Colorado Buffalo mascot, Ralphie
While coaching vacancies in the SEC have been filled, Colorado had stuck in neutral with crickets chirping in the background. Just today, ESPN announced that San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre had been hired.
Why does a Pac-12 school with one of college football's greatest living mascots, Ralphie, and one of the most beautiful campus surroundings have problems luring coaches to Colorado's flagship university in Boulder in the first palce?
Colorado won the AP National Championship 22 years ago, albeit it was not a consensus title since Georgia Tech won the UPI Coaches poll. This is a proud football program that went bowling 12 times from 1994 through 2007.
This is also a football program that has seen four head coaches come and go in 17 years; that's not exactly a solid foundation from which to build.
Former Buffalo coach Dan Hawkins had a brilliant career with Boise State (53-11 overall record) before taking the Colorado job in 2005. Hawkins, it should be noted, had a $900,000 yearly base salary to start out with plus incentives that could increase that number another $600,000.
When Hawkins was fired in 2010, he was making a reported $1.5 million a year—his overall record at Colorado was 19-39.
Jon Embree was hired as Hawkins' successor in December of 2010. Embree had been a positional coach at Colorado, UCLA and Kansas City (NFL) before being named the Buffaloes' head coach—he had no prior head coaching experience.
Embree's contract paid him a base salary of $725,000 plus incentives that could max him out at $1.4 million a year.
Embree lasted two years before being dismissed on November 25 with an overall 4-21 record at Colorado.
The comparison between Hawkins and Embree, head coaching experience aside, highlights an obvious discrepancy; why is Colorado paying less for coaches in the BCS era?
Jim McElwain, head coach at Colorado State, has a base salary of $1.35 million, according to USAToday's 2012 head coach salary database. How does a Mountain West conference coach make more money than a BCS conference head coach?
Even more interesting is that Kevin Wilson, head coach at Indiana, has a base salary of $1.26 million a year. Indiana is not a football powerhouse in the Big Ten but his salary is about right for a coach at a lower-achieving football program in a major conference.
The Colorado assistant coaches salaries also appeared to not be in line with the rest of its then-Big 12 conference's foes. According to the Boulderreporter.com, "assistant coaches at C.U. [in 2009] make between $100K and $200K a year. Kansas Jayhawk assistant football coaches make between $150K and $300K in salary."
Those figures were for assistant coaches under then-head coach Dan Hawkins in 2009 but it underscores a point: If you can't stay competitive with coaching salaries then you will end up hiring coaches with less experience than those at other schools in your conference.
Every now and then you hit pay dirt with a relatively unknown assistant but more often than not, you get what you pay for.
The offensive and defensive coordinators each received $250,000 a year (plus incentives) while a defensive line coach was paid $110,000. UCLA finished the season at 6-8 and head coach Rick Neuheisel was out at UCLA.
This year, UCLA paid more—ostensibly to land current head coach Jim Mora—and the results have been drastic. The Bruins finished its regular season 8-4 as the Pac-12 South champions and earned a berth in the Pac-12 Championship game. The Bruins are currently 8-5 and will play Baylor in the Holiday Bowl.
If you pay a little more for a qualified coach, you're going to get better results. If you pay less than in previous years, your football program might take a bigger dive as well.
This graph shows how the salaries for head coaches have gradually risen nationally but at Colorado, they have gradually fallen. So has Colorado's football prowess.
Colorado's most recent released assistant coaches' salaries included two under $200k a year, four under $300k a year, two making $400k a year and Eric Bieniemy making 630k. At Alabama, the lowest paid assistant coach made $250,000 a year while four made over 400k a year. The cost of living in Boulder is also much, much higher than in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Not many head coaches are interested in a head coaching job where he can't bring in the experienced assistants he needs due to the financial handcuffs in Boulder. Let's face it, $250,000 a year gets you a lot more in Tuscaloosa than it does in Boulder.
Moreover, landing a coach with a lot of head-coaching experience is more difficult for Colorado since many coaches with that desired experience in non-BCS conferences, such as C-USA, currently make more money than what Embree made.
Of the C-USA schools that disclosed their head coaches' salaries, only three schools paid their head coach less than what Colorado paid Jon Embree last year: Marshall ($600,000), UAB ($550,000) and UTEP ($359,200).
College football is currently approach the dead period of recruiting, where recruits are prohibited from face-to-face contact starting December 17 and running through January 3, 2013.
Colorado's assistant coaches are still employed by the school and have been recruiting hard.
The positive light shining on Boulder is that the Buffs reportedly have only lost one commit from the class of 2013 in Marcus Loud, who reportedly committed to Missouri on Friday. Loud had originally committed to Missouri but flipped to Colorado before flipping back again to Missouri.
The assistants have one week left to keep the class of 2013 together before the dead period starts but now Colorado coaches can finally answer the recruits' questions of "Who is your new head coach?"