Free flights give top coaches getaways

Free flights give top coaches much needed getaways; Chizik not among those with perk

AP College Football WriterJanuary 1, 2011 

There’s a quiet place in Georgia where Nick Saban can collect his thoughts when the pressures of coaching Alabama football start to add up.

Getting there isn’t that hard as Saban’s contract allows him to use a private plane for his personal use, which includes sneaking away from the Crimson Tide when he can.

Several of the nation’s top college coaches have such a clause in their multimillion-dollar contracts. They say it’s particularly valuable in a profession that has seen Urban Meyer step down at Florida amid concerns about his health and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio miss a month after a mild heart attack.

A few days away seem infinitely more valuable than the company cars, golf club memberships and free tickets that come in many contracts. Instead of dollar signs, it’s about peace of mind.

“If we didn’t go to the lake and I couldn’t go to Rabun County and stand on the side of the hill and sit on a log and look down and think a little bit, I don’t think I’d survive much longer in this business,” said Saban, who led the Crimson Tide to the national title last season.

“I need that. I need to do that every now and then. … I’d raise a lot more hell than I raise.”

Creative perk

College coaches already are frequent flyers while hopping across the country to recruit their next batch of players. But in addition to paying for flights that are directly related to the business of college athletics, universities are taking an extra step to accommodate vacations for their coaches.

Saban’s contract -- which pays him $4.63 million this year -- allows him personal use of a plane for 25 hours at the university’s expense. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops gets 45 hours, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz gets 35 and Ohio State’s Jim Tressel gets 20. Michigan State men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo got 25 hours of private plane use in his most recent contract, while Dantonio and women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant also have access to flights.

Other championship-winning coaches, including Texas’ Mack Brown and LSU’s Les Miles, don’t have similar deals, and Meyer didn’t either. Nor do the coaches in the BCS championship game -- Auburn’s Gene Chizik and Oregon’s Chip Kelly.

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said schools can just as easily tack more money onto their coaches’ contracts and let them pay for the flights on their own. Stoops’ last deal included a bump in salary to $3.875 million this year, plus an $800,000 bonus on Jan. 1 -- in addition to 10 more hours of plane usage per year.

Castiglione considers the perk a creative form of compensation.

“It gets to the quality of life, the ability of individuals in certain jobs to make sure that they take care of themselves, have their priorities in order, be with their families when they can,” Castiglione said. “We know they’re away from their families an extensive amount of the year.”

Maximizing time away

Saban said he still talks to recruits, watches film and does “all the things that we do” even when he’s out of town. But there’s a relaxation factor that comes with getting away to be with his wife and kids.

“It’s just a time issue,” said Saban, who logged four trips from Tuscaloosa, Ala., to northern Georgia in the offseason. “You work so many hours that having the opportunity to make a 10-hour trip a two-hour trip is really beneficial because of all the time spent in terms of what you do.

“It’s a tremendous benefit. We really appreciate it. It helps me do a lot of other things.”

Tressel made three separate trips to Sarasota, Fla., in 2008 but none last year. His only trips on record this year are to Washington, D.C., and Willoughby, Ohio.

Stoops used almost all of his 45-hour allotment last year at a cost of just under $125,000 to Oklahoma. He made trips to Las Vegas, Vancouver and his home state of Ohio, but his most frequent destination was St. Augustine, Fla., a place he says has “always been special to me.”

-- AP sports writers Rusty Miller, John Zenor, Larry Lage and Luke Meredith contributed to this report.

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