Assistant coaches' pay continues upwards

ATHENS — When Rodney Garner was hired to coach tight ends at Auburn in 1990, he left a job in public relations at PepsiCo, and he took a pay cut.

"Some of my family thought I was crazy to do it," he said. "It's definitely changed."

Today, he makes $210,000, and nobody is worried about his sanity anymore. Rodney Garner and Willie Martinez each got hefty raises from the University of Georgia in the last two months, Garner to spurn an overture by LSU and Martinez after being promoted. Their salaries, along with recent shuffling of the Bulldogs' staff, have shed a revealing light on the changing nature of a formerly pitied position — the college football assistant coach.

The men who used to make middling dollars and exist professionally at the mercy of their bosses' success, now make very comfortable livings and often have head coaches at their mercy. The change began in earnest in the last 15 years and has really taken hold in the last five as assistant coach salaries and notoriety have spiked dramatically.

"You've got coordinators in this league making $300,000, $400,000 a year," said Georgia offensive coordinator Neil Callaway, who makes $156,000 annually. "When I got into coaching in 1979, I made $17,000 and thought that was a lot of money."

Georgia pays its nine assistant coaches an average of $138,271 per year. Martinez and Garner are the highest-paid at $210,000, including a base salary of $180,000 and extra compensation of $30,000. Quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo ranks the lowest but is still well above the poverty line at $105,000.

"I've heard some head coaches say, 'Hey, maybe I'll be a coordinator and not worry about all this other stuff,'" Georgia head coach Mark Richt said.

The salaries of Georgia's coaches appear modest when compared to some of the eye-popping numbers from around the country. Recently departed Southern California offensive coordinator Norm Chow was making more than $500,000 when he left the Trojans. Georgia Tech's Jon Tenuta makes $275,000 a year, and Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville pays offensive coordinator Al Borges $190,000 and probably will give him a raise before next season.

"I look at that and go, 'Wow,'" said Frank Crumley, Georgia's senior associate athletic director for finance and administration. "I don't know how they're doing it."

Ten years ago it was rare for any assistant coach to make more than $100,000 a year; now major schools routinely dole out more than $1 million for their assistant coaching staffs.

"(Salaries) are escalating rapidly, and I don't know what the answer is to slow it down, or stop it, or control it at all," Crumley said. "To keep your coaches from leaving and to keep your coaches happy, you're forced into paying these high salaries. It's probably going to blow up sooner or later because your revenue (increase) is not matching the percentage of (salary) increase."

The average combined salary for assistant coaching staffs in the SEC is $1.2 million. In the ACC, the average figure is $1.3 million.

"We try to see what the market bears and put our coaches in a position that we think is fair for the market and also for the job they do," athletic director Damon Evans said. "We're going to make sure whatever we do is fiscally responsible. We're not going to jump out there and say just because this school is doing it, we're going to do it."

The higher salaries haven't come without a price of their own for assistant coaches. With more money comes more attention — not always a good thing in today's win-now climate — and more expectations, both from inside and outside the program.

Coach Mark Richt said he doesn't let his coaches' salaries affect his expectations.

"I think there is pressure no matter what anybody is getting paid," he said. "Somebody else may add more pressure to themselves because of it, but as a head coach, I don't look at a guy and say, 'I expect more because he's making a lot of money.'"

He's probably in the minority with that view.

"Of course, with more pay comes more accountability," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "I'm saying so-and-so is my defensive coordinator, and I'm paying him $210,000, so I better get a $210,000 job out of him."

Fans certainly expect more when they know how much a coach is being paid, Tiller said.

"Nothing is confidential any longer and folks get hold of information and say, 'If we're paying this guy this much as a coordinator, he must be really, really good. And if he's really, really good, we should be averaging 38 points a game. Well, we're not so let's get rid of this guy,'" he said.

Along with becoming easy targets for fans, assistant coaches can now be used as scapegoats by head coaches, who often can buy themselves more time on the job by jettisoning an assistant or two.

"So much more emphasis is placed particularly on the coordinators, you can say, 'Hey, if I get a new coordinator, that's the solution to all of our problems,'" Tiller said. "We'll pay this new guy whatever he wants because he's going to buy me another year.'"

Tiller noticed salaries really beginning to skyrocket five years ago, and it was in response to activity in the National Football League, he said. Purdue has lost four assistants to the NFL since he's been at Purdue.

"I think (salaries) escalated first and foremost not so much to stop movement from one college program to another college program, but rather to stop the flow into the NFL," he said. "Of course, to do that you have to begin to throw out NFL-type numbers."

Callaway also sees a correlation to professional football.

"I think (college football) is getting more and more like pro football where coordinators really are responsible for that side of the ball," he said. "Ultimately, it's the head coach's responsibility, but I think the burden is falling more and more on the coordinators and assistant coaches. It probably goes hand-in-hand with the salaries assistant coaches are making."

As salaries go up, so does the amount of time spent worrying about salaries.

"Perhaps it's coming from their wives, I don't know, but I do notice our younger coaches spend more time talking about money," Tiller said. "If I was making $18,000 and you were making $20,000, what is there to talk about? But, if I'm making $85,000 and you're making $185,000, then our wives, if nothing else, are going to breach the topic.

"It's part of the bravado of saying, 'I'm making $185,000 and you're making $110,000.' That seems to be more important to younger coaches than it was."

Head coaches are often in a no-win situation when it comes to matching salary offers, Tiller said.

"They just throw the 'F' word out there," he said. "They say, 'I've got to do it for my family's sake.' And if you argue against that, you're anti-family. You have to say, 'Well, if it's for your family.'

"Which is a crock of crap, we know it's for the money."

UGA's Assistant coaches
Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez $180,000*
Defensive line/assistant head coach Rodney Garner $180,000*
Offensive coordinator Neil Callaway $156,000
Wide receivers/associate head coach John Eason $144,040
Defensive ends coach Jon Fabris $135,000
Running backs coach Kirby Smart $115,000
Linebackers coach John Jancek $115,000
Tight ends coach David Johnson $114,400
Quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo $105,000

* Martinez and Garner each receive an additional $30,000 in endorsement money and other compensation

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