yards per game, 20 less than Manziel. Lynch is more bullish and less elusive than Manziel as a runner, but every bit as effective with 10 straight 100-yard games.



``How long does he have?'' - Former Colorado coach Jon Embree when asked if the next coach of the Buffaloes can turn the program around.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

Quick Links

Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired


Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired

On the newest banner that hangs from the rafters at Capital One Arena, a small microphone - embroidered with a white 33 - is subtly stitched into the bottom left corner. 

You'd barely notice it was there; Phil Chenier certainly didn't.

Chenier, who had his #45 jersey retired tonight during halftime of tonight's Wizards-Nuggets game, didn't even notice the mic, added to signify his three decades as a broadcaster with the team.

"I had no idea there was even a mic on it," Chenier said, laughing. "I'll have to go back out and look at it some more."

Despite the Wizards' 108-100 loss, the night was first and foremost a celebration of Chenier - the 5th player in franchise history to have his number rasied in the rafters. He joins Earl Monroe, Elvin Hayes, Gus Johnson, and Wes Unseld as the only players to achieve the honor so far.

"To be up there with the other 4 names means a lot – people I had the fortune of playing with," he added. "I remember my first day of practice and I had just watched this team play in the finals and now I’m plopped down with Wes Unfeld and Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson. It seemed like they accepted me from the get go."

Many from that 1978 Championship team were in attendance on Friday night, watching as one of their teammates cemented his professional legacy. For Chenier, that acceptance as an All-Time Bullets great is at the core of why he played the game.

"You know, when you play this game, you play for acceptance," he said. "You want to be the best, you want to be accepted. Having players and childhood friends – and of course, your family – here, you’re surrounded by so many people that meant a lot to you both before and now. It’s a really humbling feeling.”

It was hard to find someone in DC without something good to say about Chenier on Friday night. Even in the basement of Capital One Center, after the Wizards' fifth loss in seven games, head coach Scott Brooks took a moment out of his press conference to praise Chenier. 

"[Chenier] is a great ambassador and we all love him," Brooks said. "It's well deserved. It's going to be pretty cool seeing his jersey every time we step into this building."

Fans left the arena with a commemorative Phil Chenier cut out. Phil Chenier left the arena with his number retired. The experience was, according to the man himself, everything he thought it'd be. 

"You don’t know what the emotions are going to be..." he told media members after the ceremony."...Obviously it’s something I thought about, but it really was exciting to see the 45 up there and my name."

Then Chenier cracked a smile.

"I’m glad it’s over with."

Quick Links

Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

USA Today Sports Images

Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

The Washington Wizards lost to the Denver Nuggets 108-100 on Friday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Another loss: It is becoming more and more clear that the Wizards need a shot in the arm, something to change the direction of where they are currently heading.

Whether that will come in the form of All-Star point guard John Wall returning from his months-long absence, an adjustment to their lineup or strategy, or something else entirely, the losses are piling up and at a tough time in the season.

With another loss on Friday night, their seventh in their last 11 games, the Wizards are now 40-32. They have plenty of room to still clinch a playoff berth, as their magic number stands at two, but they only have 10 games left to secure their all-important playoff seed.

Both the Pacers and Cavaliers, two teams just ahead of them in the playoff race, won on Friday.

The Wizards lost their second straight game and again offense was their problem. They scored 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers.

Big third quarter: The Denver Nuggets have emerged as a team on the rise, a young squad with burgeoning stars that could someday soon make some noise in the Western Conference. The reason is because they are very good on offense. Defense is a much different story.

That was not the case on Friday night, as the Wizards had all sorts of trouble scoring in three of their four quarters. They managed just 43 points by halftime, the fewest the Nuggets have allowed in a first half since Jan. 27.

The Wizards, though, did get cooking in the third quarter. They erupted for 33 points in the frame while shooting 63.2 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from three. Markieff Morris, who finished with 17, had 11 points in the third quarter and Bradley Beal (24 points) hit three threes.

The Wizards also found a solution for Jamal Murray, one of the Nuggets' brightest young stars. He had 20 points at halftime, but went scoreless in nine minutes in the third quarter. Kelly Oubre, Jr. (15 points) was among those who gave him trouble. Murry finished with 25.

The big third quarter reflected well on the Wizards' ability to make adjustments, but their 24-point fourth quarter flipped the script again.


Didn't force mistakes: The first time these teams squared off back in October, the Wizards forced the Nuggets into 23 turnovers. This game was a very different story. 

The Nuggets didn't commit their first turnover until midway through the second quarter and had only three by halftime. They had just 10 turnovers for the game.

Denver deserves some credit for limiting their mistakes, but all of it did not reflect well on the Wizards' defense. They didn't put enough pressure on the ball and failed to disrupt passing lanes like they usually do. It was uncharacteristic, as the Wizards entered the game 10th in average turnovers forced.

Not creating mistakes allowed the Nuggets to get way to many field goal attempts. Though they shot just 43.5 percent, Denver managed 108 points. And not getting turnovers offered the Wizards few opportunities for easy transition buckets.

Turnovers were one issue with the Wizards' defense. So was defending the perimeter, as the Nuggets shot 17-for-34 (50%) from long range. It is worth noting the Nuggets were without their leading scorer Gary Harris, a guy who is dangerous from long range.


Special night: Halftime offered a memorable moment in franchise history as legendary player and broadcast Phil Chenier had his No. 45 jersey retired by the team. His longtime broadcaster and friend Steve Buckhantz hosted the ceremony with about 20 friends and family members of Chenier's seated behind him. Buckhantz had opening comments, then majority owner Ted Leonsis spoke as everyone in the crowd stood and cheered.

Then, it was Chenier's time to talk. He thanked his former teammates, members of the organization and those close to him. He kept his composure until the very end when he brought up his mother, Peggy, who could not make the event. Chenier choked up and wiped away tears as he described what she has meant to him in his life.

It was a powerful moment and a great ceremony to honor a guy who has impacted the lives of many in the D.C. area. Now, his No. 45 will hang up in the rafters forever. That banner, by the way, features a picture of a microphone and the phrase '33 years,' signifying how long he was the color analyst for Bullets and Wizards games.


Up next: The Wizards do not have a game Saturday, though they are going to practice and Wall is expected to take a big step forward in his rehab. Their next game is Sunday at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington when they host the Knicks. That will also be a special game, as the Wizards are set to honor the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!