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Millions of reasons to walk away

MILWAUKEE — College basketball coach Bill Foster was one of the desirable hires in 1980. Two years earlier, he had led Duke to the Final Four, so when South Carolina called with a better offer, he jumped.

Foster signed for the going rate at the time, a base salary of $50,000 a season. A few years later, he suffered a heart attack while coaching a game against Purdue. He took a few months off and eventually finished his coaching career at Northwestern around the usual retirement age.

Foster's story is relevant because of the way college coaching stories have dominated the news lately.

Urban Meyer resigned, un-resigned and then took a leave of absence at Florida because of health problems. Less applicable are the cases of Mike Leach and Mark Mangino, who disappeared from Texas Tech and Kansas over player relations. Whereas Foster was one of the game's gentlemen, Leach and Mangino were bullies who got what they deserved.

Still, a thread exists.

There will be fewer and fewer Bill Fosters, the coaches who work five or six jobs for 40 years while carrying the stress of winning and dealing with modern players.

And we'll never again see the likes of coaching octogenarians Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno, essentially for the same reason that baseball's 300-game winner has become an incentive-related endangered species.

It's the crazy money. Meyer makes $4 million a year. At 45, he probably had the financial security to walk away from the aggravation.

There's also the Skip Prosser cautionary tale. Prosser dropped dead on the job at Wake Forest at age 56.

Al McGuire got out at 49. Citing stress, Ara Parseghian was 51 when he left behind a winning percentage of .836 at Notre Dame. Long ago, they were the exceptions. Moving forward, they could be the rule.

Unless a coach has no life outside the job, where's the incentive anymore to abide the pressure when the alternative is to enjoy many healthy years with money in the bank?

Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema, who turns 40 on Jan. 13, makes more than $1 million a year. With a 28-11 record after his first three seasons, he was under fire in his fourth. For the money, Bielema did what he was supposed to do this season by leading the Badgers to a 10-3 record. As a reward, he'll be required to match or better it next year ... and the next and the next.

Some handle the stress better than others. Alabama's Nick Saban, another $4 million guy, seems immune to the pressures that had Meyer's wife calling 911 after he had collapsed.

And that's the troubling part about the Meyer situation. One day, he cited personal values such as family and health for stepping aside. The next day, after watching a team practice for the millionth time, why did Meyer suddenly decide that the personal reasons for leaving no longer had the same worth?

That's his business, but at some point you've got to ask yourself why anyone would want Meyer's job, regardless of the money. You'll never hear a coach admit that the joys of winning outweigh the lows of losing.

Then there's groveling before teenagers to recruit them and properly managing them after they're signed. Kids have more power now. Apparently, Leach and Mangino didn't understand that chilling part of the job description.

Look, no one feels sorry for these guys for the money they make. Plenty of workaday jobs come with tremendous pressure. The difference is coaches suddenly have the financial freedom to walk away. The guess here is more will begin to exercise that option.

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