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Analysis: Examining Fisher's contracts and why buyout is so one-sided

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Jimbo Fisher would only owe Florida State a little more than $7 million if he were to leave for another job after this season. FSU, meanwhile, would have to pay Fisher more than $38 million to buy him out.
Gene Williams / Warchant.com

As reports continue to come in about Texas A&M’s plans to make a hefty offer to Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher, there’s no better time to take a closer look at Fisher’s contract and where the Seminoles will be left financially should Fisher leave.

Ever since Fisher signed his most recent contract last December, there has been a great deal of confusion about Fisher’s buyouts -- how much the university would owe him if he were to be fired without cause, and how much he would owe the university if he were to leave before his contract expires following the 2024 season.

In a story Warchant published three weeks ago (Primer on FSU coaches’ contracts, salaries, buyout obligations), we explained that FSU would have to pay Fisher more than $38 million if it wanted to fire him after this season, while he would only owe FSU slightly more than $7 million if he were to leave on his own.

That disparity does not sit well with many Seminole supporters, who wonder why it is so one-sided in Fisher’s favor.

To gain a better understanding of the situation, we sat down with Tallahassee attorney Harold R. Mardenborough of the firm Perry & Young, who has years of experience in contract law and also happens to be an active member of Warchant’s message board community (posting as “AllNoles”).

With Mardenborough’s assistance, we took a look at Fisher’s current and previous contracts with Florida State and examined how we got to this point and why there is such a disparity in the buyouts.

To get started, here is a brief overview of Fisher’s contracts and extensions during his eight seasons as head coach:

* 2010 – Fisher’s first contract is for five years at $1.8 million per year. The total value of the deal is $9 million. If Fisher were to leave on his own before 2014, he would have to pay the school either $750,000 or $500,000, depending on when he left.

* 2011 – After a 10-win debut season, Fisher gets a new deal worth $13.75 million (5 years, $2.75 million annually). The buyout for him to leave on his own increases to $2 million.

* 2012 – Receives a one-year extension but no raise after going 9-4 in 2011.

* 2013 – No raise and no extension after 12-2 season in 2012.

* 2014 – With FSU on its way to a national championship and with reports of Texas courting him, Fisher and FSU agree in December 2013 to a new deal that would be worth over $20 million (5 years, $4.1 million annually). Fisher also negotiates an additional $500,000 be added to his pool for assistant coaches’ salaries. The buyout for Fisher to leave on his own changes from a flat amount to the total value of his assistant coaches’ contracts.

* 2015 – With FSU on its way to a second consecutive College Football Playoff appearance and having won 29 consecutive games, Fisher and the school agree in December 2014 on a new eight-year contract worth over $40 million -- roughly double the total value of his previous contract, signed one year earlier. Fisher’s salary would start at $5 million and increase each year through the 2022 season. This contract also features a new buyout structure: If he were to leave on his own before December 2016, Fisher would owe FSU $5 million; if he were to leave before December 2018, it would drop to $3 million; and it would drop to $1 million from there.

* 2016 – No new contract after 10-3 season in 2015.

* 2017 – With LSU courting him for the second consecutive year, Fisher and FSU sign a new deal in December of 2016 worth $44.4 million over 8 years -- $5.55 million annually. The deal also calls for automatic one-year extensions after any nine-win season (with a maximum of two extensions), meaning the deal could run through 2026 and be worth over $55 million. This contract features yet another change in buyout structure, with it going again from a flat amount to the total value of the assistant coaches’ contracts. That amount will change throughout the course of the deal, but if Fisher were to leave after this season, it would be just over $7 million.


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