College Football's 10 Highest Paid Assistant Coaches

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2014

College Football's 10 Highest Paid Assistant Coaches

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Like their higher-paid bosses, college football assistants have always, but especially in recent years, benefited from the huge amount of money their sport produces.

    According to numbers released by USA Today100 coordinators and position coaches made $355,000 or more last season—a number someone like myself, a humble football blogger, might be lucky to make in a lifetime. (Kidding. I think. But not really.)

    Those numbers are constantly growing, too.

    The sixth highest-paid coach in the country last year would not crack the projected top nine for 2014. The sport grows bigger each season, which gets reflected in the bank accounts of all those involved.

    Here are some of the biggest beneficiaries.

Important Note

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Much of this article is based on the USA Today rankings of highest-paid assistant coaches. However, that data only considers the 2013 season, so some of it is out of date.

    Job changes and raises that happened this winter have been accounted for—at least where it was possible to do so.

    Unfortunately, the contract details of Lane Kiffin at Alabama, Justin Wilcox at Washington and Brian VanGorder at Notre Dame (among others) have not been announced to the public, and their salaries can not just be assumed.

    Any or all of those guys might end up in the top 10 by fall camp, so treat this list for what it is: an assessment of the highest-paid assistant coaches right now.

    Not for the 2014 season.

T-10. Ellis Johnson (Auburn) and Brent Venables (Clemson)

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Salary: $800,000

    Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is almost 20 years older than Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, but the two have a lot in common.

    Both have specialized in linebackers for most of their career. Both started coaching at their alma mater—Johnson at the Citadel, Venables at Kansas State—the year that they got out of school.

    And both make $800,000 to coach defense.

    Johnson's Tigers took a lot of heat last season—and rightfully so—but the job he did against Florida State in the national title game deserves some love. Against an offense that looked transcendent in every game all season, Auburn made it look merely "great."

    Venables, meanwhile, helped a traditionally porous Clemson team finish No. 13 in the Football Outsiders defensive F/+ ratings. By that metric, it was the best defense in the state of South Carolina, placing one spot ahead of the hated Gamecocks.

    Both of these guys have been money well spent.

9. OC Doug Nussmeier, Michigan

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Salary: $830,000

    What makes a guy like Doug Nussmeier—a guy who has enjoyed success working with the best personnel in the country at Alabama these past two seasons—walk away from something so good for a group of players who averaged less than 2.86 yards per play in three of four games at one point in 2013?

    Only one thing.

    That's why this money stuff is important.

    According to Nick Baumgardner of, Michigan signed Nussmeier to a three-year deal worth at least $2.57 million. His salary rises each year, but even the $830,000 he'll make in 2013 is almost a 25-percent raise from what he made at Alabama.

    That is a lot of money to spend on a coordinator who—if you listen to a certain type of Alabama fan—might have been the beneficiary of his environment, and who struggles to keep his play-calling from being stale and predictable at times.

    However, if he can turn around the train wreck he's being handed at Michigan, no one would be able to argue Nussmeier's talent.

8. DC Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia

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    Jason Getz/Associated Press

    Salary: $850,000

    Like Doug Nussmeier, Jeremy Pruitt left a place where he seemed to have everything for a job rebuilding a unit that has failed to live up to the reputation of its athletes.

    And like Nussmeier, Pruitt did so for reasons of coin.

    According to Seth Emerson of the Columbus Ledger-EnquirerGeorgia will play Pruitt $850,000 next season, up from the $500,000 he made at Florida State in 2013. He'll also take the reins of a defense that—despite struggling in 2013—is young, hungry and composed of capable players. They just need to find the right system.

    Even after winning a national title, that would be tough to say no to.

7. DC Greg Mattison, Michigan

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Salary: $851,400

    Defense wasn't the problem with Michigan in 2013, but it was a problem, which should never be the case at a school with unlimited recruiting resources and one of the ten highest-paid defensive assistants in the sport.

    Even if it didn't come together last season, Greg Mattison's resume speaks for itself and makes him appear worth the investment.

    Mattison has made stops as a defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Florida and the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL. He's enjoyed a lot of success at those places, too, having won a national title with the Gators—where he shared his duties with Charlie Strong—and four playoff games in three years with the Ravens between 2008 and 2010.

    He was also named a finalist for the Broyles Award during his first season at Michigan in 2011, so it's not like his compatibility with head coach Brady Hoke or with the culture in Ann Arbor is a problem, either.

    Last year was just a mess from start to finish.

6. DC Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Salary: $904,583

    Pat Narduzzi won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach in 2013, helping lead Michigan State to a 12-1 record, a Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford.

    His Spartans finished first in the country in yards per play (4.04), second in yards per game (252.2) and third in points per game (13.2). Despite a 7-6 record, they were nearly as dominant the season before, so this should by no means be considered a fluke.

    As a result, MSU finally had to pony up to keep its defensive leader. Connecticut came calling for Narduzzi as a head coach, but with a raise to more than $900,000 annually, per Chris Huston of College Football Talk, he was happy to stay in East Lansing for at least another season and perhaps even more.

    Condolences to the rest of the Big Ten.

5. DC Todd Grantham, Louisville

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    Dave Tulis/Associated Press

    Salary: $1,000,000

    Todd Grantham was already making more than he probably deserved in 2013, and he got a raise to leave Georgia for Louisville next season.


    It doesn't seem to make much sense, although Louisville is right for wanting an established defensive mind to pair with offensive-minded head coach Bobby Petrino. Joke all you want about Grantham. He still has NFL and SEC experience which make him dangerous as the Cardinals transition to a power conference.

    Still, for Grantham to see a bump from $850,000 to $1 million dollars, per ESPN's Joe Schad, is absurd after the season he just had. Injuries or not, Georgia finished outside the national top 50 in defensive efficiency, per the Football Outsiders F/+ ratings.

    There's a chance this could be a massive waste of money.

4. DC John Chavis, LSU

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

    Salary: $1,116,667

    Though he's now officially the lesser-paid coordinator on his own team, John Chavis is still one of just five college assistants who will make $1 million next season.

    There's a reason for that.

    Among the most respected minds in the business, Chavis led the Tennessee defense under Phil Fulmer during the Vols' modern heyday between 1995 and 2008.

    After a few bad seasons led to a changing of the guard in Knoxville, and to Chavis no longer having a job, the Tigers happily scooped him up and have reaped the benefit of his coaching ever since.

    That intra-league move has been, without a doubt, one of the most important things to happen in the SEC this past decade.

3. DC Kirby Smart, Alabama

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    Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

    Salary: $1,150,000

    Kirby Smart was passed by another SEC coach for the second spot on this list—a spot he occupied last season—but remains the highest-paid defensive coordinator in college football.

    It's hard to find fault with that allotment.

    Since taking over the defense in 2008, Smart has never steered Alabama wrong, leading to an average ranking of No. 4.5 overall in the Football Outsiders defensive F/+ ratings. By the same metric, Alabama has twice finished with the nation's best defense during that span.

    A long-time acolyte of Nick Saban, Smart and his mentor must now, perhaps, adjust their defense to stop the new-fangled uptempo offense, which has plagued them in each of the past two seasons.

    Even with all the talent in Tuscaloosa, they'll have to earn their money.

2. OC Cam Cameron, LSU

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    Salary: $1,300,000

    Cameron ranked far lower on the list with a salary of $600,000 in 2013, his first season after leaving the NFL to coach at LSU.

    His contract was back-loaded, though, which is why Cameron has jumped all the way to No. 2 in the current rankings. According to Scott Rabalais of The Advocatehe is set to make $1.3 million next season and $1.5 million in 2015.

    Barring something unforeseen, that would make Cameron the highest-paid assistant coach in college football next season.

    He's earned it, too. Cameron's vertical scheme fit like a dream in Baton Rouge, leading to one of the best offensive seasons of Les Miles' head-coaching tenure.

    However, with quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry all gone to the NFL, Cameron will have to earn every cent of his paycheck in 2014.

1. OC Chad Morris, Clemson

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    Tyler Smith/Getty Images

    Salary: $1,309,650

    The top-paid assistant coach in college football, Chad Morris, famously signed a six-year, $7.8 million contract in December 2011.

    Since arriving at Clemson via Tulsa in 2011—when his salary was "only" $450,000—Morris has helped Dabo Swinney lead the Tigers to multiple BCS bowl games. Given the wretched state of their defense for much of Swinney's tenure, doing so was no small feat.

    Still, Clemson ranked just 19th in Football Outsiders' offensive F/+ ratings last season—a season in which Morris had quarterback Tajh Boyd and receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant at his disposal. When coached by the highest-paid coordinator in college football, a team like that should probably finish higher.

    Morris is still, no doubt, one of the best assistant coaches in the country, but he did not justify his paycheck last year.

    Decent doesn't cut it.