April 06, 1997

I just got off the phone with Rutgers athletic director Fred
Gruninger. He offered me the job as the basketball coach of the
Scarlet Knights. I swear. So if SI doesn't set me up with a
long-term megabucks deal, pronto, I'm walking. Really. I am. I
believe I'm just the guy to take the rut out of Rutgers. I bleed
Rutgers scarlet.

Don't laugh. It worked for Tom Penders, the Texas coach. Penders
recently spent an afternoon touring the Rutgers campus in New
Brunswick, N.J., and then let it slip that he was offered the
Scarlet Knights' coaching job. The next day he got a
$150,000-a-year raise and a two-year contract extension to
remain with the Longhorns. So what if Rutgers says that Penders
was never offered squat.

And if the Rutgers job falls through, then I'm going to
Tennessee. Hell, yeah. They need a coach. Need one bad. I'll
learn the words to Rocky Top. I'll promise to vote for Al Gore
in 2000. Whatever it takes. Y'all know I bleed Volunteers orange.

Hey, I'm no more opportunistic than Steve Alford. He humored the
Tennessee suits with a couple of interviews and then signed a
cushy four-year contract extension with Southwest Missouri
State--only to promptly declare himself a candidate for the Ohio
State job. Tulsa's Steve Robinson hit the job-market daily
double, attracting interest for the coaching openings at
Tennessee and Memphis until the Golden Hurricane coughed up a
contract extension through 2004. Then there's Colorado's Ricardo
Patton, who turned down an offer from Memphis, had two
interviews with Tennessee and eventually got a $120,000-a-year
raise to stay in Boulder. Rick Barnes listened to sales pitches
from both Tennessee and Ohio State before re-upping at Clemson
for a seven-year, $4.67 million extension plus incentive bonuses
for everything this side of perfect attendance. Murray State
coach Mark Gottfried and Tennessee-Chattanooga's Mack McCarthy
followed the scent of money to Knoxville, and each ended up with
a lucrative contract extension to remain at his current school.

In the last month at least 10 college basketball coaches have
played this gambit, reaping immense financial windfalls simply
by agreeing to continue doing the job for which they were
already under contract. Following in the steps of professional
athletes, they are the latest wave of capitalists to test the
free-agent market--free in the sense that many coaches have
contracts with escape clauses.

In an era when many college players scrap the B.A. in favor of
the NBA, universities have come to view coaches as the only
folks they can "lock up" long term, and you don't necessarily
need sterling credentials to feel entitled. Florida State coach
Pat Kennedy, whose talented Seminoles finished sixth in the ACC
and failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight
season, nonetheless summoned the nerve to lobby for his own
sweetheart deal after his team reached the final of the NIT.
Hey, Pat, try floating a rumor that you have an interview
scheduled at Wyoming Tech. In a week you'll be making more than
Bobby Bowden.

But the Larry Brown Award for Employee Loyalty must go to Tim
Floyd, who has nine years left on a 10-year contract with Iowa
State. Floyd, 43, has been mentioned in connection with every
coaching job from the Chicago Bulls to the Zambian national
team. He flirted with LSU a couple of months ago before turning
his sights on poor Tennessee, informing Volunteers athletic
director Doug Dickey of his interest in the job through Archie
Manning, Peyton's dad. After Dickey decided he would meet with
Floyd, the Cyclones coach didn't interview with Tennessee before
negotiating a sizable salary increase at Iowa State. Floyd then
had second thoughts about staying put and sent another
intermediary to inform Dickey of his renewed interest in
Tennessee just as Dickey was traveling to the home of Illinois
State coach Kevin Stallings to offer him the job. When Stallings
learned of Floyd's chicanery, he went through with a visit to
Tennessee, but then nixed the Vols' offer. Now Floyd has turned
his back on Tennessee again. Dickey is desperately seeking
another viable candidate. How about Tim Floyd?

Finally, last Friday, Drexel's Bill Herrion, the first coach to
officially be offered the Rutgers job, said no; he believed he
wasn't ready for the Big East. (The way things are going,
Herrion should be signing a fat, lifetime contract with the
Dragons real soon.) Of course, more bad news for Fred Gruninger
means a bull market for the rest of us. Just last week I tipped
off my nephew, Stan, who cooks fries at White Castle. He told
his boss he was offered the job at Rutgers. Stan's a cashier now.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: EVANGELOS VIGLIS [Drawing of man with three university contracts on an elongated nose sitting in front of money and another contract]

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