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.


theDuke's picture

Omg. Gentlemen, we're gonna have to blow the roof off this mother!!! Great stuff andyvance. Once again.  Too bad for you, this is a B1G blogspot, so, NO RAISE FOR YOU! 
Im going to bet that this is all correlated too. Methinks, in terms of spending for big school conferences: 1)SEC 2-3)big12 pac12 4)B1G 5)the rest. Overall expenditure on coaching staff is a really good gauge. Really shed some light on the despotism of PSU.  They either didn't care anymore or figured people would come and take pay cuts just to coach with joePa. Otherwise they were relying on up and coming talent. 


KLF Buckeye's picture

$EC, $EC, $EC...Good work, Andy.


Coach Meyer keeps winning he's going to be able to ask for just about anything from Smith and the Board. I hope the first thing he asks for are significant pay raises for his assistants when they're about to get plucked. And if any of our assistants leave I hope they can pony up the $$$ to bring in top-notch assistants, too.

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

Jack Fu's picture

If the relative power of CFB conferences is indeed cyclical and the Big Ten is going to claw back to the level of the SEC, this is one area where they will have to do it, because it's entirely within their control (things like recruiting bases are not). Simply put, Big Ten schools are going to have to go after better - and therefore more expensive - coaching talent. Largely thanks to the BTN, our member schools make more money than their SEC counterparts; however, we spend less on our coaching staffs, across the board.
When a middling SEC program's coaching vacancy comes up, who do they go after? Steve Spurrier, Bobby Petrino, Bielema (good-to-great HCs who had already succeeded at other 'Big Six' head coaching gigs), or Dan Mullen (hottest coordinator in the country when he was hired). To say nothing of Will Muschamp (hottest coordinator in the country when he was hired) or Nick Saban (is Nick Saban) getting lured to the upper-tier programs when they had a vacancy.
Who did similar programs in the Bee One Gee recently hire? Tim Beckman (no one outside Ohio knew who he was), Danny Hope (no one anywhere knew who he was), Jerry Kill, or Hazell (HCs of good MAC teams). Other than T3h Urbz, the big programs with vacancies hired Brady Hoke (Michigan fans were apoplectic at the time; so far it has worked out) and Bill O'Brien (again, seems like it's going to work out, but again, this was not a guy who had everyone banging on his door trying to hire him). Hardly household names. This is to say nothing of assistant coaching salaries referenced in this post. It's like Brian at MGoBlog said: when a job opens up at an SEC institution, the schools say "who's the best guy available?" When similar jobs open up in the Big Ten, the schools (other than OSU), seem to always say, "let's go with whoever won the MAC this year." It's pretty inexcusable when all of the conference's members are lighting cigars with $100 bills...

tennbuckeye19's picture

I totally agree that the B1G has to do something if they want to avoid being used as a farm development system of coaches. I see an issue which could arise though. If Minnesota had an opening and offered the job to the best coaches out there and offered top dollar to the hc and assistants, NOTHING makes me believe that a top candidate would actually go to Minnesota.
Top guys will always be attracted to top jobs. And even if Minnesota threw a dump truck full of money at a top candidate, I don't see them going there. 
Also, the SEC is going to be unveiling their own network similar to BTN in the next year or two. When this occurs, the SEC member schools will be raking in similar money as the B1G. 

Deshaun's picture

It does seem like every SEC program starts a football coaching search with, "Who is the best guy out there?" And it sure seems like the only schools in the Big Ten to ask this question were TTUN (started with Harbaugh and Les Miles), Penn St (called everyone, but had a certain cloud over the program) and Ohio St (Urban, obviously). The rest begin with "Who can we afford?" And then move to "Of those, who is the best we could sign?"

I absolutely believe Minnesota could hire a top-flight coach if that job reopened in a year. You set up meetings with the biggest, best coaches out there (prioritized list including everyone from David Shaw at Stanford to Mike Gundy at Oklahoma St). Offer a $3M+ salary with an assistant pool of $3M+. Talk about increased recruiting budgets, team facilities upgrades, and TCF Bank Stadium. Sell them on quality of life in the Twin Cities (rated one of the best cities to live by, the value of the Delta and NW Airlines hub in MSP International Airport, and the Mall of America. There are 19 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the twin cities, which could offer various endorsement deals for a needle-moving coach coming to town. The key is, Minnesota would have to make an institutional commitment to winning from President Kaler to the athletic department and community.

theDuke's picture

@jack, yeah at this rate the B1G is becoming a kind of coaching testing ground for the other large conferences. Better start bustin' out those wallets boys!!!


tennbuckeye19's picture

Andy - You are the man. Nice work. 

Deshaun's picture

Andy, you've hit the nail on the head regarding the need of Big Ten athletic departments to use the considerable resources at their disposal to hire effective coaching staffs. These ADs need to go out and hire the best coaches in the country with nationally competitive ($2-4M/yr) salaries and promise all the resources (recruiting budget, assistant staff salary pool, team facility upgrades, etc) necessary to win national championships. Purdue should have been able to get Butch Jones, instead of settling for Darrell Hazell. A coach like Paul Chryst should be a plan C hire, after names like Chris Peterson, Bobby Petrino, Mike Gundy, Charlie Strong, David Shaw, and Dan Mullen were pursued heavily. Think bigger than guys who had one good year in the MAC!

Deshaun's picture

One point of clarification on the numbers, the tables above include the salaries of head coaches along with the assistant staffs. The sortable table with data of all schools displays column "All Coaches" under the "Assistants" tab. This figure contains the sum of every coach for which there is a reported salary, including the head coach. To view the pure assistant coaching staff salary totals, you have to click on each school and add the salaries of the assistants (which is a time-consuming pain). In the cases of Northwestern and Penn St, what you are seeing is the head coach's salary. This is because the assistant coaches have a value of "N/A" under each of the 4 columns (Total Pay (2011), Max Bonus (2011), Total Pay (2010), Total Pay (2009)). There are 11 schools for which there is only head coaching data and no assistant coaches salaries: Penn St, Northwestern, Wake Forest, Duke, BC, Baylor, TCU, Syracuse, SMU, Rice, and Hawaii. The following 10 schools do not release any salary info: Miami (FL), Pitt, Tulane, Tulsa, BYU, Notre Dame, Temple, USC, Stanford, and Vanderbilt.

Again, these figures are based on the 2011 season. We are all looking forward to 2012 assistant salaries being released this December.

The results of the analysis are largely the same: Big Ten spending is on par with the Pac 12, behind the Big XII and ACC, and way behind the SEC. The top two Big Ten assistant staff salaries were #12 TTUN ($2,560,000) and #13 Ohio St ($2,553,550). Auburn's #1 ranked assistant staff salary of $4,196,450 was largely aided by Gus Malzahn's $1,309,600 salary. However, #2 LSU, #3 Alabama, #5 Tennessee, #6 Florida, and #11 Georgia all spent more on assistant coaches than any Big Ten team. Every SEC team spent more on assistant coaches in 2011 than the 3rd highest Big Ten school except #32 Mississippi St (note: Missouri and Texas A&M were Big XII schools in 2011.)

Here is the most sobering statistic regarding athletic departments making a commitment to win... Picture Boise St, that lovable underdog, playing on the blue turf who succeeds with lesser talent by having plucky, emotional performances on big stages. They are always cast as the underfunded and out-resourced David to the BCS Goliath. In reality, Boise St has the #21 ranked assistant staff salary ($2,279,590). This is higher than #25 Illinois, #28 Nebraska (seriously!), #31 Iowa, #34 Indiana, #43 Minnesota, #45 Michigan St, #48 Wisconsin, and #51 Purdue. Only OSU and TTUN spent more on assistant coaches in 2011.

AndyVance's picture

Thanks for the clarification - I spent a lot of time trying to discern if that column had the H/C included in the breakdown... This companion story seemed to indicate that the figures in the table were just showing the Assistants and not the whole coaching staff:
"Swinney is the nation's 39th most highly paid head coach, and his assistants, who carry a cumulative price tag of $4.2 million, appear to be the nation's most highly paid," saith the article; on the database the "all coaches" figure for Clemson is $4.72 million.
So now I'm trying to guess - since we don't have the 2012 data yet - if Clemson just jacked up their coaching budget that much in 2012 (from a pool of $2.87 to $4.2) or if article is just written that nebulously.
Now that you've pointed out the magic of clicking through, I'll have a long, long night ahead of me when the database is updated, hopefully any day now.

Deshaun's picture

The article sure reads as though Clemson increased assistant staff pay substantially: "The school's compensation pool for assistants has more than doubled from $1.9 million in 2009 to $4.2 million." This follows the 2011 season, in which Clemson's head coach plus assistant coaches combined to make $4,720,383. Looking forward to seeing the individual assistant coaches' respective pay raises when the figures are released later this month.

Shoot me an email, and I will email my spreadsheet to you. I have the 2010 and 2011 data for head and assistant coaches sorted by conference.

yrro's picture

One thing that this comparison omits - the Big Ten supports, in general, more athletic sports than the SEC, and does so at a higher level. The SEC athletic budget goes almost entirely to football. 

AndyVance's picture

That's a great point, and one that most people likely ignore whole-hog because they only think about two or three sports in an entire athletic budget. That is also why most schools lose money on their athletic budgets - football, and maybe basketball, turn a profit but the umpteen other sports (many offered because of indirect requirements related to Title IX, FYI) lose money consistently. This is why those sports are referred to generally as "non-revenue sports."