In America, a fall Saturday often means watching some college football or possibly heading off to tailgate at the alma mater. Sunday is for the NFL, which remains the top television draw, despite its problems. For much of the country, Friday night is for the local high school games. Some parts of the country play their high school games on Saturday morning, but for most it is Friday night. In Texas, high school football is a two billion dollar business. Americans love their sports, especially football.
Currently, the two best coaches in the game are Nick Saban, who coaches the Alabama Crimson Tide and Bill Belichick of the NFL’s New England Patriots. The fact that the ancestors of both men are from Illyria is an interesting fact. Not only are both the best of their era, it is possible they are the best ever. Both men have a similar style of managing their programs and both are known for being something less than charming with the media. The shadow of Diocletian is very long.
Anyway, the thing that stands out about Saban and Belichick is they are smart men, who are excellent organizers. They are gifted at working within the constraints of the game and the constraints of their situations. They are not married to a style of play, instead adapting to the talent on-hand and the state of the game. They are known for getting the most from each player, often creating a niche for the player that did not exist. They also adapt to their staffs, shuffling people in and out of their organizations.
The thing is, what makes both men remarkable is that they are exceptions. Coaching football is a very lucrative profession in current year America. Bill Belichick is thought to make close to $15 million per year. Nick Saban makes $9 million per year. Both men are probably worth over $100 million at this point. In the case of Belichick, he could be worth a quarter billion or more, as he surely has been given investment opportunities unavailable to most people. Sports teams are owned by oligarchs.
Now, for two of the greatest of all time, that is probably justifiable, but further down the talent scale, the money is still very good. All over the NFL, there are head coaches making millions per year for being very bad at their jobs. There are lots of assistants making big money for being bad at their jobs. Many assistants, are often known to lack the talent to ever be a head coach, while others are simply happy to be a mediocre NFL coach making a very good living in the game.
At the college level, the cost of mediocrity is most obvious. Many of the college head coaches are dumb people, even by the standards of sport. Will Muschamp coaches the University of South Carolina football team. He makes over $5 million per year. He is not very good at coaching football. He got fired from his last high paying gig and he will be fired from this one. He’s not alone. The game is littered with guys who are not all that bright, but somehow rise to the top of the profession.
If libertarians were right about anything, this would not be the case. There is very little government interference in the coaching business. These are contract employees, so they can be fired at will. Moreover, the colleges seem to be immune from charges of discrimination like private business. Blacks are wildly under-represented in the coaching business. There are few Jews in the management side. Women are just about non-existent in the game. Sport is free to be a free market for coaches.
In theory, the lucrative salaries and the lifestyle should be a magnet for smart young people in America. Every year, thousands of young people head to Hollywood and New York hoping to be a star. They want to be famous. You would think something similar would happen with coaching, where the money is great and you don’t have to have sex with guys like Harvey Weinstein as a condition of employment. Smart young people should be flocking to sports coaching trying to make it big.
Of course, something similar should be true of politics. Congressman and Senators are not pulling down football coach money, but they live a great lifestyle. They also get perks like the right to trade on their insider knowledge. Paul Ryan, for example, went to Washington penniless and retired with a net worth of $6 million. He landed in a seven figure job bribing his fellow colleagues. That should draw hundreds of candidates into every race, but politics is largely a closed shop, despite being democratic.
There’s not point here, other than that to point out that “natural markets” don’t exist, even in the absence of government. There’s almost no government role in the football coaching business, but it is a closed world controlled by relationships and insider information among the coaches. The same is true of politics. In theory, anyone can run for Congress. In reality, they allow in only those they want in. The Senate is the world’s most exclusive club, followed by the House and the football coaching fraternity.
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