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Auburn chose to overlook the outside criticism and hired Hugh Freeze as its next head football coach on Nov. 29, 2022. The 53-year-old is the program’s fourth head coach since hiring Gus Malzahn in 2013, and second since his firing in 2020.
Bryan Harsin’s two years at the helm did not go well after Malzahn was pushed out. They’re both getting paid pretty substantially by their former employer as Auburn continues to pay them a combined $35+ million (in total) not to coach the Tigers.
Meanwhile, Freeze is also getting paid $6.5 million in 2023. His contract details were finally released over the weekend, and it’s pretty standard stuff.
- 2023: $6.5 million
- 2024: $6.75 million
- 2025: $7 million
- 2026: $7.25 million
- 2027: $7.5 million
- 2028: $7.75 million
Freeze’s contract also includes the following bonus opportunities.
- $225,000 retention bonus each Feb. 1
- $150,000 for reaching five SEC Wins
- An additional $150,000 per each SEC win after the first five
- $25,000 for a team APR between 930 and 949
- $200,000 for reaching the SEC Championship
- $400,000 for winning the SEC Championship
- $50,000 for reaching a non-SEC Group-of-6 bowl game
- $150,000 for winning that bowl game
- $200,000 for reaching a New Year’s Six Bowl game
- $50,000 for winning a New Year’s Six Bowl game
- $750,000 for making the College Football Playoff
- $1,000,000 for reaching the College Football Playoff National Championship
- $2,000,000 for winning the College Football Playoff National Championship
- $75,000 for winning SEC Coach of the Year
- $75,000 for winning at least one of multiple Coach of the Year honors
All-in-all, Auburn’s deal with its new coach is nothing out of the ordinary.
It is the contractual buyout where things get spicy.
Remember that Malzahn and Harsin are owed a lot of money already. They were owed at least 70 percent of their remaining contract — without any kind of financial offset if they take another job (Malzahn is at UCF, for example) — when they got fired.
Those buyouts were substantial on their own, but even more so when paid out at the same time.
So what happens if Freeze gets fired? Auburn doesn’t seem to have learned from its past.
Freeze’s buyout would pay him 75% of the remaining contract if he gets fired without cause. There would also be no offset if he took another job.
The Tigers did not lower the number for Freeze after paying out Malzahn and Harsin at a similar number. It seems like that should have been worked out, but what’s been signed has been signed.
Although Auburn didn’t lower its buyout number, it did seem to learn something!
Malzahn and Harsin were owed 50% of their individual buyouts within 30 days of being fired. The Tigers had to cobble up millions of dollars to pay their former coaches not to coach in the first month after their oustings.
Hugh Freeze’s contract is different!
He will still be owed most of his remaining contract, but his money will be paid out in equal monthly installments. That’s at least some improvement.
Just as an example —
Let’s say that Freeze gets fired without cause after 2023. That (probably?) won’t happen, but let’s pretend.
If the firing went down in that timeline, Freeze would be owed just over $27 million. He would get a monthly check of a predetermined amount until that number is down to zero.
That situation wouldn’t have played out in the same way if the Tigers had gone with the same deal as Malzahn and Harsin. Freeze would get more than $13 million within the first month of his firing.
Auburn has not learned from its previous buyouts in terms of money owed, but at least it figured out the whole monthly stipend thing. Considering that the school hopes that Freeze will be around for awhile, it’s a start!