USA Today released its annual update to its FBS assistant coaches salaries database this week, which is always good for some gawking.
As head coaching salaries have climbed ever higher, so has the money paid to assistants and there’s a growing view that a program’s assistant’s salary pool may be more important than paying the head coach. For example, Dave Aranda just became the highest-paid assistant in the country, getting $1.8 million to remain the defensive coordinator at LSU. That means the Tigers are paying their defensive coordinator as much as Lovie Smith made this year as the head coach at Illinois.
In an era when almost every Power 5 school can roll out the money train for a head coach if it wants to, doing the same for nine assistants can either represent the new class divide in college football or a program that “gets it.” Some schools that are perfectly capable of paying their head coach quite well, are still spending more on assistants.
Nebraska is holding its own in that regard. The Huskers’ 2016 assistant’s pool of $3.758 million ranked 20th nationally, third in the Big Ten* (behind Ohio State and Michigan) and first in the Big Ten West. Nebraska is one of just 26 Power 5 schools where the assistant’s pool exceeds the head coach’s salary. The difference between Mike Riley’s salary ($2.8 million) and the Huskers’ assistants’ pay is $958,626, which ranks as the seventh biggest assistants-to-head coach difference in the country. Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois, LSU and Clemson were the six schools more heavily invested in the staff compared to the head coach than Nebraska was in 2016.
The real gem from this latest USA Today rollout, however, might be the addition of strength coaches’ salaries to the mix. Paul Myerberg, Steve Berkowitz and Christopher Schnaars have an excellent story on the growing role strength coaches play in today’s game.
The relationship between Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and his strength coach, Mickey Marotti, is used as the way into this story. Marotti is pitched as essentially the head coach of the offseason and is paid as such. His 2016 salary, $520,000, reflects as much and only trailed what Iowa and Alabama are paying their strength coaches. Only the two coordinators at Nebraska made more than Marotti this season.
There’s a reason Marotti draws such a salary. He’s one of Meyer’s most trusted coaches:
In carving out such a unique role at one of college football’s elite programs, Marotti has redrawn the very function of the strength coach. At Ohio State, he’s more than just in charge of physical development; Marotti is in charge of the message.
Any individual who comes into contact with Ohio State players goes through Marotti: nutritionists, doctors, trainers, equipment people and the sports-performance team, to start. He is the filter and the conduit for information — the gatekeeper for anything and everything that occurs inside the Buckeyes’ doors.
“A lot of it comes to me, goes through me and never gets to (Meyer),” Marotti said. “If it gets to him, it’s a bad deal. It’s not just like you were late for some workout or missed treatment. It’s like, something bad.”
He’s “in charge of the whole floor,” Meyer said, as the direct line from the head coach to every nook and cranny of the Buckeyes’ program. “There’s one voice now,” he said. “And there’s one voice I talk with, not 30 voices.”
Nebraska strength coach Mark Philipp made $211,150 in 2016 according to USA Today. That ranked 36th nationally, and, interestingly enough, 11th* in the Big Ten, a conference that has shown its plenty willing to dole out for strength coaches.
That salary perhaps isn’t totally out of the ordinary for a first-time head strength and conditioning coach, but with the season Philipp just had, that’s probably going to have to change one way or another.
* Minus any head coach rankings, these numbers do not include Penn State or Northwestern, which aren’t required to report.
Plenty of Smoggy Smoke
It’s generally not a great a sign when a bunch of anonymous sources are willing to come out of the woodwork and declare a program’s culture “a disaster,” but that’s just one of the pull quotes from Travis Haney’s story on Tennessee football and Butch Jones for 247Sports.
The most troubling criticism, and there are many to choose from in the story, may be that the job is simply too big for Jones:
In the past few weeks, 247Sports has talked to dozens of former and current coaches, players and administrators at Tennessee. We have worked to take the temperature of a place again trending down on the national and SEC landscapes.
The bottom line: Doubt always existed regarding Jones, but it’s now rushing in waves.
He’s rightly credited for cleaning up the personnel mess Derek Dooley created and left behind. He is generally liked on a personal level within the building, with one administrator calling him a “fundamentally good person.” But the sense is that the 48-year-old, fourth-year coach is not capable of leading Tennessee to be a champion of anything substantive on a football field.
“I think the clock has started and we’re facing change again,” one Tennessee source told 247Sports.
You have to approach this sort of story with some caution, but it will be pretty interesting to see how Tennessee approaches trucking nearly three hours west to Nashville for its bowl game. Given the expectations coming into the year, it probably wasn’t the Vols top choice.
The Grab Bag
- Lane Kiffin may be the next head coach at Houston, unless he’s not.
- FootballScoop.com is reporting that one-time Nebraska assistant Jay Norvell will be the next head coach at Nevada.
- ICYMI: Here’s the game story, postgame videos and photo gallery from Nebraska’s loss to Creighton last night.
- Eight games that most impacted the playoff race.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.