"Chris Ash's Huge Buyout is One Reason Why He's Not on the Hot Seat," I wrote last September, hours after Rutgers was throttled by Kansas. Two months later, Scarlet Knights' athletic director Pat Hobbs announced that Ash would return for a fourth season despite seven wins in his first three season.
When Ash arrived in December 2015, he signed a five-year, $11-million deal. In November 2017, after a four-win regular season, he signed a new deal (through 2022) with a larger buyout: $10.35 million if fired after the 2018 season. A year later, Rutgers' football outlook isn't any better but at least his buyout is decreasing (unlike Bobby Petrino's bizarre buyout-increasing deal at Louisville).
If fired after the 2019 season, Ash's buyout is $8 million. Big enough to avoid dismissal if they win one or two games for the third time in four seasons?
Buyout numbers for seven other coaches who could be on the hot seat:
Bob Davie – New Mexico
Bob Davie did a remarkable job cleaning up Mike Locksley's mess but is fighting for job security after off-the-field issues and back-to-back three-win seasons.
He would've been owed $1.2 million if fired after the 2018 season, a large figure for a department drowning in financial issues. After the 2019 season: $900,000.
Brent Brennan – San Jose State
Brent Brennan is 3-22 in two seasons after signing a five-year, $2.9-million contract in December 2016. With an average annual salary of $590,000, he's one of the lowest-paid FBS head coaches.
If fired after the 2019 season, Brennan is owed a shade under $900,000.
Clay Helton – USC
One of two private-school coaches on this list, Clay Helton's exact buyout isn't publicly available — and hasn't been confirmed by anyone at USC — so we're left to speculate.
In February 2018, after an 11-win season, Helton signed an extension that runs through the 2023 season. He was retained after last year's five-win debacle, as USC passed on a reported $15-million buyout. If fired after the 2019 season, that number, presumably, drops closer to $10 million.
Gus Malzahn – Auburn
Gus Malzahn signed a seven-year, $49-million contract in early December 2017, announced one day after Auburn's loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship.
Reportedly on the hot seat last season despite a $31-million buyout, Malzahn is still the Tigers' head coach and still has a gigantic buyout. Last October, I broke down the year-by-year buyout numbers, which won't drop below $20 million until 2021. If fired after the 2019 season, he's owed more than $26 million.
Lovie Smith – Illinois
Three years and nine total wins into his first-ever college head-coaching job, Lovie Smith signed a two-year extension last November that runs through 2023. The new deal, however, reduced his buyout by millions.
Had Illinois fired Smith after last season, they would've owed him $12 million thanks to a baffling six-year deal. If fired after the 2019 season, he's owed a reasonable $4 million. That drops to $2 million in 2020.
Philip Montgomery – Tulsa
The other private-school coach, we're left to speculate on Philip Montgomery.
Recently, as Tulsa battles ongoing budget issues, Philip Montgomery (and men's basketball head coach Frank Haith and athletics director Derrick Gragg) took pay cuts. Still, with an annual salary over $1 million after signing an extension in December 2016 (that runs through the 2021 season), Montgomery's buyout is high for a school that lost millions in funding over the last decade.
If he was fired last year, Montgomery would've been owed $4 million. That probably drops to $3 million or less this season.
Randy Edsall – UConn
Hired by UConn in late 2016, Randy Edsall, as of late last year, hadn't signed his five-year contract, though both sides are honoring its terms. Last year, for example, he made headlines for bizarre bonuses in his contract, including scoring the game's first points and having a better red-zone efficiency than their opponent.
This year, he might be on the hot seat after three victories in two seasons. If so, and he's fired after the 2019 season, he'd be owed nothing. No signed contract, no buyout.