Cost of Failure

Marvin Westwestwords

Somebody, somewhere, may eventually calculate how much Tennessee spent on the resurrection of football.


Jeremy is currently making less than $4 million if you don’t count perks and potential bonuses. The cost for assistant coaches is an all-time Volunteer record. There is nothing cheap about the support staff and it is still growing.

Recruiting has intensified and each trip is money. If facilities and decorations are not yet ultimate, improvement is under way.

There is a silver lining. The cost of doing business won’t matter much if Tennessee wins. It is losing that is expensive.

Failures are not much fun. Some are sad. Some are devastating. Many are hard to understand. Almost all foul up the budget.

Tennessee athletics of the past decade is a classic failure story – rich tradition, tremendous resources, lofty expectations, belly flop with face in the mud. The net loss is beyond belief. This thing runs from 0-8 in SEC football to poor choices and simple blunders in numbers.

Our failures took off when Mike Hamilton fired Phillip Fulmer without a replacement plan. The front half of that mistake cost $6 million. The back half was Lane Kiffin, capable coach but not exactly a pillar of stability.

Hamilton doubled down on his first two failures by selecting Derek Dooley as a replacement for Kiffin. Derek’s credentials were the famous last name, a law degree and a minor role as a Nick Saban assistant. He was 17-20 as coach at Louisiana Tech. Never had such a record earned such a promotion.

It turned out that Hamilton was living on borrowed time. In the aftermath of the expensive Bruce Pearl episode, Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said he was sorry to see Hamilton go. Sorry fit in nicely with signing off on $1.335 million for Mike not to be AD for the next three years.

His golden parachute included an assortment of complimentary tickets and parking permits. All agreed he was a splendid fund-raiser and a really good human being.

Dooley was soon found out. In addition to how many games he lost and what he did to high school relations and recruiting, it cost $5 million to get him to go away. UT owed his assistants a bundle but some got favorable jobs and lived happily ever after.

Administrative foresight, just above genius level, continued to guide University of Tennessee sports. Dave Hart was selected as vice chancellor and director of athletics. He came with some baggage but had the recommendation of famous donors and coaches.

Hart didn’t cause all the problems he encountered. He lived through the illness and awkward retirement of Pat Summitt, major legal losses, the blood battle over the Lady Vols’ name and the basketball adventures of Donnie Tyndall.

Hart was undoubtedly embarrassed by some of his accomplishments.

He did follow through on Neyland Stadium improvements. He deposited conference dividend checks and restored solvency to the athletics department. He hired Rick Barnes before he found his place in the unemployment line.

Dave’s crowning achievement was the selection and employment of Butch Jones as football coach.

You know how that turned out, the history beyond the hype. Butch was paid $21 million over five years but didn’t do very well against SEC foes. Instead of a money-back guarantee and him owing us for failures, we are paying him another $8 million to ease the pain.

Hart oversaw terminology in that contract. Dr. Cheek approved. The distinguished Board of Trustees rubber-stamped it. President Joseph A. DiPietro, though seldom noticeably involved, may have noticed it in the news.

Losing is not new. Nearly every time out, half the teams that play lose. Since the beginning, losing has been a factor in most coaching changes. The selection of replacements is critical. Changing coaches is almost always costly. Back-to-back changes are deadly.

Stumbling, bumbling searches for new coaches cost triple face value – whatever rings up on credit cards, national embarrassment and deep dents to reputations, individual and institutional.

The price of failure has risen much faster than inflation. The root cause is most often losing games. Sometimes it is end runs out of bounds. The price goes up when those responsible don’t read the fine print.

Agents for good coaches are traditionally great salesmen. They excel at negotiations. Their contracts read like fiction – pay them double to come and more to go.

Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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