Florida State’s last-minute defeat of Auburn University in college football’s national title game boosted coach Jimbo Fisher’s bonus pay to $550,000.
Jameis Winston’s 2-yard scoring pass with 13 seconds left capped Florida State’s comeback from an 18-point deficit as the Seminoles won 34-31 to complete a perfect season. ESPN’s multi-channel coverage of the game received a 15.7 overnight rating, even with last year’s title game between Alabama and Notre Dame, according to the Walt Disney Co. unit.
Fisher’s bonuses add to his $2.75 million salary at Florida State (14-0), which captured its first Bowl Championship Series title since 1999. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn would have collected $1.2 million in bonuses on top of his $2.3 million annual salary with a victory in last night’s game.
“Malzahn had success as a head coach elsewhere and became a commodity before returning to Auburn, whereas Fisher moved up from an assistant,” Wayne McDonnell, a professor of sports management at New York University, said before the game. “While Fisher is paid more in base salary, that may account for the bonus discrepancy.”
Bloomberg acquired the contracts for Malzahn and Fisher through open records requests. Jimmy Sexton, who represents both coaches, didn’t return an e-mail or message left at his office seeking comment on the bonus structures.
Fisher, 48, took over the Seminoles program in 2010 when Bobby Bowden retired, ending a 40-year coaching career during which he won more games than any other coach at college football’s top level. The Seminoles reached the 10-win plateau once in Bowden’s final nine seasons, and the Atlantic Coast Conference title they won under Fisher last year was the program’s first since 2005.
McDonnell said the program’s recent struggles, and the fact that Fisher was promoted at the Tallahassee, Florida, school from an assistant may have factored into his smaller bonus structure.
“The rule of thumb is, you don’t want to be the guy that follows the legend,” he said. “You want to be the guy after the guy that follows the legend.”
Malzahn, 48, was hired by Auburn in December after a one-year stint with Arkansas State University, where he went 9-3. Before that, he was offensive coordinator at Auburn under Gene Chizik, helping the Tigers win a national title after the 2010 season.
Florida State trailed 21-3 midway through the second quarter before rallying behind quarterback Winston, a freshman who won the Heisman Trophy this season as the top player in college football.
The Seminoles took a 27-24 lead with 4 1/2 minutes remaining on Levonte Whitfield’s 100-yard kickoff return. Auburn (12-2) responded with Tre Mason’s 37-yard touchdown run with 79 seconds remaining to take a 31-27 lead. Mason finished with 34 carries for 195 yards.
Fisher made $225,000 in bonuses for the team’s ACC division title, a win in the conference title game and a berth in last night’s game, according to his contract. He made an additional $325,000 by completing an undefeated season, winning the national title and finishing ranked in the top five.
Malzahn earned $700,000 in bonuses this year for winning 12 games, a conference title, SEC and national coach of the year honors, and qualifying for the national title game, according to his contract. He could have earned another $500,000 in bonuses with a Tigers win last night by securing a 13th victory, a national title and a top five spot in the year-end rankings.
While bonuses provide an increase in this year’s earnings, the largest benefit to reaching the national title game is leverage that coaches can use when negotiating extensions or exploring other opportunities, McDonnell said. Both Malzahn and Fisher agreed to new deals in the past five weeks that increase their base pay by at least $1.4 million starting next season, according to Sports Illustrated.
“It’s an opportunity to have all of the eyes of the NFL and college football on you, and a strong performance clearly raises your profile,” McDonnell said. “Everyone wants the hottest commodity right now, and there are few things hotter than a coach coming off a national championship.”
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