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#pounditMonday, December 6, 2021

Stories by Grey Papke:

Nick Saban has interesting contract clause that could lead to big raise

Nick Saban in an Alabama shirt

The past month has seen college football coaches land a series of huge new contracts, several of which challenge Nick Saban’s status as the highest-paid coach in the sport. Fortunately for him, the Alabama coach has a clause in his current deal to ensure that he is in no danger of falling back among the chasing pack salary-wise.

Saban has a clause in his contract that effectively guarantees his salary can be adjusted as the coaching market changes, as noted by Paul Myerberg and Steve Berkowitz of USA Today. The specific language in Saban’s deal states that the Alabama coach and the university will meet annually on Feb. 1 “for so long as necessary to determine the marketplace trends regarding head football coach compensation.” Furthermore, Saban’s contract states that the Crimson Tide will be required to increase Saban’s “total guaranteed annual compensation” if it becomes less than the average of either the three highest-paid SEC coaches or the five highest-paid FBS coaches.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has a similar clause in his contract. Swinney’s deal states that the parties must annually “complete a good faith review and negotiation of aggregate compensation.” If Clemson fails to ensure that Swinney’s contract remains competitive with the biggest deals in college football, the school would have to waive the buyout clause in Swinney’s contract.

Saban is due to make $9.9 million at Alabama next season. As hefty a sum as that is, it’s only slightly more than the $9.5 million annual salary Brian Kelly will receive from LSU. Kelly could even surpass Saban depending on contract incentives. Michigan State coach Mel Tucker will also make that same sum annually, and his resume certainly does not compare to Saban’s.

Money isn’t the primary motivator for Saban, who has indicated that he plans to retire at Alabama. That doesn’t change the fact that he’ll want to be compensated in line with what he continues to accomplish at the school. If less-accomplished coaches like Kelly and Tucker are getting the kind of money Saban has been receiving, it’s only sensible that Saban will feel entitled to a raise of his own.

Photo: Sep 11, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Akron makes big hire with new football head coach

Joe Moorhead speaking

The Akron Zips aren’t known for their pulling power in college football circles. That makes their new head football coach even more exciting.

On Saturday, Akron officially announced the hire of Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead as its new head coach. Moorhead is one of the sport’s most respected offensive minds, and has power conference experience in a two-year stint as Mississippi State head coach.

Moorhead replaces Tom Arth, who was fired by Akron in November.

Moorhead does have Akron ties, having spent five years there as an assistant from 2004 to 2008. He put himself on the map with his highly successful two-year tenure as Penn State offensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017. He went 14-12 as head coach at Mississippi State, and lost his job there largely due to off-field issues. The 48-year-old still comes with a big reputation and that makes this a coup for Akron, a team coming off a 2-10 season in the MAC.

The timing of Moorhead’s decision to leave his role at Oregon will certainly raise eyebrows. There appears to be some uncertainty hanging over the Ducks’ head coach, and it could have been a consideration for Moorhead when deciding to join the Zips.

Photo: Jul 18, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Joe Moorhead speaks to the media during SEC football media day at College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Kelly has interesting comment on Notre Dame’s playoff credentials

Brian Kelly in a suit

Brian Kelly is weighing in on whether his departure should factor into Notre Dame’s case for inclusion in the College Football Playoff.

Kelly appeared on ESPN’s “College GameDay” on Saturday, and one of the questions he was asked was about whether his exit should impact Notre Dame’s playoff chances. The Fighting Irish are 11-1 and have a real shot at inclusion. Kelly’s response indicated that he clearly feels the team should be considered based on their record, and that he shouldn’t factor into it.

It’s worth noting that this is actually a key part of any debate on Notre Dame’s playoff credentials. CFP selection committee chairman Gary Barta indicated that the status of the team’s coach would be a factor when the committee debates which four teams should be included in the field. In other words, it’s plausible that Kelly’s decision to leave for LSU negatively impacts Notre Dame’s playoff chances.

Kelly is very much on the outs among Notre Dame faithful over the manner of his departure. However, he could certainly see a Notre Dame playoff bid as a way of burnishing his reputation and preserving whatever legacy he has left in South Bend. There’s no reason he wouldn’t want it to happen at this point.

Photo: Sep 28, 2019; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly waves to fans as he enters Notre Dame Stadium before the game against the Virginia Cavaliers. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Lincoln Riley gets third top recruit to flip from Oklahoma to USC

Lincoln Riley does Fight On sign

One of the reasons the USC Trojans targeted Lincoln Riley as head coach is because he’ll be able to recruit with the heavyweights and attract top talent to the school. So far, Riley is delivering.

Wide receiver Makai Lemon, a five-star recruit in the class of 2023, announced Friday that he would decommit from Oklahoma and follow Riley to USC.

Lemon becomes the third five-star recruit to flip from Oklahoma to USC since Riley’s hiring. 2022 four-star running back Raleek Brown announced Thursday that he would also attend USC, while standout 2023 quarterback prospect Malachi Nelson became the first to make the switch on Tuesday after widespread speculation that he would do so.

Notably, all three players play their high school football in Southern California. Riley had initially succeeded in luring them out of state, then kept them from leaving California after taking the USC job. This is significant, as one of the major criticisms of some of Riley’s predecessors at USC was their inability to keep elite high school players from leaving the state. If Riley can continue to secure commitments from players in the talent-rich region, USC will be nationally relevant again very quickly.

There had been talk that Riley might be able to flip top 2023 wide receiver prospect DeAndre Moore, another Southern California-based recruit who had committed to Oklahoma. Moore has so far made clear, however, that he intends to honor his commitment to the Sooners.

Photo: Nov 29, 2021; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Lincoln Riley poses with Fight on sign during a press conference to introduce Riley as Southern California Trojans head coach. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Video: Marcus Freeman gets huge reception at Notre Dame hockey game

Marcus Freeman before a game

Marcus Freeman probably doesn’t need to do much to win the crowd over at Notre Dame, but he’s doing it anyway.

The new Notre Dame football coach ended his first official day on the job by attending the school’s hockey game Friday night in South Bend. Freeman was introduced to the crowd at the game, and the response was a standing ovation that lasted over a minute.

Freeman also stopped for a TV interview during the first intermission. The hockey game was between the Fighting Irish and Ohio State, where Freeman played college football. When asked which of the two schools he was rooting for, Freeman offered an answer that will thrill Notre Dame fans.

“I’m all in on Notre Dame,” Freeman said, via Tyler Horka of Blue And Gold. “I’ve been all in on Notre Dame from the minute I stepped on this campus. You can’t help but embrace this special place. Notre Dame will change you if you let it. That’s why I’m thrilled to be the head coach here.”

Things could have gone awry for Notre Dame very quickly after Brian Kelly’s abrupt departure. The way the former coach did it seems to have galvanized the football team instead, and Freeman is taking advantage. He was quite obviously the players’ preferred choice, and it certainly looks like he’s been fully embraced by fans as well. Just contrast that with how one former LSU player feels about the Kelly hire.

Photo: Oct 2, 2021; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish Defensive Coordinator Marcus Freeman enters Notre Dame Stadium before the game against the Cincinnati Bearcats. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Video: Anthony Brown costs Oregon in Pac-12 title game with unbelievable decision

Anthony Brown interception

The Oregon Ducks had a disastrous first half in the Pac-12 Championship on Friday night, and it was punctuated by one of the worst throws of the entire season.

The Ducks were already down 20-0 to Utah with 18 seconds left in the second quarter, leaving them with a huge hole to dig out of in the second half. Despite having the ball at their own 26-yard line and only 27 seconds to do something with it, Oregon decided to try to move the ball through the air with one timeout remaining.

That was when quarterback Anthony Brown made a staggeringly bad decision. On 2nd and 10, Brown was pressured by the Utah defense and had nowhere to throw. Instead of just throwing the ball away, Brown forced a pass across his body that was intercepted by Utah’s Malone Mataele. The quarterback was so off balance that he was inches away from stepping out of bounds before actually releasing the pass.

The play truly has to be seen to be believed.

It’s simply a horrendous decision. Brown clearly felt he needed to try to make a play, even when there was none to be made. The pick set Utah up in Oregon territory, and the Utes were able to convert on a 50-yard field goal to extend the lead to 23-0 at the half.

An ugly championship loss would cap off what might wind up being a brutal day for the Ducks. They might be about to lose their head coach, too.

Mets reportedly have 1 high-profile manager atop wish list

Buck Showalter smiling

The New York Mets are still without a manager, but it sounds like the team is finally moving toward hiring one. The choice may be a name that will be well-known to baseball fans.

The Mets are expected to have veteran manager Buck Showalter “high on the list” as they begin assembling candidates, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. Heyman notes, however, that the Mets will opt for a thorough search as they hunt for Luis Rojas’ replacement.

Despite the MLB lockout commencing on Dec. 1, teams are not restricted from hiring staff, so the Mets’ managerial search can go ahead without any obstruction.

If the Mets are seeking experience, they’d be hard-pressed to do better than Showalter. The 65-year-old has managed 3,069 MLB games in his career, and has made playoff appearances with the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Baltimore Orioles. The knock on Showalter has been his inability to get teams over the hump, as both the Yankees and Diamondbacks won championships the year after dismissing him.

Showalter is not going to be the only name considered, however. There had been some speculation that new general manager Billy Eppler might target a manager he’s familiar with from his days with the Los Angeles Angels.

Photo: Dec 5, 2011; Dallas, TX, USA; Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter answers question for a press conference during the MLB winter meetings at Hilton Anatole. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Everson Griffen makes first statement since troubling incident at home

Everson Griffen celebrates with Vikings

Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Everson Griffen on Friday issued his first public statement since a troubling incident at his home in November.

In a message posted to Instagram, Griffen said he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and wants to be “an advocate for mental health.”

“It’s true I am bipolar,” Griffen wrote. “I will embrace it and I will be an advocate for mental health. I been running from it a long time. I’m not ashamed of it anymore. It all started when my mother passed away. Went into a dark place, thought I was great for many years. I promise this time I will do everything the experts say. I love my family and I miss my friends. Thank you for all the love and support, but most of all thank you for all the prayers.”

Griffen posted a series of alarming messages on social media on Nov. 24. Later that day, he refused to leave his house after police and mental health professionals were dispatched, and claimed someone was inside with him and trying to harm him. The situation was ultimately resolved safely.

The 33-year-old defensive lineman has spent the bulk of his career with Vikings, and has accumulated 85.5 total sacks. He had collected five sacks in nine games so far in 2021, and is currently on the non-football injured list.

Photo: Dec 30, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) during a game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports