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DAVID DALLAS — Investing in our football future

David Dallas

David Dallas

Before this column goes to print, Mississippi State and Ole Miss will both have played in major bowls – the Orange and the Peach. State and Ole Miss fans are counting on this season’s success leading to greater opportunities in the coming years: SEC Titles, College Football Playoffs and National Championships.

In their delirium, the Rebel Nation has already signed Coach Hugh Freeze to a contract giving him an annual salary of $4 million plus. Mississippi State will offer Coach Dan Mullen a similar contract in the coming days or they might wait and see if he can figure out how to beat Georgia Tech without a Defensive Coordinator.

Who would have thought it possible? $4 million to coach football at Ole Miss? $4 million to coach football at Mississippi State? Has somebody lost their collective minds?

Less than a decade ago, academia and the media went apoplectic when the University of Alabama paid Nick Saban $4 million. Saban had already won a National Championship. Neither Freeze nor Mullen have come close. Yes, their teams were a couple of victories away from a chance to play for a national championship this year, but in a 12-game season that’s not really saying all that much.

This is just the beginning of Coach-flation. So get ready well-invested alums. The new playoff system and more lucrative television deals will bring in even more revenue to college football programs and it is going to get crazy!

If the folks in Ann Arbor have their way, the price for a competitive college coach will double before next fall. That’s right, the University of Michigan, whose Wolverines are about as relevant as those in the Red Dawn remake, is prepared to pay over $8 million for the coach they want.

No matter what your personal paycheck looks like, the U.S. economy is obviously booming if public universities can find ways to pay this much for a football coach.

In all fairness, being a college football coach takes a of heck of a lot more work, dedication, and attention to detail than being a professor in bio mechanics, law, or English lit. It’s more time consuming and draining than being a University President. It’s why only a chosen few are really good at it.

It’s why programs, like State and Ole Miss, are no longer interested in paying for just winning seasons. They are paying for championships. If a coach doesn’t get one, or at least get really, really close, he’s done.

That’s why Ole Miss is throwing all of their chips behind Freeze and why Mississippi State will likely come close to matching Freeze’s salary for Mullen. (Personal aside: As a humble State fan, I’d like to encourage MSU Athletic Director Scott Stricklin not to pay Dan the Man a penny more until he wins more Egg Bowls than Freeze…. which gives me a terrific idea. More on that later.)

Keeping a quality football coach on campus builds the continuity necessary to build a program that can win for long haul. Both Mullen and Freeze have proven to be tireless workers and winners. But can they lead our perennial bottom feeders to win year in and year out in the the toughest division in the toughest conference in football? At $4 million the heat is on.

Mullen’s said, “If they come, we will build it.” MSU has built “it.” Trying to coordinate how a single State fan rings a cowbell is a feat; orchestrating how an entire stadium of State fans ring them is like herding 65,000 feral cats for a Meow Mix commercial. Football analysts have said all year the Bulldogs have built one of the best in-game stadium experiences in the country. Everyone should visit Davis Wade at least once in their life, just don’t forget your earplugs.

Freeze is obviously the best recruiter in Mississippi, maybe in the nation. He’s been able to go toe-to-toe with Saban in signing nationally ranked prospects. No coach anywhere is better able to motivate a group of young men than Hugh Freeze, not to mention getting them on the straight and narrow. His pregame speeches are the stuff of legend.

If Freeze stays in Oxford for twenty years he will end up more revered than the legendary Johnny Vaught. “The Freeze” or “Mr. Freezemeister” could end up a bigger coaching legend than “The Bear” or “The Great Saban.” It’s no longer a pipe dream, Ole Miss fans, Freeze had what certainly looked to be a national championship team this year. With his ability to locate and sign top talent, he will only get better.

Mullen will prove a great foil. His outspoken, painfully direct approach to his work is not going to win any popularity contests. Still, since his arrival in Starkville, Mullen has done much more despite having less talent and resources than his rival up north. His team was ranked Number One for most of the season and was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, not once, but twice; cursedly coinciding with his teams two losses.

Based on an excellent season and all the national attention, the universities and the taxpayers of Mississippi are investing in our football future.

Freeze and Mullen are the state’s highest paid public employees. While it is true that the bulk of their salaries are paid for with private donations to the the Universities’ Athletic Foundations, nearly $1 million of your state tax dollars will be used to keep Freeze and Mullen neck deep in the madness that is football in Mississippi… until one or both ends up being fired.

But where else would you want your state tax dollars to go? Would you rather watch your child’s public school teachers or your State Legislators doing their job?

Can these $4 million coaches keep doing us all proud? Here’s a sure fire way to make sure at least one of them does. The total amount of money they receive from the State should be pooled together and used more as an incentive to win when it counts.

Imagine the excitement and electricity if we could offer the nearly $1 million as a prize for which ever of them wins the Egg Bowl. The players could hoist the Golden Egg after the victory and either Freeze or Mullen could hold up a fat check from Mississippi’s taxpayers. Hotty Toddy and Hail State!

» David Dallas is a political writer. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.

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