Big paychecks, big expectations

Jon Embree's final news conference wasn't a farewell. It was a funeral.

What was being buried was Embree's dignity, Colorado's credibility and any semblance of reality.

Embree, a former Colorado player, was emotional as he explained how he wasn't given enough time to turn the program around.

"All I was told [Sunday] was the trajectory of the program wasn't what they wanted. And my response was, 'Well, what was the trajectory of the program before I was hired?'" said Embree, who coached Colorado for two seasons.

The once reputable Buffaloes finished 1-11 this year, winning two fewer games than they did in Embree's first year. Embree replaced Dan Hawkins, who was 19-39 in five seasons.

Embree's emotional purging was a glimpse into the pressure that accompanies most major college programs -- which only will worsen, as creating revenue has become the primary driving force behind athletic decisions.

This isn't a good time to be a college football coach not named Nick Saban, Les Miles, Chip Kelly or Urban Meyer.

Five years used to be the benchmark used to determine whether an upper-level college coach could build a program. There was an understanding that it took a few years for a coach to amass recruits, implement a system, establish consistency and mold the program in his image.

A college coach would be considered lucky now if he got enough time to change a program into a blurry snapshot of his image.

Oh yeah, the money college coaches are earning is more lucrative than ever.

But the job security seems to be worse than ever, too.

The way things are going, there actually might be more job security for a head coach in the NFL than in college.

Embree's firing was one of many dismissals executed in the past few days by various universities. And others who were fired had far better résumés than Embree.

Auburn fired Gene Chizik, who won a national championship in 2010, after four seasons. Tennessee cut its losses with Derek Dooley after three seasons. Tom O'Brien, who appeared in three straight bowls, was shown the door by NC State after six seasons. Danny Hope was out at Purdue in his fourth year, even though Hope had taken the Boilermakers to consecutive bowls and they ended the season on a three-game winning streak.

And if you think Colorado gave Embree a quick hook, Southern Miss sacked Ellis Johnson after one winless season.

It's hard out there as a coach.

In all, 13 coaching changes have been made. The circumstances were all different, but the motivations behind the dismissals were strikingly similar.

It boiled down to money and perception.

A lot of colleges and universities are watching state and national funding pipelines shrink.

But even as tuition increases and students are asked to pay more, major college football is the one luxury no one is willing to live without.

Last week, Tennessee's athletic department announced it would cease contributing $6 million to academic scholarships and fellowships for the next three years to fund its football coaching search and get the department's $4 million deficit under control.

That financial maneuvering dictates that whoever the Vols hire as their next football coach must win quickly to justify that decision.

Dooley was 15-21 at Tennessee and won four conference games in three years. Regardless of what you think of Dooley's coaching -- which was suspect at best -- is winning quickly at Tennessee even realistic?

Running a college football program is a lot like owning a publicly-traded company, where often it's about satisfying the stockholders in the short term rather than nurturing the product.

There are four coaching vacancies in the SEC, including Tennessee's. And in each place, I see more headaches than upside.

Who wants to coach at Auburn and enter the arms race against Saban?

Who wants to coach at Kentucky, where building a consistent winning program has proven to be extremely difficult even when Florida and South Carolina were down? (Keep your head on a swivel Mark Stoops.)

Who wants to coach at Arkansas, and fight against LSU's Les Miles and a breakout Texas A&M team with dynamo Johnny Manziel and Kevin Sumlin, a budding superstar in coaching circles.

Any coach worth his headset would relish the challenge, but if he does take it on, he better understand it's a year-to-year job.

Schools are just as comfortable ditching coaches -- expensive buyouts be damned -- as they are ditching conferences.

At least in the NFL, a coach is just at the mercy of a majority owner and/or a general manager. And as we've seen in San Diego and Philadelphia, as long as a coach has his bosses' loyalty, outside perception doesn't matter.

By contrast, perception matters in college. Sometimes, too much.

In three of his five seasons, Hawkins never won more than three games. But if you add on Embree's two seasons to Hawkins' troubled tenure, that's a seven-year span in which Colorado has only one bowl appearance and no winning seasons.

Perception and reality show Colorado football hasn't been relevant in more than a decade.

So what kind of coach can Colorado expect to land?

There isn't a coaching carousel in college football. It's a coaching merry-go-round going at warp speed with no brakes.

I'm not suggesting we should be sympathetic toward coaches, because some of them leave these jobs with unbelievable financial security. Auburn is paying Chizik $7.5 million to go away. And Cal owes Jeff Tedford $6.9 million. In most of these firings -- including Embree's -- there were strong reasons to support the dismissals.

But while college coaches are getting paid, they also are paying a price. With the pressure to win being at an all-time high, suffice it to say most will never break even.