SEC outspends B1G schools an average of $1.3 million on staffing

AndyVance's picture
December 14, 2012 at 3:49p

Kirk Ferentz, is that you?Coaching salaries have become the lifeblood of college sports dynasties. The days of collegiate football franchises keeping legendary head coaches for the duration of their career on a shoestring budget and "love of the game" officially ended with Joe Paterno's passing. Data compiled and released this week by USA Today reinforces one of the key reasons the Southeastern Conference outperforms the Big Ten on the field: shifting demographics be damned, the SEC simply ponies up the dough to hire better leaders.

In a sport where you can't (legally, anyway) spend money to acquire better players (again, legally, that is), the most obvious single place to invest assets with an eye toward improving performance is in your coaching staff. Staffing a team with high-caliber play callers who can recruit, train, motivate and guide the best players to executive better game plans is the surest way to improve performance.

Our own experience is a perfect example: John Cooper won a lot of games, but not the big ones. Ohio State hired a better coach, and won more, important games. Jim Tressel was taken from us before his time, so Ohio State hired the best available coach on the planet in Urban Meyer. The results in both cases speak for themselves. Head coaches are only one piece of the equation, of course, as assistants make every bit as much difference as does the chief executive of the team. This has been discussed at length throughout the silly season on the front page of this site, including a great piece here.

(For my earlier thoughts on coaching and spending, read Part I here and Part II here. A mini-case study relative to the University of Cincinnati's own coaching search can be found here.)

So that brings us to the new data from USA Today. I went back and updated my spreadsheet of coaching salaries to reflect the 2012 head coaching and assistant coaching salaries available to the USAT reporters and compared the Big Ten and SEC in two tables. First, the B1G:

Team Head Coach Tenure Record Salary Assistants Total coaching
Ohio State Urban Meyer 1 12-0 $4,300,000 $2,553,550 $6,853,550
Iowa Kirk Ferentz 14 4-8 $3,835,000 $2,101,400 $5,936,400
Michigan Brady Hoke 2 8-4 $3,046,120 $2,925,600 $5,971,720
Nebraska Bo Pelini 5 10-3 $2,875,000 $1,960,000 $4,835,000
Wisconsin Bret Bielema+ 7 8-5 $2,640,140 $1,933,850 $4,573,990
Penn State Bill O'Brien 1 8-4 $2,320,000 N/A N/A
Michigan st Mark Dantonio 6 6-6 $1,934,250 $2,201,000 $4,135,250
Illinois Tim Beckman 1 2-10 $1,600,000 $2,300,000 $3,900,000
Northwestern Pat Fitzgerald 7 9-3 $1,280,751 N/A N/A
Indiana Kevin Wilson 2 4-8 $1,260,000 $2,003,120 $3,263,120
Minnesota Jerry Kill 2 6-6 $1,200,000 $1,715,000 $2,915,000
Purdue Danny Hope* 4 6-6 $970,000 $1,498,560 $2,468,560
B1G Total       $27,261,261 $21,192,080 $42,384,030
B1G Average       $2,271,772 $2,119,208 $4,485,259

+ Left to coach Arkansas
*Fired after the season

And now, the SoEvilConference:

Team Head Coach Tenure Record Salary Assistants Total Coaching
Alabama Nick Saban 6 12-1 $5,476,738 $3,686,350 $9,163,088
LSU Les Miles 8 10-2 $3,856,417 $3,782,869 $7,639,286
S. Carolina Steve Spurrier 8 10-2 $3,585,000 $4,727,500 $8,312,500
Auburn Gene Chizik* 4 3-9 $3,577,500 $4,196,150 $7,773,650
Georgia Mark Richt 12 11-2 $2,925,340 $2,671,400 $5,596,740
Mizzou Gary Pinkel 11 5-7 $2,700,000 $2,159,000 $4,859,000
Miss state Dan Mullen 4 8-4 $2,600,000 $1,990,000 $4,590,000
Florida Will Muschamp 2 11-1 $2,474,500 $3,120,500 $5,595,000
Texas A&M Kevin Sumlin 1 10-2 $2,436,300 $1,847,499 $4,283,799
Tennessee Derek Dooley* 3 5-7 $2,011,000 $3,200,800 $5,211,800
Kentucky Joker Phillips* 3 2-10 $1,704,250 $2,278,423 $3,982,673
Ole Miss Hugh Freeze 1 6-6 $1,505,500 $3,724,690 $5,230,190
Arkansas John L. Smith* 1 4-8 $850,000 $2,338,600 $3,188,600
Vanderbilt James Franklin 2 8-4 N/A N/A N/A
SEC Total       $35,702,545 $39,723,781 $75,426,326
SEC Average       $2,746,350 $3,055,675 $5,802,025

So let's put the numbers in perspective:

  • The average SEC school outspends the average B1G school on Head Coaching by $474,578, or 20.9%
  • The average SEC school outspends the average B1G school on Assistant Coaching by $936,476, or 46.3%
  • The average SEC school outspends the average B1G school on total coaching by $1,316,766, or 30.4%

In total then, the average SEC school spends roughly a third more in aggregate than the average Big Ten member - a significant difference. Looking at the teams who won at least 8 games this season, we notice that by and large those head coaches earned more than $2 million in compensation, with only one Big Ten coach failing to win 8 games at >$2 million (yes, Kirk Ferentz, I'm pointing at you), and only three SEC coaches failing to do so at that level of compensation.

For Big Ten schools, we can see that Iowa under performed its spending, while Northwestern significantly outperformed. We can also see that schools in the Big Ten that spent more than $4 million in total coaching generally won 8 games or more, with Iowa and Michigan State being the two schools to break that rule.

With the SEC data we can see that Generally schools had to spend at least $4 million as well, to get to the 8 win mark, though Ole Miss, Tennessee, Mizzou and Auburn each failed to do so. Interestingly, 50% of those schools replaced their head coach following the season.

One thing that I think is overlooked in the entire discussion over coaching and staffing expenditures is the simple fact that strong compensation yields longevity, and longevity in coaching - stability, in other words - yields dividends in the form of recruiting, coaching systems, and overall program development. The longer you are at a program as a good coach, the more chances you have to recruit high-quality coaches and players who can best execute your system.

Getting coaches to stick around takes paying them well enough to keep them from taking off the minute more money hits the table (yes, Wisconsin, I'm talking to you). Look at the Big Ten's longest-tenured coach, Kirk Ferentz. He's also been one of the league's best-paid coaches for more than a decade. He's not going anywhere, and although his teams' performances have been nowhere near what they should be for the money invested, the omnipresent Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God has a good deal to do what that.

Consider our own James Patrick Tressel. If he had left Ohio State of his own volition, it wouldn't have been for more money; he would have more likely retired than coached somewhere else. While many discuss Ohio State as a "destination job," part of that destination status is because it pays well. You're not going to make better money too many places outside the SEC, and Urbz compensation competes with the top-tier of that conference.

Look at the longevity of the head coaches steering top half of the SEC, by the way - see anything striking? The best-paid coaches are the longest-tenured in the conference, and those coaches are typically winning the most games. Saban, Miles, Spurrier, Richt and Pinkel have all been at their schools at least 6 years, all make more than $2 million, and four of the five won 10 games or more this season. Muschamp at Florida and Sumlin at A&M, likewise, each won 10 games and make more than $2.4 million - think they're going anywhere any time soon with those numbers?

Winning 10+ games, winning conference titles, and winning bowl games takes the right combination of several interrelated factors. Coaching salaries are one factor, but one factor that has a significant affect on several other factors critical to winning at a high level.

Comments Show All Comments

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

Auburn spent that much money for their team to suck? lol

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

AndyVance's picture

So sad, and so true. The interesting thing about the SEC schools is that, as a group, they generally embraces the "hire slow, fire fast" management mantra... it's three-and-out if you're a coach who underperforms. Chizik got an extra year because he won the National Title with NFL Spokesman of the Year Cam Newton.
On the other end of the spectrum, the schools are pretty loyal to coaches who have done well, but have bumps in the road here and there - Steve Spurrier comes to mind.

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

How much is Auburn paying Gus Malzahn?

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

tennbuckeye19's picture

2.3 million/year, but interestingly only 500k is considered "base salary"

AndyVance's picture

I think more schools will - when they have the leverage to do so - start structuring deals this way... particularly as the public (and the media) continue to scrutinize the massive buyouts schools have to pay when firing failed coaches.

AndyVance's picture

$2.3 million annually, 5-year deal; roughly $1 million more than he earned at Arkansas State, and roughly $200k more than Auburn payed Chizik prior to winning the National Championship. ESPN noted that he took a pay cut to leave his position at Auburn to take the head coaching position at ASU.

jkleva's picture

Excellent article!

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

Can we really expect schools like Purdue, NW, illinois, Minnesota, and Indiana to spend that kind of money when they can't even fill up their stadiums?

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

AndyVance's picture

It's a vicious cycle: failing to be competitive leaves fans less interested in attending games, buying jerseys, donating to the Athletic program... which, in turn, leaves the program less capable of spending the money necessary to attrack the top talent, and to maintain the top facilities. And that, of course, leads to winning fewer games, which leaves fans less interested in attendin games...
On the other hand, the schools you mentioned actually earn more revenue from football than you might think. The following are the differences between football revenue and football expenses according to USA Today's database, based on 2011 data:

  • Illinois netted $14.2 million over football expenses
  • Indiana netted $8.2 million
  • Minnesota netted $13.5 million
  • Northwestern did not report their data to USA Today
  • Purdue netted $5.9 million

So, the school that netted the least of this group from its football operations may have made the biggest offseason play in paying new head coach Darrell Hazell $2 million per year over a 6-year contract... a 106% increase over former coach Danny Hope's paltry $970k per year.
If you build it, they will come...?

cplunk's picture

Wow, those charts are telling.
i just don't nderatand why he B1G is able to make so much money but many of he schools are not willing to spend some of that money to improve the product. Do they think they'll continue to make that cash as the product swirls down the tubes?

AndyVance's picture

On one hand, I'd say no, but in truth the BTN deal has virtually guaranteed they will... Consider how long it's been since Indiana was really, truly relevant in Big Ten play, and then look at how much "profit" the school earned from football operations.
That's also part of the reason schools haven't been forced into the "arms race": no economic incentive to do so. B1G schools, as a class, field significantly more non-revenue sports than their SEC counterparts... Those sports are generally subsidized by football revenue. Spend another $1 million on football coaches and that's fewer dollars available for field hockey or women's lacrosse...

Danify's picture

Thats what the issue with sharing revenue with all the schools can get into. It doesn't matter if Indiana, Purdue, etc... suck every year they will still have plenty of $$$ in the university's bank account while being the Big Ten. What is the incentive to improve and pay their coaches? None, which is why they haven't yet.

AndyVance's picture

GREAT point. Economic incentives work, so if there's no incentive to improve... you get complacency (hello Illinois, hello Indiana).
Now the other, contrarian viewpoint says that for every extra dollar a school spends on "overpaid" football coaches, that's one less dollar you have to invest in other non-revenue sports... e.g. the SEC, where Alabama has 21 varsity sports (8 men's teams and 11 women's) compared with Ohio State's 39 (19 men's and 20 women's).
So the question becomes, should a team like Indiana - who fields 10 men's and 12 women's varsity teams - take some more of the 35% of its athletic budget derived from football revenues and invest that money back into the football program... potentially at the expense of other non-revenue sports (and, to throw another wrinkle in the mix, they have to be very careful as to how they tinker with sports re: Title IX).

captain obvious's picture

do these numbers factor in the hot 22 year old blonde to cheat on your wife with?

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bassplayer7770's picture

Purdue has increased the investment in its coaching staff.  Generally, Hazell is making $2M and he has $2.1M to spend on his assistants.

Buckeye Chuck's picture

The problem here is that it's probably not possible to outspend those places that regard the university as something that exists as an excuse to have football. If the competition raised its salaries, the Bamas of the world would just go them one better. The Big Ten schools are more apt to have football in its proper place within the overall athletic department, and athletics in its proper place within the entire university.
Essentially, you can't force people to care about football more than they do, and no one cares more than folks in the South. You fund what you prioritize.

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