Money - the great coaching equalizer, Part I

AndyVance's picture
December 5, 2012 at 12:03p
23 Comments

It's all about the money...Since we're in the silly season, theories abound as to what drives coaches to move hither and yon - mostly, though, we can put big moves down to a desire to improve one's resume and to improve one's income. For some, Urban Francis Meyer as an example, going home is a powerful motivator, but thus far this season we haven't seen an abundance of great homecoming stories on the coaching carousel.

Two pieces stood out to me this week in analyzing coaching and the state of the B1G in general - the first was Johnny's analysis of which Big Ten play callers were "expendable," and the second was USA Today's database of coaching pay. Looking at these two pieces in tandem may give us some logic behind why the B1G hasn't quite overcome the perception that it is an also-ran conference to the likes of the SEC (and this season, to the Big 12 as well).

Let's look at the numbers for the Big Ten:

School Coach Total compensation 2012 record
Ohio State Urban Meyer $4,300,000 12-0
Iowa Kirk Ferentz $3,835,000 4-8
Michigan Brady Hoke $3,046,120 8-4
Nebraska Bo Pelini $2,875,000 10-2
wisconsin Bret Bielema $2,640,140 8-5
Penn State Bill O'Brien $2,320,000 8-4
Michigan St Mark Dantonio $1,934,250 6-6
Illinois Tim Beckman $1,600,000 2-10
Northwestern Pat Fitzgerald $1,280,751 9-3
Indiana Kevin Wilson $1,260,000 4-8
Minnesota Jerry Kill $1,200,000 6-6
Purdue Danny Hope $970,000 6-6

And now, for the Southeastern Conference:

school coach total compensation record
Alabama Nick Saban $5,476,738 12-1
LSU Les Miles $3,856,417 10-2
S Carolina Steve Spurrier $3,585,000 10-2
Auburn Gene Chizik $3,577,500 3-9
Georgia Mark Richt $2,925,340 11-2
Mizzou Gary Pinkel $2,700,000 5-7
Miss st Dan Mullen $2,600,000 8-4
Florida Will Muschamp $2,474,500 11-1
Texas A&M Kevin Sumlin $2,436,300 10-2
Tennessee Derek Dooley $2,011,000 5-7
Kentucky Joker Phillips $1,704,250 2-10
ole miss Hugh Freeze $1,505,500 6-6
Arkansas John L. Smith $850,000 4-8
Vandy James Franklin Not Available 8-4

Undertaking a "quick and dirty" analysis of the data, we can see that the SEC outpaces the B1G in both its top-tier coaching salaries and in its average salary. Spending a total $35,702,545 on 13 coaches (Vanderbilt does not release its coaches' salary information), the conference schools average $2.75 million per head coach. By comparison, the Big Ten schools spend and aggregate $27,261,261 on 12 coaches, for an average of $2.27 million.

The dividing line appears to be the $2 million threshold. As a word of a caution from a wanna-be economist, understand that correlation and causality are not the same thing - just because two things are correlated does not mean one has an effect on the other. In other words, while spending $2 million or more on a coach seems to be indicative of schools that win 8 games or more, simply jacking your coach's salary to that level ain't gonna guarantee eight games (see the curious case of Kirk Ferentz for more).

In the case of the Big Ten, exactly half of the member institutions pay their chief football executive more than $2 million, and of those only one failed to win 8 games this season; as a corollary, of those paid less than $2 million, only one coach won more than 8 games. Pat Fitzgerald's Northwestern Wildcats went 9-3 again this season, and I contend he is becoming the Joe Paterno of NW: he'll be there forever, consistently winning enough games and making enough Bowl appearances that he will become the essence of his school's football identity.

Looking at the "more competitive" SEC, we see that 10 of 14 schools (excluding Vandy, of course) pay more than $2 million, and of those, only three failed to win at least 8 games this season. Similarly, no SEC coaches earning less than $2 million won 8 contests this year.

Why should this make intuitive sense? It speaks to resources and support. If a school can afford to spend the big bucks for a marquee coach, it likely spends good money on facilities and other factors that make for a successful program. An area getting much more attention from Buckeye and Big Ten fans in recent years is spending on assistant coaches - an exhaustive analysis of assistant coaching salaries will have to wait for another day, but suffice it to say good staffing matters, as our decade long love affair relationship with Jim Bollman can attest.

Here is the other big factor that I think is overlooked in what makes for great programs: longevity. It is damn difficult to build a program in a season or two - Urban Meyer is one of the very few coaches to waltz in to a program and win a national title or go undefeated in a year or two. Young guns like Darrel Hazell do it at the mid-major level from time to time, but their success at the upper tiers of college football is spotty at best. Hell, even a legendary leader like Hurricanes/Cowboys/Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson stub their toes from time to time in the early days of their rebuilding efforts.

Looking at the Big Ten play callers prior to this week's coaching changes, we saw an average tenure of 4.33 years, with three first-year and three second-year head coaches. By contrast, the SEC has an average tenure (again, prior to the start of silly season) of 4.71 years, with three first-year and two second-year leaders. The biggest difference, however, is the tenure of the highest-performing coaches: Among the teams winning 8 or more games in the Big Ten the average tenure is only 3.833 years due to first year phenoms Meyer and BOB; Pelini, Bielema and Fitzgerald each had at least five years' experience.

In the SEC, on the other hand, the average tenure of coaches winning 8 or more games is 5.375 years, a statistically significant difference. Five coaches have at least six or more years in the saddle - Saban looking relatively young with only 6 seasons at 'Bama - with two leaders crossing the decade mark.

Thinking of the "great" coaches in college football history, longevity was clearly a factor in their legendary status: Schembechler, Hayes, Bryant, Paterno, Bowden, and even lesser lights of the modern era like Alvarez and Spurrier all had massive experience under their belts by the end of their careers. Look at it this way - while our culture has moved toward an extreme "I want it now dammit" attitude, those top-shelf coaches had enough good will and political capital under their belts to weather the occasional subpar season (Joe Paterno being a prime example of high highs and low lows in any given decade).

Given the first observation - that winning 8 games or more takes money - the second observation reinforces a long-held management maxim: hire slow, and fire fast. If you're going to commit several million dollars to a marquee employee, you'd better make sure he's the right man for the job before you put the cash on the table. On the other hand, if you can tell in three seasons that it isn't going to work, move on. But if you've got something going, buy-and-hold makes a lot of sense, just like in the market.

Turnover at top-tier institutions is fairly low, compared to other programs; this reinforces a notion of marquee football factories as "destination jobs." Looking at the Top 5 "greatest programs" in college football history, we see a consistent trend toward long-tenured high-performing coaches in the Bowl era (post-1935).

  1. Oklahoma - 13 coaches, averaging 66.8 games in the saddle; three crossed the 170 game mark (Wilkinson, Switzer and Stoops)
  2. Michigan - 9 coaches, averaging 98.4 games at the helm; three crossed the 100 game mark, with Schembechler hitting 247 and Carr hitting 162
  3. Ohio State - 11 coaches, averaging 76.5 games; Hayes, Bruce, Cooper and Tressel all coached more than 100 games
  4. Alabama - 11 coaches (not counting Price and Kines), averaging 82.4 games; only Frank Thomas and Bear Bryant broke 100 games - Bear had 287
  5. Notre Dame -  14 coaches, averaging 61.4 games; only three coaches last more than a decade, each marking 11 years (Leahy, Parseghian and Holtz)

As B1G fans hope schools in the league up the ante in coaching and competitiveness, money and longevity appear to be two big factors worth watching in the next few years.

Comments

cplunk's picture

Mark Richt is making only 50,000 more than Bo Pelini, which is also the amount of points more Georgia will have than Nebraska in their bowl game.
Seriously, Richt should be furious.
And also Gene Chizik should be in jail for theft.

tennbuckeye19's picture

As should Kirk Ferentz.

Buckeye_in_SEC_country's picture

Instead Chizik can sit at home for the 48 months and draw $150K a month... Imagine that amount of money for buying a national championship with Cam Newton. 

cplunk's picture

Is it possible to do an average or total for assistant coach salaries? Thats where I think the SEC will really outdistance the B1G in dollars. But I could be wrong...

tennbuckeye19's picture

I think you're right on. I don't remember where I heard it, but I believe the B1G greatly underpays assistants. Of course there are some exceptions, but by and large assistants don't earn as much as they could in other conferences.

Buckeye_in_SEC_country's picture

Wasn't that a big concern for Urban coming in?  Didn't he want to make sure his assistants got paid well?

SaintTressel's picture

Definitely-On multiple occasions Meyer referenced both the importance of having top-tier assistants and the costs associated with hiring those assistants.

AndyVance's picture

I'll try to work this up later this afternoon. I have the data from the USA Today database, I believe.

tennbuckeye19's picture

Please do Andy. Would love to see how the assistants pay stacks up.

theDuke's picture

great stuff andyvance. as always. one question, do you work?
ok, two questions, are you secretly lobbying for a sesh on 11ws? 
hahaahaha! cheers!!

theDuke

AndyVance's picture

I have the unique advantage of writing for a living, so putting together these kind of pieces is right up my professional alley... But writing about sports is just a hobby/passion, like it is with most of us :)
I just started writing here a few weeks ago, really late in the season, actually, and I'm really enjoying it - I'm glad folks are enjoying my contributions!

theDuke's picture

Awesome! good to have you on the LULZ Boat andyvance:

theDuke

SilverBullet33's picture

That's good stuff. I would love to see the assistants salaries broke down as well. I think the disparity is even greater there. 

SaintTressel's picture

What do you mean correlation doesn't equal causation? That weak shit don't matter on the internet!

theDuke's picture

sorry, i stopped at the #s... but on average, with the info available (so minus Vandy salary) SEC coaches are making $500k more a year. And they have more teams, so I guess you could say there's more opportunity...
ughhh, i'm getting more sad about the state of the B1G each day...
at least we have Basketball! never thought i'd live to say that.

theDuke

IBLEEDSCARLETANDGRAY's picture

Those salary numbers are skewed a little because the SEC has more teams but B1G coaches make comparable salaries. I agree, I'd like to see a graph indicated what the assistants make. That's where the big discrepancy is.
And Gary Pinkel makes that much? Had no idea. He isnt any better than Ferentz IMHO.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

theDuke's picture

all i did was average them. and i did an average without the outliers, highest paid and lowest paid. I did not include Vandy because they don't publish their #s, so SEC was only divisible by 13. Either way the #s came out almost identical = Bad news for the B1G, unless they start ponying up the $$$. 

theDuke

AndyVance's picture

Correct, that's exactly what I did - took the average of each conference minus the outliers and Vandy. About a $500k/year difference in head coaching talent. I'm working on the assistant salaries now, although the USA Today data is from last December, so we'll be looking at Fickell's staff instead of Meyer's, and obviously that has changed considerably.

theDuke's picture

kinda crazy really. I mean, what big school can't afford another $500k for your most popular program? Especially in the B1G scenario where they've got a network that distributes $5-10 mil to each school. and the inverse, what coach would pass up $500k? my guess is, not many. 
i read a quote recently from Gov. Perry of TX "i can tolerate losing, but i refuse to be non-competitive." as of right now, i'd say the B1G is OK with losing and being non-competitive. With exception to tOSU, of course! BWAHAHHAHAHAHAHAAAHAHAHAHAAAA.  Next: OSUs WORLD Domination!

theDuke

AndyVance's picture

Looks like good news with Purdue's hiring of Hazell - ESPN reports his 6-year contract is worth $12 million, a substantial hike over the $950k the school was paying Danny Hope.

IBLEEDSCARLETANDGRAY's picture

Purdue recognized if they didnt pony up for him someone else would. The fact Hazell almost got Kent State into a BCS bowl is impressive enough. There were lots of schools out there who wanted him.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

AndyVance's picture

The question will be if they further loosen the purse strings to bag top-notch assistants for his staff. The team ranked third-from-last in the 2011 Big Ten spending figures, but Purdue football turned a $4 million "profit" last season, so they may have room to play.
My guess is that Governor "My Man Mitch" Daniels coming in as University President could also lead the program to being a little more win-oriented. He's a man of the people, and he knows that a successful athletic program is critical to keeping the people engaged with Purdue.