Harbaugh is a Great Football Coach, but His New Contract is Ludicrous and Repugnant

Posted by at 11:59PM

Jim Harbaugh might be the best thing that has ever happened to Stanford football. Since he became head coach, he has engineered a complete turnaround of the team–the culmination of which was yesterday’s resounding defeat of USC. And while his ability and success would normally dictate a salary raise, I stand firm in my conviction that giving Jim Harbaugh an enormously lucrative new contract right now–as is about to happen–is reprehensible and shows that Stanford’s priorities are extraordinarily misguided.
I don’t even dislike Harbaugh–I might even have a touch of the wildly contagious Jim Harbaugh fever, which seems to be the newest incarnation of swine flu. But in the midst of an economic recession that has ravaged the athletics department, to increase Harbaugh’s base salary to around 1.25 million dollars per year is ridiculous.

I originally wrote about Harbaugh’s and President Hennessy’s salaries in an article that http://stanfordreview.org/article/all-the-president%E2%80%99s-cash“>appeared in the Stanford Review, and at that time Harbaugh agreed that he should not get a raise given the economy.
What has changed? The economy has not improved significantly enough to warrant this change being made. The only difference is that Harbaugh has made enough waves with his coaching to be heavily recruited by NFL teams and other universities, which means that to keep Harbaugh the university is reneging on its idea that economic stability is more important than padding Harbaugh’s coffers, even in spite of Harbaugh’s formal and informal claims that he wants to stay at Stanford no matter what.
If we analyze this raise on a deeper level, it shows that Stanford believes that some of its student-athletes are more worthy than others–an idea that is as unfair and crazy as it sounds.
One of the consequences of the budget shortfalls has been the possible elimination of fencing at Stanford. Fencing is certainly not as lucrative a sport as football is, but it is a sport that is as important to fencers as football is to the Cardinal’s football stars. And, according to the Daily article about the possible cuts, the funds needed to save fencing are 250,000 dollars–half of what is going to be added onto Harbaugh’s current salary (which resides around $750,000).
Are fencers less deserving athletes than football players? While it is true that football revenue helps pay for many other sports (including fencing), cutting fencing to pay a football coach more than a million dollars per year–when he is already being paid substantially more than the university president–is a grotesque affirmation of the Athletic department’s unequal attitude towards student-athletes.
The budget cuts affect everyone, ranging from student activities to all departments to the sports teams. In the words of President Hennessy, “Throughout the university every unit set to work to help conserve our financial resources.” Is raising Coach Harbaugh’s salary in the wake of the university’s financial struggles conserving our resources?
If you think so, try telling that to all of the Stanford employees who lost job, all of the professors denied tenure, all of the prospective professors hurt by the hiring freezes, all of the researchers who lost funding, all of the students who have seen their favorite classes get axed, and everyone else at Stanford who has sacrificed for and adapted to the budget cuts in whatever fashion has been required.
And most of all, tell the students walking around campus with swords who used to be varsity fencers–they are the direct consequence of beefing up Harbaugh’s already-bloated contract.


18 Responses to “Harbaugh is a Great Football Coach, but His New Contract is Ludicrous and Repugnant”

  1. UsingMyBrain says:

    If we lose Harbaugh, many, many more sports will go.
    A successful, national interest garnering football program is one of the best things to happen to Stanford in decades… ACADEMICALLY.
    The only way to keep fencing is to keep the football momentum going and hope to bring in more fans and more money.
    Relax man – you clearly haven’t actually thought this through.

  2. Josh says:

    I don’t see why a national-interest garnering football team is better for Stanford academically, since all of Stanford’s academic-level counterparts do not have football teams of the same caliber but those teams who do have good, or better, teams, are mostly weaker academically. Can you give me more evidence that a better football team means better academics?

  3. Die Hard says:

    You are exactly what is wrong with our fan base. Football is one of the many things that makes Stanford great. I know you’d rather sit at home and write this crappy blog and surf for porn but some of us (most of the world actually) likes to socialize with others, have a beer and watch some football. It doesn’t mean you’re not smart to lead a balance life and take in a game. There is a market for football coaches. Harbaugh is a one of the best at what he does. The University, despite having to fight off nerds like you to do so, is committed to football as much as its committed to anything else outside the classroom. Make some friends, buy a ticket to the game and shut the hell up.

  4. Myke Locksmith says:

    You can’t look at one person’s salary and put all the blame for entire budget on their shoulders. Coach Harbaugh wants to be at Stanford, and he’s maximizing his earning potential at the same time. You can’t fault him for that. If you do, that’s saying that he should be responsible for any shortage of funds for any other University sport or program now or in the future. Winning football teams bring in millions of dollars in revenue which benefits everyone. That’s why you allocate the bulk of budget where it’s deserved not necessarily where it’s “needed”. I ask anyone who ever argues that someone is overpaid if they have ever said to themselves, “I’m making too much money. I should take a pay cut.” Odds are they haven’t nor will they ever. On rare occasions you will hear about someone taking a pay cut in order to allow for the acquisition of an asset that makes the overall organization stronger, but never to simply pacify an extension of the organization which generates virtually zero revenue.

  5. FogCity says:

    Excellence in all things.
    Best History professors.
    Best Economists.
    Best Women’s Studies.
    Best Electrical Engineers.
    Best Football.

  6. Eric says:

    Stanford pays market price for the best professors and administrators thus I would expect it to pay market price for its coaches. 1.25 million is actually below market value for Harbaugh. He and his staff are being paid in the bottom half of the Pac-10, and they live in one of the most expensive areas in the USA.

  7. O says:

    We are about to sell out big game and notre dame. If Harbaugh generates 10k in ticket sales over 6 games a year (those are very conservative numbers) – that’s 60k x 70 = 4.2 million dollars.
    That’s enough revenue to more than cover his salary, and enough to help the ailing athletic department. Harbaugh’s contract is a good investment – something that’s hard to find in today’s economy.

  8. Class of 78 says:

    Just to spell it out:
    If the attendance trends prior to Harbaugh had continued, the athletic department’s deficit would have been 2 or 3 times greater than it is now. If Harbaugh leaves, you can rightfully assume that the old trend will resume. Half of our award winning sports program will disappear. The investment more than pays for itself.
    Perhaps Hennessy will reduce his salary to $0, since he has a fortune in the 9 figure range. Will that make up for Harbaugh’s salary?

  9. Cardinal93 says:

    This traitor talk is repugnant to me. I can’t believe how sorry some of our “fans” are. Do you realize that Cal’s coach makes 3 times what Harbaugh currently does and with a raise he will still be making less? It’s absolutely disgraceful that both UCLA and Cal, public schools, can pay more than we do. Do you realize that every one of our games that goes on TV is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars EACH? What’s wrong with being at the top academically and in football? Harvard, Yale, Princeton … none of them have a Div 1 team. We are unique in the entire country for what we have. I am so very proud of our program this year and hope Harbaugh will stick around for a long time. Not to pay him the going rate is wrong and stupid.

  10. eric says:

    while you may question the economics of paying Harbaugh a market based salary I would suggest also looking at the downside of going bargain basement as we did with Teevens and Harris. If you look at the direct costs of those hires, including the lower ticket sales, the paying of the remaining years on their contracts when they were fired as well as the indirect costs associated with on-going thrash in the program keeping Harbaugh is a smart economic move.
    I also think we owe it to our student athletes to hire good coaches for them, and Jim Harbaugh is certainly a good coach. Doing otherwise just does not make sense.

  11. Goergiana Cefalu says:

    Need someplace to vent about Coach’s decision in the BIG GAME. In the closing minutes with a TD to win the game… Stanford is in the red zone with about 1 min. 30 to play and his play call is to go to pass play with the Freshman QB??? He has an all-star running back on the field that is waiting to run in the ball.
    1) We need a safe play
    2) We need to score
    3) we need to eat up the clock??
    4) We have a senior all star (Heisman candidate) that can do all the above.
    My 5th grader could make a better play call than that!!!
    Not sure we need to continue to pay this “coach” when he can’t call the obvious!!

  12. mf hog says:

    You argue that fencing is as important to fencers as football is to football players as some sort of evidence fencing should be spared at the expense of a competitive football coach whose performance actually generates revenue in the form of bowl game payouts, game ticket sales/concessions, and merchandise? I’m sure ultimate frisbee is important to frisbee players, and dungeons & dragons is important to you, but that doesn’t mean they deserve to be sports.

  13. nycard says:

    Josh, you’re being irrational. Fencing should not be cut. Everyone agrees with that. I think the university can cough up the money needed to keep it around, and they should. But football and men’s basketball sell almost all the tickets, and make almost all the money. So we cannot afford to be bad at those, since they generate a large chunk of the revenue for the Athletic Department. If not raising Harbaugh’s contract from $750k to $1.25 million makes him leave, and us go back to having a bad program, the lost revenue, as others have pointed out, is much more than the $500k we save. A Rose Bowl alone gets a program a ton of money. Also, if it were up to you, we’d put half of the $500k saved into the fencing team. So to save $250k, you’d like to gut the football program of one of its biggest long-term assets, a head coach who can recruit well. But you’re complaining that to save $250k, the school is considering cutting fencing. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
    Stanford has to be good at basketball and football because if we give up and become the Ivy league, we’re sending the message that you can be smart, or you can be good at sports, but if you’re unfortunate enough to be good at both, you have to pick. That’s asinine. Far too many athletes already deprive themselves of an education for one fleeting chance at becoming a professional athlete. For the few who can get attention from a big-time Division I school, which Stanford is, and also have the grades to make it past the scrutinizing office of admissions, Stanford having good programs is priceless. Just look at Toby Gerhart. He’s going to have an MS&E degree from Stanford, and a shot to play pro sports. If he can stick at the pro level, he’ll never worry about money again. But if he can’t, he’s got a great safety net, and he won’t have to rely on others to get by. That is going to happen to a ton of players moving forward, as Harbaugh’s recruiting classes come in. That’s worth the extra money.
    By way of comparison, look at Notre Dame and how they treat their football program. Notre Dame is not as good as Stanford academically, but it is still a very good university. And they have a great football program, at least historically. Charlie Weis is about to get fired, and he will get paid $15-18 million to NOT coach Notre Dame for the next 6 years. That means that Notre Dame thinks that their program is so important that they are willing to pay $2.5-3 million per year to get rid of a bad coach, and then pay whatever salary the new coach commands in addition to that. Notre Dame is special because they always graduate >95% of their football teams, and their football teams are consistently good. They’ve held up the standard for scholarly, skilled football players for a long time. That’s really what Stanford should aspire to be too.

  14. kiwitree says:

    Stanford should demand excellence of every person and organization affiliated with the campus. That applies to the physics department and the food service providers as well as the coaches. If it is not excellent , it should not be at Stanford.
    It is possible, in rare instances and for a limited time, for less talented and less committed individuals and organizations to achieve excellence when competing against more gifted, more motivated people. But not everywhere and not for long.
    And like it or not, the marketplace still determines talent and commitment. If Stanford wants to have a world class law school or English department and pay well below market for excellent profs in those areas, good luck. If it always sees the up and comers before others and gets them on board, it can succeed for a while, but if it refuses to compensate at market rates, it will lose those finds and eventually become the talent scout for the Ivies. It may have a decent law school and an interesting English department, but over time it will not have excellent ones.
    Stanford has tried this below market approach only with respect to its coaches. Sometimes it has worked and you get a Tara or a Montgomery who will stay here for a long time, even though recruiting and coaching at Stanford is far , far more difficult than at any other place, including the Ivies. But most of the time it does not and you lose a Ty Willingham or a Trent Johnson in their prime. And the school hangs on the edge of respectability but well below excellence.
    So, either have a Division I athletic program or dont; tht is one debate. But if you have one apply the same compensation rules to your coaches that you apply everywhere else in the University. Except for its coaches, Stanford pays market rates for excellence.
    Harbaugh has demonstrated excellence. His team is filling the stands and earning revenue for an athletic department that is self funded… very unusual for Division I schools. If he leaves, the school will suffer.

  15. KUBRUCE says:

    Consider this all, Kansas will be willing to pay him close to 2.5 million. Will he be willing to stay at Stanford, when his wife is from Kansas City? And he would be making twice as much?

  16. Mike says:

    Hahahaha…. Reading this article today is hilarious. Hope you’ve grown a brain by now.

  17. Ilias says:

    Oh the irony

  18. Colin Panetta says:

    Offering Harbaugh more earlier would have been the smart move… While in ordinary life 1.25 Million is a lot, in the Football Coaching market, it isn’t squat… the belly aching over paying a coach is part of the reason Stanford struggle to succeed on the gridiron…. Josh… who knows, maybe you will get your wish and Stanford will go back to 4-8 seasons… Thata boy.


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