Top Assistants Continue to Command Huge Dollars

As Dan Mullen walked across Florida Field to shake hands with former boss Urban Meyer last Saturday night, it was another reminder of how critical top assistants are to any program trying to stay at the ultra-elite level of college football. The Mississippi State head coach (and budding coaching superstar) got a signature win at ‘The Swamp’ while Gator fans were left to contemplate why their offense hasn’t quite looked the same since Mullen was coordinating it. Florida’s scoring attack survived last year with four NFL draft choices (Maurkice Pouncey, Tim Tebow, Aaron Hernandez, Riley Cooper), but this season has seen UF drop to 91st in the nation in total offense. Urban Meyer’s program is still one of the best in the country but for teams to stay in the BCS Title picture every season (like UF from ’06-’09), they need their best assistants to stay on board.

The exploding salaries for top assistants has become a major trend in college football, and that shows how much head coaches are trying to keep their top guys in place and continuity on their staffs. Just five years ago, most assistant jobs were in the $100,000-$200,000 range. However, many coordinators and top recruiters are now in the $300,000-$500,000 neighborhood, with a handful making over $700,000 this season. Between losing valuable assistants to the NFL and to mid-major head coaching jobs, top bosses were having a difficult time meeting the exploding expectations of their fan bases. With increasing budgets, those coaches—who owe much of their success to a key coordinator or recruiter—are now better equipped to keep key staffers a little longer and try to make a sustained run at the top of the polls.

Georgia’s Mark Richt has had a great run, but it seems that he has been searching to replace former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder for years now. Before this season, Richt hired Todd Grantham from the Dallas Cowboys to run his defense for $750,000. You get the feeling that a salary like that in 2005 would have kept VanGorder in Athens. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart more than doubled his salary ($360,000 to $750,000) this season after receiving many offers following the Tide’s national title. Texas coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp has seen his compensation skyrocket as Mack Brown tries to keep him in Austin.

Look for the trend of top programs paying through the roof to keep valuable assistants to continue. Remember, one of the keys for Joe Paterno’s and Bobby Bowden’s success was that they both had 20+year defensive coordinators during their incredible runs. Jerry Sandusky (Penn State) and Mickey Andrews (Florida State) turned down numerous other coaching opportunities to stay at their respective powerhouses. A key component to Frank Beamer building up the Virginia Tech program has been retaining respected defensive coordinator Bud Foster for so long. If you are going to have a sustained run at the top of college football, the best head coaches know they need top lieutenants to remain with the program.

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