Thursday, January 22, 2009

Throwing down the gauntlet

When Tennessee hired Lane Kiffin, there was some outcry about his salary being exorbitant for a first-time college head coach -- a little over $2 million a year. Based on this report from 2007, that would be somewhere around 10th nationally (although it's probably a little lower now).

But as Dr. Saturday pointed out in a post earlier this week, that's nothing compared to what the school will be dishing out for assistant coaches.

Lane's dad, Monte Kiffin, who was lured away from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to serve as defensive coordinator, will have the highest assistant's salary in the country at about $1.2 million. Former USC recruiting extraordinaire and Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron will make $650,00 as defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. Those salaries combined -- at a little over $2 million -- exceed what Tennessee paid its entire staff of assistants last year.

On top of that, Alabama's top recruiter, Lance Thompson, will make $425,000 as Tennessee's new outside linebackers coach. And that doesn't include anyone on Kiffin's offensive staff, although it's believed that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will make around $380,000.

This all seems ridiculous, right? Well, this is the really frightening part, courtesy of

But the total amount paid to the football staff - including the head coach -- will rank between third and fifth in the SEC, according to Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton, who I spoke with this week.

Hamilton said the pool for assistant coaches will not reach $4 million, but he would not put a definitive number of it. He also said the total for the entire staff would not reach $6 million, but he didn’t put a figure on that, either.
When someone says, "It won't be that much, but I won't tell you how much it will be," you can pretty much throw out the first half of that statement.

For comparison, Texas -- even with D-coordinator and coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp making $900,000 -- has a budget of around $2.3 million, the highest in the Big 12. And a recent university salary report had Michigan's total payout for assistant coaches at just under $1.9 million (likely around $2.2 million with the hiring of Greg Robinson as D-coordinator).

I realize that the competition in the SEC is pretty intense, but I never would have expected the salaries to be that far out of line with the rest of the country. Also, it's worth noting that the UT system is facing at least a $66 million budget shortfall:

In the fall, the athletic department asked staff to cut $2.5 million from the budget, "which we've done," Hamilton said.
It's nice that the athletic department is self-sustaining, but this still seems an inopportune time to increase your spending on assistant coaches by $2 million.

I'm a big believer that the biggest determinant of whether a coach will be successful is whom he surrounds himself with (in terms of assistants). In that regard, I give Lane Kiffin a lot of credit -- he's assembled an outstanding staff at Tennessee and apparently persuaded the university to up the ante in order to do so.

But I also agree with Dr. Saturday's take, which he targets at Tennessee but really should be applied to most of the coaches in the SEC:

With the money and accompanying influx of talent behind him (first on the staff; soon, no doubt, on the field), it seems Lane will have the deep-pocketed institutional firepower to whip anyone -- and no excuses if he doesn't.

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