Yesterday afternoon, the full details of the salaries and contracts of Auburn's coaching staff were revealed. As you would expect, it pays to win national championships.
The entire staff will, prior to incentives, collectively make a little over $7.5 million this year. Gene Chizik got a raise up to $3.5 million, something we found out last week. What we didn't know then that we do now is that Chizik's buyout for this fall is a cool $10 million, one of the highest I've ever seen. It drops quickly over the life of his deal though, all the way to $0 in the final year in 2015.
Also altered in Chizik's contract is the clause that allowed Auburn to suspend his pay during an SEC or NCAA investigation. By "altered," of course, I mean completely removed, as that little verbiage is gone from the new deal. While it's easy to understand why Chizik would want that gone, the Birmingham News reported that a similar clause was taken out of Auburn basketball coach Tony Barbee's contract last fall. It's not an unprecedented move on the Plains.
What is the most interesting fact of all of this information is that the assistant coaches will collectively make more money (roughly $4 million) than Chizik will ($3.5 million). We've seen that happen elsewhere recently, when Lane Kiffin made $2 million and his staff made over $3 million in 2009. That was a special case though, when the head coach told the school to pay him less than it originally offered in order to give more to the assistants. There also was the matter of paying Monte Kiffin $1.2 million to enable him to leave the NFL without taking a huge pay cut.
Auburn does have a similar big ticket assistant in Gus Malzahn, who will make $1.3 million this season. Even so, Chizik didn't ask to be paid less in order to spread the budget around. He cashed in with a $1.2 million raise and has one of the ten highest salaries in college football, and yet the assistants collectively make more than he does.
For comparison, in 2009 Charlie Strong made $310,000 as Florida's defensive coordinator. He had helped build or personally built two national championship defenses. He was high on everyone's "this guy should be a head coach" list. This was less than two years ago. Now, six of Auburn's nine assistant coaches will make more than that $310,000.
Escalating head coaching salaries have been the norm in college football for over a decade. The assistant coaches are now getting in on that too. I have no doubt that in the past assistant coaches collectively out-gained their head coaches routinely, but this is the first time it has happened with a coach making north of $3 million a year.
For all the talk about how full cost of attendance scholarships could be a financial wedge with potential to split I-A football into tiers, rising assistant coaching salaries are doing that now. Assistant coaches on BCS staffs are one of the top sources for coaches in the non-BCS ranks, but in some places they can now make as much money as an assistant as they would a head coach. In 2010, only two of the 13 MAC head coaches made over $400,000 a year; in 2011, four Auburn assistants will be above that threshold.
Ambition will always lead assistants to take head coaching jobs, so that's still working in the little guys' favor. It's just that assistants are increasingly able to be more selective about which head coaching jobs they take. Auburn's new coaching contracts are but one data point along this trend, but symbolically, they're a big step.