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On eve of Pac-12 championship game, Oregon ups the pay for in-demand football coach

PMG FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Ducks' football coach Mario Cristobal received a nice raise from the University of Oregon with a contract extension through 2025.The University of Oregon on Thursday announced it has given a significant raise to football coach Mario Cristobal, thanks to private donations.

The money, $27.3 million over six seasons through 2025, isn't enough to compete with what a program like Auburn would be able to throw at Cristobal. That includes the buyout, which stands at $9 million through Jan. 22, 2022, and then decreases each January from there.

So, there's no guarantee Cristobal, 24-9 in three seasons entering Friday's Pac-12 championship game against USC, is Oregon's football coach long term.

But, maybe money isn't the biggest factor in Cristobal's plan.

He's got a good thing going at Oregon and surely remembers it was the players who lobbied for him to get the head coaching position when Willie Taggart fled to Florida State.

Cristobal's recruiting prowess — the major reason he will continue to be sought after by other programs — has Oregon poised to be nationally relevant for the foreseeable future. That, plus loyalty and quality of life, might keep him in Eugene.

At Auburn, as one example, Cristobal would make a lot more money, but would be paid to compete in the same division as Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU, with Georgia and Florida lurking in the other SEC division. At least while Nick Saban is at Bama, that's an uphill battle.

Not that the Pac-12 is a cakewalk.

The parity in the Pac-12 sometimes works against its best teams because blowout wins, the kind that resonate nationally, have been rare for even the conference's best teams. There aren't the walkover weeks that SEC teams get in their schedule.

The biggest hurdle for Cristobal (assuming the pandemic ends soon) will be exposure and keeping his program humming despite a significant financial disadvantage compared with traditional football powers such as Alabama and Ohio State. ESPN recently went all-in with the SEC on a TV contract that begins in 2024, the year after the current Pac-12 deal with ESPN and FOX networks expires. That deal only increases the resources that SEC schools have to build facilities and pay coaches.

That last factor — salaries for assistant coaches — could hold Oregon (and all Pac-12 schools) back in the arms race that college football has become.

Here are some details from Cristobal's contract extension, which runs through Jan. 14, 2026, with an option to add one year:

Cristobal will earn an average of $4.55 million per season, up from his current $2.7 million. His new average guaranteed salary ranks third in the Pac-12, up from 11th, and is "only" $450,000 a year below the $5 million earned by Utah's Kyle Whittingham, the highest-paid Pac-12 football coach.

Under the new agreement, Cristobal will be paid $4.3 million next season (contract year 2), $4.4 million in 2022, $4.5 million in 2023, $4.6 million in 2024 and $4.75 million in 2025.

Cristobal has taken a 10% pay cut from June 7, 2020 through June 30, 2021, as a result of revenue shortfalls related to the pandemic.

Cristobal is due a $500,000 retention payment on Dec. 31, 2020. And the contract, of course, includes performance bonuses (though hardly outlandish) and the usual perks (cars, country club memberships and such).

It's a pretty sweet deal, though hardly extravagant in today's college football. If it keeps Cristobal in Eugene long term, it's a win for the Ducks.

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