Luke DeCock

Coaches’ contracts worth millions ... and nothing, at the same time

Is Pitt a trap game for NC State?

The NC State Wolfpack, after five consecutive victories, head to Pittsburgh to face the Panthers. The News and Observer's Joe Giglio explains why Pack fans need to take their worrying down a smidge.
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The NC State Wolfpack, after five consecutive victories, head to Pittsburgh to face the Panthers. The News and Observer's Joe Giglio explains why Pack fans need to take their worrying down a smidge.

It’s entirely unsurprising that N.C. State and Dave Doeren are working on a midseason contract extension. That’s the way the world of college athletics works these days, and if you have a coach who might be in demand later you might as well raise his exit buyout now, even if the season is only half over.

The better question is this: What does it really matter anyway?

Doeren’s already under contract through 2019 and can trigger an automatic one-year extension with an eight-win season, so it’s not like his contract is going to run out anytime soon. And even if this extension goes through, if another school comes sniffing around and he’s interested, it’s not going to keep him here if he decides to leave – these days, Power 5 schools (and their deep-pocketed boosters) can come up with eight-figure amounts with frightening speed. And even if N.C. State implodes and finishes 2-4 and starts next season poorly, this extension won’t stop the Wolfpack from making a change if that’s how it goes.

All it does is spread the money around, a little more to a coach, a little more to his assistants maybe, a little more to his agent. This is the way of college sports these days. Which isn’t to say Doeren hasn’t earned it – it’s hard to see N.C. State finishing any worse than 8-4 at this point, and the way remains clear for better – only that this is a formality that borders on hypocrisy, because college coaches’ contracts are essentially meaningless as long-term commitments.

Mark Gottfried signed a five-year extension at N.C. State in November 2015. He didn’t make it 18 months. Coaches come and go, athletic directors too. There are buyouts, but they’re rarely a big enough obstacle. (Kevin Sumlin, who would be owed more than $11 million if Texas A&M fires him, is a rare exception, proof that there’s no reason not to ask for everything under the sun in a negotiation, because the other side might actually say yes.)

The only signature that means anything in college sports is the signature of a prospective recruit on a letter of intent. That thing is ironclad. If the coach who recruited you leaves and you want to go somewhere else without a hassle, find a lawyer. And a good one. (Although in North Carolina, there’s an open legal question whether a National Letter of Intent signed by a minor is an enforceable contract anyway.)

Every other contract in college sports is easily breakable. Doeren’s new one will be as well, for either side. He’ll put a little more money in his pocket, but other than that, nothing will really change. These final six games will say a lot more about his future than a new contract ever could.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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