Introducing Petrinos (PET), a new metric for coaching buyouts
All multimillion-dollar payouts to not coach amateur athletes are absurd. Here is a modern way to calculate the ridiculousness of a particular buyout.
For a casual sports fan tuning in, the concept of college football coach buyouts must be confusing. There is no succinct way to explain that in exchange for no longer doing the job of coaching unpaid college students in an extracurricular activity, a publicly funded university will now be paying Coach McCoach millions upon millions of dollars. It’s absurd! The entire enterprise jumped the shark many years ago, when college football became awash in television money and continued to pay its athletes the same official rate (nothing) it always did.
If you told your non-obsessive college fan friend that South Carolina just fired its coach and paid him a $13 million buyout only to finish fifth in the SEC East with a different coach the following season, your friend would probably say, “Well, that is insane.”
But how insane? They might not have any frame of reference.
Everybody is loosely aware that the money flying around the sport is silly, so we need a metric that offers more context than “dollars.”
Introducing the definitive buyout metric: Petrinos.
In exchange markets, you can use the abbreviation PET.
In 2018, Louisville fired head coach Bobby Petrino. Even people who don’t live college football all the time may know Petrino. Maybe they are familiar with him from his one year as the Falcons’ head coach, which ended when he left for Arkansas before the season was over. Maybe they’re big Harley-Davidson fans.
The Petrino buyout was about $14 million. I remember when I got a look at Petrino’s contract that season through a public records request. I was shocked at what I’d found. Petrino was a famous shenanigans-doer who had tried hard to leave or gotten himself fired from most every job he’d ever had. He had a well-earned reputation as a smart offensive mind, but he was famously unreliable and not loyal to any one place. He’d already left Louisville once to take the Falcons. He’d wasted a Heisman season by Lamar Jackson in 2016, failing to make so much as a New Year’s Six bowl. His defenses were bad. And Louisville had to pay him 14 million dollars to get lost? In the midst of one of the most embarrassing seasons in program history?
Yeah, that was obscene, even by the distorted standards of this industry.
One PET = $14 million USD.
Again, every coach buyout in this sport is wild. If the buyout is a whole Petrino, someone has made a horrible mistake. If it’s more, things have really gone bananas on some poor athletic director. Everything is relative, so just don’t get caught buying out a coach at 1.5 or 2 PET.
On the other hand, if you’re a Power 5 team and can fire your coach while paying 0.5 PET or less, well … that’s still a lot, but take solace in the fact that you are not Louisville.
So, how have teams done firing their coaches? Let us refer to the Petrinos leaderboard in the Power 5 since 2018.
Here’s every coach fired at a public P5 in the last three cycles:
And here is a chart reflecting the highest buyouts, in PET:
As you can see, both Florida State and Auburn have exceeded an entire Petrino apiece.
Kevin Sumlin has collected 1.6 Petrinos in the last three years, hitting up both A&M and Arizona to become the governor of the Western Buyout Islands, an unincorporated archipelago extending out from Galveston into the Gulf of Mexico.
Arkansas has put itself on the hook for 1.57 combined Petrinos to get rid of Bret Bielema and Chad Morris, though the Hogs have fought Bielema hard to shave fractional Petrinos off his buyout. The status of those ongoing efforts is not clear:
Some athletic departments have enough deep-pocketed booster types to withstand paying nearly an entire Petrino or – in the case of the truly deranged like FSU and Auburn – to exceed 1 PET to get rid of a coach before getting around to the next coach’s salary. Congrats to those fish that can swim in deep waters.
Buyout amounts might be rounded and reflect whatever is owed to the coach in his contract at the time of his firing, sometimes per credible media, and do not include offsets from future jobs. I’m also not including coaches who got fired for things I don’t feel like telling jokes about in this little newsletter. Thanks for your understanding.
Just calculated my total salary over the past decade in PET. I am sad now.
At some point, the PET needs to become what economists describe as “actual PET,” meaning that inflation and COLA adjustments are already normalized to some fixed time. As it stands, there has been enough volatility in the relatively short IBE (insane buyout era) that we don’t yet need to quibble with the math.