Southeastern Conference football has never been content simply with being better. The need to be bigger is also written into the league’s DNA.
Bigger stadiums. Tailgating extravaganzas that would dazzle Her Royal Highness. Round-the-clock recruiting obsession. Head coaching salaries that make Wall Street blush.
It’s that final item that intrigues me more than trying to predict the league champion. It’s the final item that makes me believe this will be a season worthy of close observation because a coach with a super-sized reputation, perhaps even a guy who has won a national championship, is likely to squirm.
Economics have made the SEC a wonderful place to coach. Economics are also going to make the SEC a treacherous place to coach.
According to the Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel, the average SEC head coaching salary this season will be $2.57 million. That number does not include Bobby Johnson of Vanderbilt, a private school that is not required to release salary figures.
This is how expensive it has become to compete in the SEC: Two coaches who have won national titles — Phil Fulmer of Tennessee and Steve Spurrier of South Carolina (who won his at Florida) — rank in the bottom half of the league’s highest-paid coaches. Gulp.
Seven SEC coaches will make at least $2 million this season. Kentucky coach Rich Brooks is the league’s leading bargain at $1.6 million. Sylvester Croom of Mississippi State was voted the league’s best coach in 2007. He makes $1.7 million.
South Carolina is paying Spurrier $1.75 million, $2 million less than Les Miles of Louisiana State. Nick Saban of Alabama sets the pay scale at $4 million.
At these prices, everybody expects to win.
Guess what? Somebody’s going to lose — no matter how many nonconference games are scheduled against Wofford.
Check the 2007 SEC standings. Only five teams delivered winning league records. Ditto 2006. In 2005, the league was split — six winners and six losers. No league has figured out how to ensure a winning conference record for every team.
At these prices, I expect great football — and great anxiety.
Preseason magazines predict which team will win the league. I’d rather predict which coach will turn off the talk shows.
Relax, guys. Most of you are safe. Bobby Petrino is in his first season at Arkansas, and Houston Nutt is starting at Mississippi. Croom is coming off a solid year, as is Brooks. Vanderbilt refused to let Johnson leave for Duke.
Urban Meyer of Florida, Saban and Miles are rock stars. Untouchable.