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Butch Jones’ exact buyout isn’t certain, but it’s definitely more than $6 million

Tennessee will have to pay up to fire its coach.

Georgia v Tennessee Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

If Tennessee decides to fire head football coach Butch Jones during this season, it’ll cost the Volunteers more than $6 million in buyout money. The number could be as high as about $9 million, but it’s difficult to know for sure how it’d break down. (After getting thrashed 41-0 by Georgia on Saturday, Jones’ buyout is a pertinent issue.)

When Tennessee hired Jones in 2012, his contract outlined these buyout terms in the event UT ever fired him “without cause,” i.e. for poor on-field performance: $2 million to Jones for every full year left on his deal at the time of his firing, plus the prorated portion of that for the remainder of the current year.

Under those terms, Jones’ buyout if Tennessee fired him on Oct. 1 would be $6.82 million.

His contract runs for three full years after this one (a total of $6 million), and the prorated portion for the last 150 days of Jones’ current contract year would be about $822,000. In Jones’ deal, the new year starts on March 1. If he’s fired and gets another coaching job, Tennessee’s obligations decrease by whatever he makes.

Jones signed an extension in 2014 that raised his annual compensation $500,000 per year, to around $4 million. It’s been reported that Jones’ extension upped his buyout to $2.5 million per full year, which would be a commensurate bump with his pay raise. But his extension doesn’t say anything about the section of his initial contract that deals with UT’s buyout of Jones if it decides to fire him.

That issue’s significant. If Jones’ buyout really did go up $500,000 per year, he’d stand to make an additional $1.5 million just from the full years being bought out.

Using that $2.5M number, ESPN’s Darren Rovell also reported Jones’ buyout value was $9.2 million on Sept. 30:

I’ve found no indication that Jones’ buyout money (in the event of UT firing him, not him leaving on his own) went up when he got his contract extension. I’ve asked Tennessee’s athletic department for clarification, to see if something that’s not clear from Jones’ contract and extension documents is at work here. (If you’ve got a tip about this, definitely do let me know in an email or the comments.)

Because of that and the possibility that Jones’ representatives fight with Tennessee about specifics, it’s hard to say exactly how much Tennessee would need to pay Jones not to coach football in Knoxville anymore. But if he’s fired this year, it’ll definitely be north of $6 million, and those other factors could push it closer to $9 million.

Firing coaches in major college football is expensive.

Because it’d be a recruiting problem to let a coach’s deal simply run out (or even get down to about two years left), coaches generally have financial guarantees that last well beyond the time the school is certain it’ll keep the coach around. If UT fires Jones, he’ll make out just fine.