Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Which came first, grandiose “major college” football programs fueled by huge TV contracts or astronomical coaches’ salaries?
To pay coaches what they’re making these days, colleges feel compelled to compete for the conference championships and bowl appearances that mean big revenue streams from television, attendance and brand licensing. But to compete, they tell themselves they need to ante up for the high-dollar, presumably most talented coaches. Thus the cycle escalates, and college football takes on even more of the look of a professional sports industry.
Head football coaches at top-level schools can easily pull down more than $2 million a year. Not surprisingly, that sets the bar for coaches in supporting roles, including the middle managers known as coordinators. There are offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators, not to mention the subordinate coaches who oversee players at various positions. And they’re making a pretty good living.
An Associated Press article carried by The N&O Thursday reported that at Clemson, the defending ACC champs, the crew of coordinators is making a combined $2.1 million this season. Chad Morris, in his second year in charge of the Tigers’ offense, is being paid $1.3 million, which the AP says makes him the best-paid assistant football coach at any school in the country.
The article didn’t touch on the salaries at ACC rivals UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State, Duke or Wake Forest. Elsewhere in the conference, however, there were some eye-popping numbers. Florida State pays its defensive and offensive coordinators $550,000 and $440,000, respectively. At Virginia, running the offense is worth $453,000 and the defense $395,000. An expert on defense is worth $471,762 to Virginia Tech, where the guru for offense makes $349,980.
With head coaches earning in the multimillions, one could hardly expect assistants to be stuck with the kind of salaries that most of the folks in the stands or watching on the tube have to settle for. But that’s symptomatic of the larger problem – a college athletics enterprise that has grown out of all proportion to its rightful place in what is supposed to be an academic setting. Somehow, sometime, universities that don’t want to sell their souls will have to stop doing just that.