College Football's Top Assistants and What They Should Be Paid
Not every assistant coach is great. Many are eminently replaceable, and their contracts reflect this interchangeability. In any industry as competitive as college-football coaching, programs know that if an assistant doesn't want a job, there are dozens of qualified replacements dying to take his spot instead.
Ah, but a great assistant coach can mean the difference between mediocrity and greatness, between bowls with a six-figure payout and an eight-figure payout. Great assistants not only make their assigned players better, but they make their head coaches better—and thus their programs better.
And yet despite being among the best of the best, these assistants are routinely underpaid, and that's a dangerous way to treat an assistant who's got the ability to help define a program's lasting legacy.
As part of a series on assistant-coach salaries in college football, here's a look at seven such assistants, each of whom is sufficiently valuable to his program that a raise ought to be in order—if not an outright promotion.
Erik Campbell, Former Iowa WR Coach
Current salary: $250,560
Should be making: $350,000
One of the current small mysteries of the 2013 offseason is what happened to former Iowa WR coach Erik Campbell. The University of Iowa hasn't officially announced his departure, but The Gazette has cited multiple sources saying Campbell had left and Campbell thanked people wishing him well in the future on his Twitter page the day the reports came out. And yet he's still listed on Iowa's website as the wide receivers coach.
At any rate, someone's going to sign Campbell for the 2013 season, and they're going to get arguably the best WR coach in the nation. Campbell coached Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt to the two most productive careers in Iowa history, and the list of receivers he coached at Michigan is borderline surreal.
Campbell coached wideouts David Terrell, Marquise Walker and Braylon Edwards to All-American seasons at Michigan. He also coached Jason Avant, Adrian Arrington, Steve Breaston, Mario Manningham, Tai Streets and Amani Toomer, among numerous other productive receivers in recent Michigan history.
Campbell should be looking for an upgrade from Iowa at this point, and if he does so, his salary will get a substantial bump even if he's not moving up the ranks in regard to job title. If someone wants to take a chance on Campbell, so much the better for him, and he'll be on his way up the ladder. Either way, he has proved that $250,000 a year is an absolute bargain—and one that needs to be fixed soon.
Calvin Magee, Arizona RB Coach/Co-Offensive Coordinator
Current salary: $300,000
Should be making: $450,000
There might not be a running backs coach in college football with a better track record than Calvin Magee. He coached standouts like Steve Slaton, Owen Schmitt and Kay-Jay Harris at West Virginia, and in his first year at Arizona, Magee coached sophomore Ka'Deem Carey to an NCAA-best 1,929 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns.
As far as salaries go, Magee's counterpart on the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, is receiving $425,000 a year from the school, per the Arizona Daily Star. At a minimum, Magee's value to the program matches Casteel's; any doubt about that fact should cease upon watching Arizona run the ball, then watching Arizona play defense.
Magee is a longtime associate of Rich Rodriguez's, coaching with him at West Virginia and Michigan, so Rodriguez hasn't coached without Magee since his days as a Clemson assistant in 1999 and 2000. Thus, it's extremely unlikely that Magee would cut and run unless (or even if) someone dangled a significant raise in front of him.
Still, to have not only the track record that Magee can boast, but the immediate results in coaching a sophomore to the best rushing performance in the nation in 2012 as well, makes Magee easily one of the best assistant coaches in the nation. And it would send a fine message to the rest of the assistants out there if Arizona acknowledged that with a significant raise.
James Coley, Florida State Tight Ends Coach/Offensive Coordinator
Current salary: $335,500
Should be making: $500,000
One of the most promising (and definitely most excitable, if his Twitter account is any indication) young coaches in the major ranks is James Coley, Florida State's tight ends coach and offensive coordinator. Coley spent two years under Nick Saban with the Miami Dolphins before spending the last five seasons at Florida State under Jimbo Fisher.
Coley was recruiting coordinator for his first two seasons before being promoted to offensive coordinator, and he's still regarded as one of the best recruiters in the Southeast. In addition, the Florida State offense sparkled this year, finishing 20th overall in total yards and tied for third in yards per play at 7.01.
Coley's paycheck is still not exactly on the level of most SEC coordinators, however, and we saw how Washington exploited that situation with now-former California defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi before the 2012 season. Yes, Coley's salary is more than twice what Lupoi was getting at California, so the vulnerability's not nearly the same...but Coley's salary is also less than what Lupoi's getting at Washington, and he's not even a coordinator.
In terms of title, there isn't much room for Coley to move up; he's already the sole coordinator and he's still got his own position to coach. The fact that FSU gave him a three-year deal is nice for stability, but Coley's earning in those three years what he really ought to be making in two.
Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State Defensive Coordinator
Current salary: $501,700
Should be making: $800,000
One of the enduring mysteries in college football is how the riotously underpaid Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State's defensive coordinator, doesn't have a head-coaching gig yet. Just before the 2012 season, Narduzzi turned down a job as defensive coordinator of Texas A&M, and for that loyalty, he was rewarded with a doubling of his salary...to about $500,000.
Yes, Michigan State had been paying Narduzzi, one of the most accomplished defensive coordinators in college football, just over a quarter million dollars a year up until the spring of 2012.
At the very least, the raise was a significant step in the right direction, and if it made Narduzzi happy, that's great. But Bret Bielema's giving his defensive coordinator $550,000 right off the bat, and Chris Ash is no Pat Narduzzi.
Narduzzi's track record is spectacular. Under his tutelage, the Spartans have placed in the Top 10 in total defense over the last couple of years, and the All-Big Ten defensive teams have been littered with Spartans. Yes, Michigan State's recruiting in the front seven was very good, but defense is first and foremost a discipline, and an average defensive coach leads to an average defense.
Narduzzi is no average coach, and he certainly shouldn't be making an average salary.
Bud Foster, Virginia Tech Defensive Coordinator
Current salary: $502,762
Should be making: $700,000
Usually, when somebody's been employed by a university for 25 years and counting, they've at least got a tenure track to show for it. Ah, but this is college football, not college learning, and Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster is an assistant coach like anybody else.
Foster is at a bit of a crossroads; he's 53 years old, and he's getting right to the point where after a couple more years, his age is going to play a major role in whether big-time college-football programs want to consider him as a head-coaching prospect. Certainly, Foster's resume is impeccable; his Hokies have finished in the Top 10 in scoring defense in seven of the last nine years and in the Top 20 in total defense in five of those seasons.
And yet instead of taking a mid-major job like Memphis or Akron (two programs Foster called "coach killers" in 2011, per The Washington Post), Foster has coached patiently at Virginia Tech since 1987.
Maybe that great job offer comes in the next couple of years and Foster can run the show. But whatever the coaching equivalent of his biological clock is, it's ticking. And other programs can hear it louder than Foster can.
It seems paradoxical in a sport where staying at one school for even 10 years is increasingly rare, but most of these schools want to believe they're hiring a coach for the next 20 years when the call is made.
It's different with Virginia Tech, of course, since Foster is just about as much of a mainstay there in Blacksburg as longtime head coach Frank Beamer is. If Foster's not the first call Virginia Tech makes when Beamer finally hangs 'em up (regardless of whether Foster's even at VT anymore), we'll be shocked. And with every year, it's more likely that Foster'll be right there at Virginia Tech, coaching dutifully.
Virginia Tech should reward him for that longevity—and the $800,000 bonus it has waiting for him at the end of the 2014 season is a nice step toward that. But like Narduzzi, Foster's salary is less than a first-year guy at Arkansas is getting to do the same job. That just seems like an error that needs immediate correction.
Kirby Smart, Alabama Defensive Coordinator
Current salary: $950,000
Should be making: $1.5 million
Nick Saban is one of the great defensive minds in America, but without a great defensive coordinator to help pass those lessons along, he'd be just another very good coach. Enter Kirby Smart, a Saban assistant for all but one of the last nine seasons. Smart coached defensive backs with Saban at LSU in 2004, then went to Georgia (his alma mater) for a year before rejoining Saban with the Miami Dolphins in 2006.
Smart went with Saban back to Alabama as an assistant coach in 2007, then was promoted to defensive coordinator before the next season; from there, it's been one of the all-time-great rides for a head coach and one of his coordinators.
Smart was named the Frank Broyles Award winner for assistant coach of the year in 2009 after Alabama won its first national title under Saban, and although another assistant on this list took the title in 2012, Smart won the AFCA's assistant coach of the year award this season.
Smart is only 37 years old and has just 14 years of coaching experience to his name, which is likely one of the few reasons he hasn't been named a head coach anywhere yet. He did receive heavy overtures to return to Georgia to be the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator a couple of years back, but Alabama ponied up to keep him in town.
Alabama should do the same again soon.
Smart will be a head coach within a few years, and whoever hires him is going to be very happy. That said, he's important enough to Alabama that the school can't afford to let him go to just anybody in the FBS or even just anybody in a BCS conference.
Smart's standards should be as sky-high as his potential as a coach, and Alabama should acknowledge that and give him enough of a raise that only the best schools' offers will make it worth his while to leave Tuscaloosa. A 50-percent raise would accomplish that well.
John Chavis, LSU Defensive Coordinator
Current salary: $1.1 million
Should be making: $1.5 million
If Alabama's defense under Kirby Smart is the nation's best, Chavis' Tiger defense is the most ferocious, typified by aggressive play-calling and irrepressible defenders. Tyrann Mathieu's one amazing season as a defender could basically only have come at LSU; can you imagine any other defense letting a cornerback wreak such havoc behind the line of scrimmage?
Add the assembly line of NFL-caliber defensive talent that runs through Baton Rouge, currently headlined by the likes of defensive end Barkevious Mingo and safety Eric Reid, and you see what a machine Chavis is running down there.
Chavis is entering the second year of a three-year deal that will pay him $1.1 million in 2013 and $1.3 million in 2014. Those are some of the highest salaries an assistant coach has ever seen in college football. For an assistant of Chavis' caliber, they're still not enough.
Take a look at the head coaches that make $1.3 million or so. Think LSU would trade Chavis for a single one of them straight up? Keep dreaming. So if LSU values Chavis more than it'd value a coach who currently makes that much, isn't it effectively getting him at a discount?
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