This Year’s Model

I know this is a lengthy passage of Jerry’s I’m about to quote, but bear with me here:

Blutarsky takes Rocky Top Talk to task–as he’s taken the JCCW to task in the past–for viewing the much smaller ratio of head coach salary to assistant coaches’ salary at UT as a new model for doing business in the SEC. Although Blutarsky may be right that that ratio might not actually be voluntary on the part of Kiffykins and the Chiznick and that they’re simply being paid the going rate for first-time coaches in the SEC (I would disagree with the second part–however fresh-faced the pair of them may be, they’re still coaching at Auburn and Tennessee and earning far, far less for that than their predecessors), I still think that misses the point a bit. Whether it’s part of a carefully orchestrated plan to try and get the most bang for the program’s coaching salary buck or simply a natural, inevitable outcome of not having to break the bank for the man in charge, the ratio–both in terms of salary and perceived importance of the staff-at-large to the team’s success–is still pretty well unprecedented, no? I think it’s fair to say both Kiffin and Chizik were hired not for the coaches they are but for the staff they planned to create, and what other head coaches in the history of the SEC’s major programs can we say that about?

I got a bunch of similar feedback from the commenters at RTT for that post of mine – some of it less polite than Jerry’s, but interesting nonetheless – and I’ve got to say that  I simply don’t find these responses convincing.  Let me give you a few reasons why I’m not buying this whole “new model” proposition from either school.

  1. Market?  What market? It’s sort of conveniently brushed over, but when Auburn and Tennessee went shopping for a new head coach this winter, there weren’t exactly a ton of front line options for either school.  Jon Gruden didn’t lose his Tampa Bay job at a convenient moment for UT (and don’t tell me that Hamilton and the Vol fan base wouldn’t have been all over him in a heartbeat if he’d been there for the hiring, no matter the cost).   Will Muschamp decided to stay in Austin (how much would Auburn have shelled out for him?).  The one big college head coach name in play was Mike Leach, who was evidently too much of a character to be seriously considered, but who was looking for a salary in line with what the ousted head coaches had been paid, which wasn’t unreasonable.  There simply weren’t a lot of glamor picks to chase after.  Once you got past the A-list for schools like Auburn and UT, though, two things were likely to happen:  you were going to wind up spending less on the new coach’s salary and the fans weren’t going to be as thrilled about the hire.  Check and check.
  2. Nobody’s really skimping on salaries here. Contrary to Jerry’s assertion, Kiffin and Chizik are doing okay salary-wise.  Check out this chart from the AJ-C of the salaries of the head coaches in the ACC and SEC.  Using my fingers and toes real quickly, I see Junior checking in at #12 on the list at Chizik at #14.  That ain’t too shabby – especially in the former’s case, as he’s the highest paid coach in either conference without previous head football coaching experience on the collegiate level.  Plus, he’s only making $400K/year less than Fulmer was when he got canned. (I’m using “only” in the context of that enormous UT athletic department budget, people.)  Don’t forget that Chizik’s new salary nearly doubled what he was making at his prior stop.  So I have a hard time with the argument that these numbers are somehow discounted.  How much do you have to pay guys that have sorry records as head coaches, anyway?
  3. It’s not invention that’s the mother of necessity, you know. Let’s be blunt for a second:  the reason that there isn’t a traditional gap between Lane’s and Monte’s salaries is because there’s a huge gap between their resumes.  At some point in time, this deal got sold to Hamilton and the UT fan base as a package arrangement.  And there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t pitch it as something it’s not.  Similarly, the Chizik hire didn’t exactly fire folks up on the Plains, but the subsequent hire of the staff did.  If you’re gonna insist that this was the game plan all along, fine – but where’s the evidence?  When the hire came down, the biggest sales point I heard about Chizik was that he dumped Jimmy Sexton to get the job.  Isn’t it at least as likely that this “new model” was a course of action decided on after the lukewarm response from the fan base over the head coaching decision?
  4. Sudden and out of character. Whatever adjective you want to apply to the typical SEC athletic director, “trailblazing” isn’t likely to be it.  Check out this article from June, 2008, about the rising salaries of head coaches.  It’s all the usual hand-wringing we’ve come to expect from these guys – and note that Hamilton is quoted extensively there.  There’s not even a hint that he’s prepared to start thinking outside the box.  Yet less than six months later, he’s done a 180-degree turn on his business model.  And this is believable to you?
  5. Some trend you’ve got here. If this is such a fantastic idea, you’d think it would be an even better one for SEC basketball, where the revenue generated is much less than is the case for football.  Yet the athletic directors at Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky weren’t swayed by it.  I wonder why.
  6. The model isn’t sustainable. It doesn’t take a Corch Meyers to foresee that one of two things will happen at these schools.  Either their head coaches will succeed, or they won’t.  If they win, their salaries will be going up.  Rapidly, and for all the usual reasons – ego, paranoia and the prospects of other programs/teams lining up to raid an “underpaid” coach.  If they lose, they’ll be gone (probably with the ADs that hired them, too).  What do you figure the likelihood will be then that (1) the fans will take comfort in their athletic departments’ bold experiments, despite the losses; and (2) given the prodigious amounts of money flowing through the two programs, the ADs in place at that time will continue to use the “new model” – especially if there’s an attractive A-list candidate out there to chase?  That’s what I thought.

Yeah, it’s the offseason and I know I’m veering dangerously close here to committing felonious assault on a deceased equine.  In the vast scheme of things, this isn’t that big a deal.

But that’s what puzzles me the most about this.  Why does it matter, anyway? Why are we getting all the chest beating about a new economic order from the ADs, the coaches and their supporters?  The cynic in me says it’s little more than after the fact justification for two schools who couldn’t find their own versions of Nick Saban this go ’round.  But what do I know?  After all, the coach at my school sits at #5 on that AJ-C list.

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10 Comments

Filed under It's Just Bidness, SEC Football

10 responses to “This Year’s Model

  1. JasonC

    Bobby Petrino? Really?
    Also, I thought it was amusing that Lane is making more that Cutcliffe

  2. fitzdawg

    So, do you think the Head Coaches will be the first to go if the wins don’t come, or will it be the high priced assistants? For that matter, if the wins do come, might they finance raises for the Head Coach by jettisoning a few lower performing assistants or will the assistants responsible be snatched up as Head Coaches at other schools… So many possibilities.

  3. Mike In Valdosta

    I really bet you would rather be writing about actual football games. What is it now, about 65 days or so?

    These articles and their responses are going to be great fodder when these coaches have trrack records.

  4. The Realist

    What I find most interesting about this model is that really successful assistants are prime targets for head coaching gigs. For coaches, ego means as much as money (if not more), so a coordinator will typically go elsewhere just for the title of head football coach, even if the raise in salary is marginal.

    Of course, that’s not as much of a problem at Tennessee, as Monte is a bit too old for a HC position, Orgeron is a complete failure as a HC (I can’t imagine he’ll ever get another shot), and Kiffin is already firing assistants that he just hired. But, at Auburn, this would be an interesting thing to keep an eye on.

    And, I agree that if these head coaches prove successful, their salaries will increase substantially. Suppose Kiffin wins a national title next year. I bet he would leap right over Richt on that list. Then, you would have the highest paid assistants along with one of the highest paid head coaches in the conference. Unless Kiffin decides that getting a raise isn’t part of the new model, which I find as likely as Kiffin winning a national title. The bottom line is that this isn’t a new model by choice for either of these teams. It may be successful in the short term, but it is hardly sustainable long term.

    • Orgeron is a complete failure as a HC (I can’t imagine he’ll ever get another shot)…

      My fantasy is that Junior proves to be a success, gets hired away, Monte retires as a result, and, in a panic, Hamilton gives the HC job to Coach O.

      A man can dream, can’t he?

  5. NM

    two schools who couldn’t find their own versions of Nick Saban this go ’round

    And, I might add, two schools that both count Nick Saban’s team as their biggest rival. (Might be debatable for UT, but at least historically I think it’s true.)

    So if you can’t make a splashier hire, you have to come back with some reason why you’re still better, but in a different way — and the “new model” is as close to plausible as any other. As in, “Sure, you hired the biggest-name coach out there, but everybody knows that’s not how things will be done in the future. Way to be behind the times, Bama!”

  6. Response: http://www.warblogeagle.com/2009/06/damn-semantics.html

    I think, Senator, we’re not really that far off.