Money - the great coaching equalizer, Part II

AndyVance's picture
December 5, 2012 at 7:54p

Coaching at this level is all about love of the game...Note: The post refers to money spent on assistant coaches; however, due to a quirk in the USA Today database, figures are actually total spending on coaches, including the head coach, for 2011. Thanks to reader Deshaun for catching this. Once the USA Today database is updated to reflect 2012 assistant salaries, I'll do another analysis. ~Andy

Earlier, we took a look at the role of money in coaching and running a winning college football program. While a cursory look (no regression analysis as of yet) at what it takes to win 8 or more games per season, we observed that in the Big Ten and Southeastern Conferences this year, schools who paid their coaches at least $2 million were more likely to win at least 8 games.

Given the perception that the SEC is a "superior" conference, we also noted that schools in the media-beloved conference spent on average $500k per year more on their chief play caller than the average school in the Big Ten ($2.75 million versus $2.27 million). Commenters astutely noted, however, that an even greater disparity exists between the two leagues and how schools pay their assistant coaches and coordinators.

Again using data from USA Today's coaching salary database, I analyzed the money spent in each league on assistant coaching staffs, and present the numbers below for your further consideration. Note that the data available as of 5 p.m. EST on Dec. 5 is for the 2011 football season, so figures for schools including Ohio State will be vastly different. The tables below, accordingly, reflect each school's record and head coach as of the 2011 season. An additional analysis will need to be conducted following the release of salary data for 2012 (perhaps then I'll have time to do the regression analysis).

First, the Big Ten:

Team Head Coach Tenure of HC $$ AsSt Coaches 2011 Record
Michigan Brady Hoke 1 $5,814,000 11-2
Iowa Kirk Ferentz 13 $5,783,000 7-6
Nebraska Bo Pelini 4 $4,905,000 9-4
Wisconsin Brett Bielema 4 $4,532,036 11-3
Illinois Ron Zook 7 $3,932,500 7-6
Ohio state Luke Fickell 1 $3,725,550 6-7
Mich St Mark Dantonio 5 $3,597,050 11-3
Minnesota Jerry Kill 1 $3,415,000 3-9
Indiana Kevin Wilson 1 $3,210,000 1-11
Purdue Danny Hope 3 $2,423,460 7-6
Northwestern Pat Fitzgerald 6 $1,189,961 6-7
Penn State Joe Paterno 45 $1,022,794 9-4

First off, note what an outlier Penn State turned out to be - Paterno's longevity, his own well-documented low salary (compared to other and especially to less-successful head coaches), and the extremely small budget he had for assistants, and it's a wonder he accomplished what he did in the last decade of his career (spare us further recapitulation of the evils of Penn State and its former coaches, please).

Secondly, look at the schools who seriously under performed their spending: Ohio State, for obvious reasons; Iowa, Minnesota and Indiana, though you can lay the last two at the feet of new coaches in rebuilding programs. Meanwhile, Michigan State and Purdue may have actually outperformed their spending.

Let's compare with the SEC:

team head coach tenure of HC $$ AssT Coaches 2011 record
alabama Nick Saban 5 $8,519,683 12-1
Auburn Gene Chizik 3 $7,696,450 8-5
LSU Les Miles 7 $7,639,286 13-1
Florida Will Muschamp 1 $6,341,500 7-6
Arkansas Bobby Petrino 4 $5,976,600 11-2
georgia Mark Richt 11 $5,611,200 10-4
Tennessee Derek Dooley 2 $5,531,391 5-7
Ole Miss Houston Nutt 4 $5,232,404 2-10
s. carolina Steve Spurrier 7 $5,217,060 11-2
mizzou Gary Pinkel 10 $4,859,000 8-5
miss st Dan Mullen 3 $4,490,000 7-6
Texas A&M Mike Sherman 3 $4,048,499 7-6
Kentucky Joker Phillips 2 $3,980,912 5-7
Vandy James Franklin 1 N/A 6-7

Vanderbilt, as a private institution, does not release figures for its coaching budget.

Obviously the SEC outspends the Big Ten on coaching staffing, and at a much more significant difference than at the head coach level. On average, the Big Ten schools spend $3,629,196 on their assistant coaches, while the average SEC school spends $5,780,307, a 59% advantage over our home conference. Think of the difference that additional $2.15 million makes in a program... almost mind boggling, yes?

Now, take into account the combined coaching expenditures of the top-spending program in both leagues: In the SEC, Alabama is clearly the Scrooge McDuck of the conference, spending roughly $14 million on Nick Saban and his staff! By comparison, big-spending Iowa pumps out roughly $9.62 million on its cadre of coaches and Michigan spent some $8.86 million on Hoke & Co.

In 2011 the SEC Champion LSU Tigers spent an estimated $11.5 million on its play callers, while the Big Ten Champion Wisconsin Badgers spent almost $7.2 million on its coaching staff, a difference of $4.3 million - or almost enough to buy the entire Northwestern Wildcat coaching corps twice. (Still think Bert's dash to Arkansas wasn't all about the Benjamins? I've got 9.5 million reasons to think it was...)

Looking at what spending on assistants it took to get to 8 wins, in the SEC the breaking point appears to be $5 million - only one team (Mizzou, who wasn't actually playing in the SEC at the time) won 8 games spending less. Only three schools spending more than $5 million failed to win 8 games: Florida won 7 under first-year coach Will Muschamp, Ole Miss fired Houston Nutt after the 2011 season, and Tennessee fired Derek Dooley in 2012.

The Big Ten last season was a hot mess because of the number of first-year play callers - one third of the coaches in the conference were in their inaugural season. Even so, $3.5 million seems to be the cutoff for 8 wins - only Penn State won 8+ with less spending. Three teams, on the other hand, spent more than $3.5 and failed to win 8 games, including our own Ohio State; Iowa and Illinois were the other two, and Ron Zook was dismissed following the 2011 season, while Kirk Ferentz was probably given a raise and a contract extension.

I'll go back after USA Today updates its database with the 2012 assistant coaching salaries and we can compare the total expenditures for the same season's performance, but from the 2011 figures we can see the differences between the two conferences are much more significant at the assistant level than at the head coaching level, and those differences were in and of themselves statistically significant.

While some will bemoan the college football coaching "arms race," the bottom line is that the Southeastern Conference has set the bar very high, and if Jim Delaney's plan for ruling the known universe is to come to fruition, at some point the schools in his conference are going to have to spend some more of their piles of Big Ten Network money.

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