What Gators paid to get McElwain underscores UM’s challenge in finding a coach

Florida has turned around its football program under Jim McElwain, but it cost the Gators plenty.

Consider these numbers as Miami undergoes its own coach search, hoping to find a man who can do what McElwain has done in Gainesville, and as quickly.

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 17: Head coach Jim McElwain celebrates after a touchdown by Antonio Callaway #81 of the Florida Gators against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

BATON ROUGE, LA – OCTOBER 17: Head coach Jim McElwain celebrates after a touchdown by Antonio Callaway #81 of the Florida Gators against the LSU Tigers. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Al Golden, fired by Miami on Sunday, reportedly had an annual salary just under $2.54 million. That ranked him 42nd among major college coaches, according to USA Today, and seventh in the 14-team ACC.

To get McElwain from Colorado State, the Gators had to pay him an average of $3.5 million over six years but that’s not all. Florida also had to negotiate and agree to pay a major portion of a $7.5 million buyout clause included in McElwain’s contract.

Yes, $7.5 million in penalties for the coach leaving Fort Collins early. When that daunting figure was attached to McElwain’s Colorado State extension in August of 2014, he joked, “The way I look at that, maybe the only chance we have is maybe Bill Gates hiring me.”

Turns out that Florida AD Jeremy Foley played the role of Daddy Warbucks instead.

In negotiating the penalty down ever so slightly from $7.5 million to $7 million and clearing the way for the Gators to get their man, Florida agreed to pay $3 million to Colorado State and to schedule a future game with the Rams in Gainesville with a guaranteed payout of $2 million. McElwain also had to agree to pay $2 million to his former employer over time.

To put it in starkest terms, Golden made less in salary at Miami than Florida paid just to settle McElwain’s buyout clause.

If the Gators beat Georgia Saturday and continue on to represent the SEC East in the conference championship game, you’d have to say that McElwain was worth every penny. Even if they don’t, Florida’s hefty investment in putting the right coach in charge of its football program and making him the 17th-highest paid in America is wise.

It’s also a luxury, just like Florida State paying Jimbo Fisher $5.15 in annual salary, plus tons of bonuses, is a luxury.

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Miami will have to be tighter and smarter with its money, not only in hiring a head coach but in paying for his staff.

Along those lines, consider that Tom Herman of Houston is No. 61 on the national coaches’ pay scale ($1.45 million annually). Justin Fuente of Memphis is No. 63 ($1.4 million). Way down the list, at No. 107, is Toledo’s Matt Campbell, at $496,450. He makes the least of any coach whose team currently ranks among the AP Top 25.

I deliberately left Matt Rhule until last because there’s no chance Miami would go after him.

Rhule has an unbeaten ranked No. 21 in the AP poll and he would love a promotion from his annual salary of $648,633, but he’s the coach at Temple, and that’s where Golden made his name before coming to Miami.