Chadd Cripe

Bryan Harsin’s buyout is about to expire; how will he use NCAA’s new 10th assistant?

Boise State coach Bryan Harsin is doused as his team leads Oregon with seconds left in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin is doused as his team leads Oregon with seconds left in the Las Vegas Bowl. AP

Boise State’s Bryan Harsin next month will become one of the rare college football coaches with a five-year contract that doesn’t include a buyout to leave.

Harsin still is working under the original contract he signed to become the Broncos’ coach in 2014, although a few provisions have been tweaked. That original five-year deal included a buyout that started at $2 million and phased out after four seasons. That’s not unusual — the buyout lowers as the school’s obligation to the coach lowers, and it provides an incentive to the school to offer a new deal.

However, Harsin also was given the Chris Petersen provision. Every time the Broncos win eight games (the threshold started at nine and was reduced), Harsin gets a one-year contract extension. Since Boise State has won at least eight games for 19 straight years, the contract is essentially a rolling five-year deal.

So now the expiring buyout and automatic extensions have run into each other. Boise State is guaranteeing Harsin $9.25 million in salary over the next five years — unless he’s fired for cause — but Harsin is free to leave without paying a buyout beginning Jan. 10.

The fix to this for Boise State would be to give Harsin a new contract, but the school is unlikely to do that because of how lucrative the deal already is. Harsin will make $1.65 million in 2018, with $100,000 annual raises for future years. He also earned $125,000 in bonuses for the Broncos’ Mountain West championship in 2017.

He won’t be the highest-paid coach in the Mountain West. Colorado State bumped Mike Bobo to $1.85 million for 2018, breaking a three-way tie at the top with Harsin and Fresno State’s Jeff Tedford. But given the unusual nature of the guarantees that Harsin has and the lack of a buyout, his deal potentially is worth far more than Bobo’s.

Bobo has a $3.5 million buyout for 2018 and a $3 million buyout for 2019. The school’s guarantee to him is $8 million total in the first year, dropping to $5.5 million in the second year (when Harsin’s likely will be close to $10 million).

For Harsin to accept a multimillion-dollar buyout, Boise State would have to add millions to his contract — and that just isn’t practical given the athletic department’s declining football-ticket revenue and other financial challenges.

Some other random college football thoughts as the season winds down:

▪  Harsin’s contract could cost Boise State $136,500 in additional taxes in 2018 because of the GOP tax bill, which included a 21 percent excise tax on annual pay above $1 million for employees of nonprofits. Harsin is the only athletic department employee in the state who makes $1 million-plus. Technically, $200,000 of Harsin’s salary is paid to Bryan Harsin Enterprises as part of a licensing deal, so I’m not sure whether that money will be subject to the tax.

Boise State also could absorb a financial impact from the tax plan’s removal of the 80 percent tax deduction for boosters who donate money to athletic departments in exchange for the right to purchase tickets in prime seating locations.

▪  With all the complaints about the inconsistency of the Broncos in Harsin’s four years — and I’ve had some myself — it’s easy to overlook the resume he’s building here. Harsin is 42-12 with two Mountain West titles, three bowl wins and two Top 25 seasons. In Petersen’s last four years at Boise State, he was 43-8 with two conference titles, three bowl wins and three Top 25 seasons (but two in the top 10).

▪  The next Boise State coaching search, whenever that may be, could be as intriguing as the last (Harsin, Justin Wilcox, Dirk Koetter and Scott Frost were among the finalists). Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos, a former Boise State linebacker, is the leading contender as long as he remains on staff. But look around college football and you’ll notice that young former Boise State players will be the head coach at Western Kentucky (Mike Sanford), offensive coordinator at Washington (Bush Hamdan) and co-offensive coordinator at Colorado (Klayton Adams) in 2018. Boise State Hall of Famer Pete Kwiatkowski is the defensive coordinator at Washington, too, but he’s shown little interest in becoming a head coach.

▪  ESPN is desperate enough for the programming that it probably doesn’t care, but college football is doing all it can to destroy the bowl system that it has spent decades protecting. If the rampant interim coaches weren’t enough of a problem, now we have star players sitting out bowl games to protect their bodies for the NFL Draft, and we also have a December signing day that created chatter that coaches were leaving bowl sites to recruit rather than enjoying the trips with their teams and families (and, you know, preparing for the games).

Harsin and some of his assistants flew out of Boise after bowl practices and returned to practice again the next day. Harsin considered having an airplane available to do the same at the Las Vegas Bowl but decided that wasn’t the right thing to do, he said. He was a bit tempted — but stayed put — when quarterback Zach Wilson decommitted during the week.

“If we’re taking away from major bowl games because we have an early signing period, maybe that’s not the best thing to do,” Harsin said. “Everybody’s going so fast that we’ve got to really go back and re-evaluate it.”

So far this year, only eight bowl games have been decided by seven points or fewer. Eleven have been decided by at least 20 points.

While some have taken to calling bowls “meaningless,” Boise State always has made a bowl victory a central part of its season goal — and perhaps that’s why the Broncos have been so successful in the postseason. They’re 12-6 in bowl games, with two of the losses coming during coaching transitions.

▪  Here’s a hidden value to the Broncos’ win against Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl: The game attracted 3.801 million viewers on ABC, according to sportsmediawatch.com. That was nearly triple the audience for any other Boise State game this season. The previous best was 1.324 million for the Virginia game.

Fresno State went to the Hawaii Bowl after losing the Mountain West championship to Boise State. The Hawaii Bowl — Fresno State vs. Houston — attracted 2.086 million viewers on ESPN, according to TV By The Numbers.

The Mountain West title game, which faced heavy Power Five competition, drew just 623,000 viewers on ESPN.

▪  Next month, college football adds a 10th full-time assistant coach. That creates endless possibilities for new staff configurations and likely will lead to unprecedented movement among assistant coaches. Harsin said last week that he has a plan for the 10th spot but might not make an immediate decision. With all of the change likely, it might pay off to see who’s available.

One option would be to make Kent Riddle a full-time special teams coach and add an offensive assistant. But he’s accustomed to having an offensive position group (tight ends currently), so that doesn’t make much sense. More likely is that the Broncos add a defensive assistant. The current staff features five offensive assistants and four defensive assistants. Add in Harsin, and the offense has six coaches to the defense’s four. Avalos was the primary position coach for the linebackers and met once a week with the STUD ends, who were coached by graduate assistant Spencer Danielson. That’s a heavy load for a coordinator.

▪  Expect some classic Boise State Fiesta Bowl highlights during this year’s game, because Petersen’s Washington team is in it. The Huskies will take on Penn State at 2 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.

▪  The College Football Playoff semifinals are Monday — Georgia-Oklahoma at 3 p.m., Alabama-Clemson at 6:45 p.m., both on ESPN. I’ll take Alabama and Oklahoma.

Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman sports editor. Contact him at ccripe@ idahostatesman.com, 208-377-6398 or @chaddcripe on Twitter.

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