Bret Bielema is on a hiring spree at his new post as the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ football program.
According to a recent article at ArkansasNews.com, the amount of money that Bielema is paying his assistants has currently topped $2.8 million, with at least one more spot on the Hogs’ coaching roster to fill.
Is it too much?
There is a solid argument to be made when it comes to paying assistant coaches more salary in the college game. More money may keep coaches from jumping from school to school in search of pay raises. And with as much time as assistants and coordinators spend on the road recruiting, they are an integral part of the program.
If that program is making millions of dollars a year in revenue, it is only fair that some of that money should go to the people that are on the ground helping to produce the product.
But what happens when one of Bielema’s new assistants does not live up to expectations? Traditionally, when a coach is let go, he still receives salary for the length of the contract or receives some kind of buyout. When a new coach is hired, the school often ends up paying two salaries at once. Does Bielema pay the new assistant more money than the predecessor? Less? What if multiple assistants fail to meet expectations?
And what if the assumption that higher salaries buys higher loyalty is wrong? If an assistant gets offered a head coaching job, he usually takes the promotion. What if the assistant gets offered a similar position at a more prestigious program? The program is potentially out millions of dollars and has set a precedent for salaries that would be difficult to roll back.
College football is about money, and money is generated by winning. Any dollars spent on a coach or assistant that does not equal wins and trophies is ultimately a waste. Arkansas may have the money to pay for this kind of staff now, but what about in the future? Is paying a staff almost as much as the head coach a sustainable model for on field success?
Obviously these questions won’t be answered in the next week, or the next season, or even the next five seasons. Bielema’s experiment may very well lead to retaining more talent on staff and help the Razorbacks build the national powerhouse that fans saw during the last two seasons under Bobby Petrino. And any member of the staff that helps generate on field success and brings in top recruits is well worth their salary. Keeping a coach like that from jumping ship every year would be nothing but beneficial for the consistency of the program.
But the experiment is a risk. And risks always carry the potential for failure. If the experiment of paying higher assistant salaries at Arkansas fails, it could not only damage the program’s long-term health, but the plight of college assistants everywhere.