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The title says it all. In many universities you see coaches for a team in some popular sport hanging around for many decades. I was wondering if in general those people had a status of tenured professor or equivalent, or if on the contrary they can be "fired at will", if for example the performance of the teams they are in charge of are considered disappointing?

If the answer is really "it depends, there is no rule", then let me say I would like to know what status the Basketball Coach of Brandeis University who has just been fired had (see this Boston Globe article).

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    Could you clarify what is so odd about the firing of the basketball coach at Brandeis that it would make you think that the coach had the status of a tenured professor? Reading the article made it sounds like a very typical process of HR investigating complaints about employees at similarly sized institution, academic or not. – user2705196 Apr 10 '18 at 16:49
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No, athletic coaches are generally not considered faculty and do not have tenure. I've never heard of any place where they are.

The conditions of their employment would be based on whatever contract they negotiate with the university. Typically the university would have the right to fire them for any reason, including poor performance of the team, but the contract might call for a severance payment in some cases.

(There could be small schools where someone is a professor and also an athletic coach. In such cases I'd expect they would have tenure protections in their capacity as professor, but could be removed from the position of athletic coach at the university's discretion.)

  • I do know of at least one endowed coaching position, but over the course of time holders of the position have been fired... – Jon Custer Apr 9 '18 at 21:59
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    If only professors got severance packages for poor performance like coaches do... I'd get myself let go and retire with the millions. – user0721090601 Apr 9 '18 at 22:03
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Typically, no. But there have been exceptions.

Woody Hayes, in addition to being Head Football Coach at Ohio State, was also Professor of Military History. When he was fired as coach in 1978, he stayed on as Professor.

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At large D1 universities, the athletic department is usually set up as a quasi-independent entity. They are part of the university and are considered university employees, but their finances and fundraising are largely separate. When a coach is hired by the athletic director, they have to be formally approved by the university president and board or directors (or whatever the specific titles are). The coaches are almost never professors of any kind (though other athletic department employees sometimes teach) and are governed solely by their contracts. When a coach is fired, there is usually a buyout clause in their contract. This can be clawed back if there is evidence of a crime or wrongdoing.

This setup is why coaching salaries tend to be so high, in some cases the highest of all university employees. People often get upset about this because they think the salaries are taking away from the academic mission, but this usually isn't the case because those funds tend to be drawn from the athletic department's own pool of money. For less profitable athletic departments, the university will sometimes subsidize the department, but the more profitable departments often return money to the university. A better argument would be whether donors should donate more to academics than to sports, but it's their money, so...

The dynamics are much different for smaller schools with smaller donor and alumni bases. These athletic departments are almost never profitable. Coaches as professors are still rare in those situations though.

  • It's not unusual that the highest paid employee of the state of California is the head coach of the UCLA football team. – The Photon Apr 11 '18 at 2:14
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Historically, some coaches in the US were tenured professors. My very small, D-III institution had a "teacher-coach" model into this century, meaning that tenure-track faculty in one department were expected to coach, and most coaches were expected to teach. Under this model, the tenured faculty coaches could not be summarily fired as faculty, but so far as I can tell they could be replaced as coach without any special process.

However, this model has fallen out of favor, to the extent that it ever was in favor. Our own faculty stopped coaching around the turn of the millennium (and the last of these have just retired), though some of our coaches do still teach. It would not surprise me to find some small schools who still follow a teacher-coach model, but they would be a vanishing breed and I don't see evidence that Brandeis is one of them (in particular, the online athletics overview doesn't mention anything similar, and Brandeis has no major that would easily fit such a model).

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My experience at a military academy, decades ago, was that all of the coaches except for football and basketball were also PE teachers. And there was a very active, required, graded, PE aspect to the curriculum (boxing, swimming, etc.). So it was sort of like high school where coaches are also PE teachers. I don't know if they ever got any tenure though. Would make it hard to fire them. But it did help with getting them a better salary. In some cases, they would even bring them into the military, which was a good deal in terms of benefits.

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