THE Ohio State Buckeyes administration just inked deals that put four assistant coaches in the million dollar club. Per the Football Scoop, Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs will make $1.4 million, Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson will make $1.2 million, while assistant coaches Greg Mattison (co-Defensive Coordinator) and Larry Johnson (defensive line) will each make $1.1 million. Keep in mind that the private universities don’t have to disclose their coaching salaries, but Clemson’s Brent Venables is more than likely the highest paid assistant in the country after making $2.2 million dollars in 2019.
College football is a brand of the sport that really separates the haves and the have nots. Of the haves- many are the most successful organizations in college football. Think: Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, and LSU. A few other haves haven’t quite put it all together, such as: Michigan, Texas, Texas A&M and Auburn. But on the flip side there aren’t many have nots that can compete for assistant coaches, recruits or wins. Which programs have coaches hanging around the bottom of USA Today’s Assistant Coach Salary database? Kent State, Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State, and Akron. Those programs have struggled to sustain winning seasons in FBS football.
Financially, the Miami Hurricanes have never been one of the haves. Miami has long underpaid for their head football coach, and definitely the assistant coaches as well. The facilities have lagged behind the national powers like Clemson and Alabama, too. Miami’s Indoor Practice Facility is nice, but it’s not what Clemson has to show potential recruits and potential coaches. Yes, potential coaches. The booster connections, benefits, private jets for recruiting, and base pay makes a substantial difference in the name recognition of the coaches the program can hire.
I was on the sideline coaching in a high school game when Charlie Strong was defensive coordinator at Florida. He landed on the practice field in a helicopter as he was making the recruiting rounds throughout central Florida spring football games. It was a really cool to witness as a young assistant and Coach Strong being a true professional was a nice addition to the visual. Kids like that stuff, and having been backstage at an ACC recruiting event, parents do too.
Cash and Creative
Having recently visited a handful of ACC schools in the past 18 months I can say that the facilities can lure you in but not quite like the money. As legendary pro wrestling announcer Jim Ross says, it always comes down to the 2 C’s- cash and creative. If a football program can’t offer the same amount of cash, they’re going to have to offer the creative. In pro wrestling another common phrase is nothing is real but the money and the miles. The miles can also take a toll on assistants and being able to recruit in private planes and luxury cars is quite different than driving across the deep south in a Honda.
Adapt your talent pool
So how do the small budget programs keep up with the Joneses when it comes to coaching talent? I think they have to play a different game regarding recruitment, selection and retention. Mike Gundy has been playing this game for the past few years. Instead of going after a big name offensive coordinator he’s scoured the lower levels hiring Mike Yurcich (D2) and Sean Gleeson (Ivy League FCS). This time around he promoted long-time assistant Kasey Dunn to be his O.C.
Be willing to coach your coaches
Head coaches are going to have to be teachers, as much as CEO’s. Year one, Manny Diaz brought in Dan Enos who had head coaching and coordinating experience at the FBS level. It didn’t work out for him and instead he’s gone to Rhett Lashlee who has been looking for a step back into the big time after leaving Auburn for UConn and then heading to SMU. Enos or Lashlee really needed that ‘coaching up’ phase but in the future Diaz might have to look at someone from a lower level who needs to be developed to the speed and expectations of the ACC.
The have nots are going to have to create leadership programs and align themselves with retired coaches that can come in and advise and teach in the off-season. You’ll also have to hire the right coaches who are willing to learn from others in the game- that takes humility in an otherwise ego-filled world. I know particular ACC programs that are bringing in coaches for scheme talks, and others for leadership like The Program offers, while even others are bringing in coaches to watch practice and give their feedback on tempo, coaching and culture.
Allow them to be creative
No one likes working for someone that squashes their creativity. In a world driven by cash the have nots will have to find a way to offset that desire with creative output. That’s why the younger coaches make sense- they’re looking for a break as maybe a first time position coach or coordinator. They can also be given other opportunities like recruiting coordinator, assistant head coach and a litany of other titles floating around college football.
As much as fans have given Blake Baker a hard time, and I covered the 4th and 17 debacle myself here on SOTU, Manny Diaz is probably giving his D.C. a little freedom and creativity. It seemed as though mid-season some of that rope was pulled back, but Baker is back at odd front packages per the internet rumor mill. I might prefer staying in an even front, and Diaz might too, but he has to allow Baker the creative freedom to at least dabble in order to keep coaches happy in Coral Gables.
Be a family organization
The type of business that I want to work in would have an atmosphere that I’m more than just another pawn in the game. When schools (I’m a teacher) or football programs (I’m a coach) treat me like I don’t matter as a human, then I don’t continue to work there. One thing I’ve heard about new offensive line coach Garin Justice is that he’s not just a great family man, but also treats his position group the same way. If the head coach can do what Bob Stoops and Mack Brown have done, win while giving people a life outside of football, you can lure in guys who want to watch their kids basketball game or dance recital.
Create career opportunities
Mike Gundy is currently able to tell his assistants that he has helped promote them throughout the college football ranks. In a short amount of time Coach Yurcich went from D2 to the Texas Longhorns. Gleason is back in his native New Jersey on Greg Schiano’s staff at Rutgers. Being able to say, ‘I helped guide these guys to bigger paydays,’ is a great marketing tool to lure in good, young coaches. It’s not like Mike Leach, Mario Cristobal, Nick Saban and others can’t say the same. Look at the list of coaches that went on to big money from Cristobal’s FIU staffs: Todd Orlando, Scott Satterfield, and Geoff Collins have all gone on to big money jobs after working for Mario.
Manny Diaz might not be able to offer four assistant coaches a million dollar a year payday; but he can offer young assistants a break, like Chuck Amato gave him at NC State, and creative freedom to do their jobs within the context of the core values of the program and with accountability from the rest of the coaching staff.
In the end, if Manny Diaz can win the ‘Canes can lure in more money and maybe some bigger names. If Manny Diaz can help send coaches on to better jobs and even head coaching jobs, that would be even better for the quality of the next assistant and the next. Had Dan Enos worked out and gone to be a head coach he would’ve sparked an increase in the quality of new hires. But lately former Miami coaches have gone on to obscurity and that’s not good.