Late last week, Auburn hired former Florida head coach Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator. His new salary of $1.6 million per year is almost double what Ellis Johnson made in the same job a year ago. It helps push out the lead the SEC has in paying assistant coaches the most money, and when all is said and done, Auburn will almost certainly join Alabama and LSU in paying assistant coaches collectively over $5 million per year.
It was five season ago that Tennessee made Monte Kiffin the first assistant coach to make over $1 million per year. Five assistants made that much in 2014, though in one case it was due to a one-time retention bonus, with a sixth just $25,000 shy of the mark. That 2009 Tennessee assistant staff cost a then-record $3.325 million. Last season, 14 staffs made at least that much. In 2009, only six assistant coaches made at least half a million. This past season, 73 assistants made half a million or more. And that's just what is public knowledge. Schools whose assistants' salaries we don't know like Notre Dame and Penn State almost certainly push two of those counts upwards.
Muschamp's new deal feels like another watershed moment like Monte Kiffin breaking the million mark back in 2009. Consider Troy, which just hired former Kentucky OC Neal Brown as its head coach. Brown will make $660,000 per year and has a $1.2 million budget for assistant coaches. In total, that staff will cost $1.86 million. Muschamp will make nearly that by himself to be a coordinator at Auburn.
To repeat: an SEC assistant will make just $260,000 per year less than an entire Sun Belt coaching staff will make. Muschamp is a special case, being one of the top defensive minds in the game who was head coach in waiting at Texas before running the Florida program for four years. Even so, his hire resets the market for coaches. It'll be a while before another assistant tops Muschamp's salary, but it will happen. The playoff and conference TV networks are pouring too much money into the system for it not to. And if the marriage between Muschamp and Gus Malzahn works and Auburn wins a national championship in the next year or two, that record breaking salary itself might just go up.
Every so often we hear noises about I-A football breaking off from the rest of the NCAA. It's not likely ever to happen for legal reasons, with the NCAA serving as a useful fig leaf for the power schools and conferences. The autonomy push that won this year will take care of a lot of the things the power programs would want anyway.
Muschamp's new deal is a sign of things to come, though. Even if the Power 5 don't formally break away, they will in practice through the use of their checkbooks.