Why Many of College Football's Top Assistants Aren't Taking Head Coaching Jobs

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Why Many of College Football's Top Assistants Aren't Taking Head Coaching Jobs
USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Smart has had chances to leave, but has chosen to stay as Alabama's defensive coordinator.

Alabama's defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and Clemson's offensive coordinator Chad Morris were considered top candidates for several head coaching jobs this offseason. However, neither left their current position for a head gig.

A trend is breaking.

Position coaches are supposed to look to become coordinators. Coordinators are supposed to jump at their first chance to be head coaches. 

Urban Meyer spoke about this shortly after capping off an undefeated season at Ohio State.

But Smart and Morris didn't leave—even though those opportunities were at some of the nation’s better programs.

With the ever-changing landscape of college football, Smart and Morris could be starting a new trend. 

Instead of jumping at the first solid head coaching gig, coordinators may start to decide to stay. There are several—increasingly persuasive—reasons for them to do so.

 

Show Me the Money

Smart and Morris aren't just two of the top assistants in the country, they are also the two highest-paid assistants. 

Smart recently signed a three-year $3.85 million contract.

Morris is currently making $1.3 million as the top-paid assistant in college football, after Monte Kiffin stepped down at USC.

Those salaries are higher than all but four non-BCS programs paid their head coaches in 2012. According to USA Today's college football head coaches salaries database, only Central Florida, Boise State, Colorado State and SMU could offer Morris and Smart a pay raise.

This is another sign of the growing separation between the haves and the have-nots in college football. With conferences like the Big Ten getting $34 million per school from the Big Ten Network, the gap will continue to grow.

That will allow more schools like Clemson, Alabama and LSU—which pays defensive coordinator John Chavis over a million dollars a year as well—to pay top assistants more than smaller programs can pay head coaches.

According to Athlon Sports, coordinators' salaries have increased at a higher rate than head coaches' salaries. It's not hard to believe when you consider Morris' salary jumped from $450,000 to $1.3 million after one season.

Part of the credit for that can go to Ohio State and Meyer. Meyer reportedly offered Morris $1.5 million to coach in Columbus.

 

Head Coaches Becoming CEO's

Most of the credit belongs to Clemson's head coach Dabo Swinney. Swinney isn't one of the top-paid head coaches in the country. In 2012, he was 39th on the list. Yet, his assistants made $4.2 million last season—partially because Swinney redirected his bonus to his assistants.

Swinney understands the importance of great assistants. Meyer and Brady Hoke have encouraged spending in the Big Ten, and the rest of the conference has stepped up.

With all the responsibilities head coaches have, it is increasingly important for them to have coordinators to run the offense and defense. That allows the head coach to oversee everything without having to run everything.

 

Less Risk

Coaches who become top assistants and coordinators have proven themselves to be good at what they do. You don't see great coordinators suddenly become bad. 

However, many great coordinators don't translate into great head coaches. It's a different job with different responsibilities. 

Which top assistant would you rather have take over your favorite program?

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Now that coordinators are beginning to get paid like head coaches, there is less of a reason to take that risk. Assistants can make an incredible living without taking on all the pressure of being a head coach.

Besides, major schools have started to hire head coaches that have never been head coaches in the past.

In 2010, Jimbo Fisher was named head coach after Bobby Bowden retired. It was his first time as a head coach. A year later, Florida named Will Muschamp head coach despite never holding a head coaching job.

There is no longer the pressure to go to a small school and get experience. Programs will hire coaches that are the right fit—even if they haven't been the head man before.

That is why Smart and Morris will still be assistants in 2013. They can make head coach-like money without head coach-like pressure, yet keep themselves in the running for big-time jobs.

I do not think these two are anomalies. I think they are starting a trend. 

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