June 18, 2007

Coordinators carousel on a steady spin

  • The Coaching Carousel: Coordinator edition

    The so-called coaching carousel for coordinators might need to change its name.

    All the recent shifts in coaching staffs across the nation have caused the carousel to resemble an amusement park thrill ride instead. (See chart)

    Rivals.com New Coordinator Profiles
    Fisher brings the old mentality back to FSU
    Miami looks to Nix to revive offense
    Wednesday: John Thompson, Ole Miss
    Thursday: Steve Logan, Boston College
    Friday: Jay Norvell, UCLA
    Saturday: Sonny Dykes, Arizona
    Sunday: Chip Kelly, Oregon
    These dizzying changes have been faster, fiercer and certainly costlier.

    More than 40 percent of the 119 Division I-A football programs will enter the 2007 season with new offensive coordinators. Nearly 30 percent of the schools also have new defensive coordinators.

    If the most recent offseason offers any indication, these new coordinators probably should look into renting.

    "It's just like anything else," said Arizona's Sonny Dykes, one of seven new offensive coordinators in the Pac-10. "Be careful what you wish for sometimes. As the money increases, so does the accountability."

    And the money has definitely increased.

    John Thompson remembers making $18,000 during his first year as a defensive coordinator at Northwestern (La.) State in 1983. Thompson took over as the Ole Miss defensive coordinator and reportedly received an annual salary of $300,000.

    "My dad used to say all the time that all good coaches are underpaid and all bad coaches are overpaid," Thompson said. "I still kind of go by that."

    Thompson is hardly the only coordinator making a nice living.

    Florida State won the Jimbo Fisher sweepstakes last winter by offering the former Louisiana State offensive coordinator a $215,000 base salary - plus another $210,000 from an athletic fund raised by the Seminole Boosters to take the offensive coordinator position with the Seminoles.

    LSU replaced Fisher by luring Gary Crowton from Oregon with a reported annual salary of $400,000. Oregon responded by hiring former New Hampshire offensive coordinator Chip Kelly, who parlayed the Wildcats' stunning 34-17 victory over Northwestern last year into a Division I-A opportunity.

    And the carousel spins.

    "I never really thought college salaries would compete with the NFL, and they probably never will across the board," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. "But a little of that is going on."

    At least one former NFL coach believes the lure of that league has played a role in the spiraling salaries of college coordinators.

    Alabama coach Nick Saban said all the player turnover in the NFL has caused pro franchises to invest more money in finding talented assistant coaches. Colleges consequently have to pay assistants more to keep their top assistants from heading to the pro ranks.

    Former college coordinators who headed to the NFL during the offseason included Baylor defensive coordinator Bill Bradley (now the San Diego Chargers defensive backs coach), Kansas State defensive coordinator Raheem Morris (now the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive backs coach) and Memphis offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner (now the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers coach). Former Louisville offensive coordinator Paul Petrino followed his brother Bobby to the NFL and will coach the Atlanta Falcons' receivers.

    Saban noted that he made $200,000 per year while working as the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator from 1991-94. By contrast, Saban's defensive coordinator with the Miami Dolphins last year was Dom Capers, who had a three-year, $8.1 million contract.

    "Your team turns over about 25-30 percent every year (in the NFL), so they put a real premium on teaching, coaching and developing players," Saban said. "They see it as college coaches do that all the time, so if there's a good college coach out there, they're going to try to grab him up.

    "At least our coordinators need to be competitive with what an assistant coach makes in that league. Otherwise we're going to lose all our coaches to that league."

    As Dykes mentioned, however, the extra pay comes with a price.

    In an offseason that featured 23 Division I-A head coaching changes (not including Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner's decision last week to sit out the season for medical reasons), there was too much turnover at the coordinator level to attribute it all to a trickle-down effect.

    Some schools that didn't fire their head coaches apparently still felt a change was necessary.

    Florida State offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden resigned under pressure as the Seminoles revamped their entire offensive coaching staff. When UCLA struggled to move the ball all season, the Bruins fired offensive coordinator Jim Svoboda and brought over Jay Norvell from Nebraska to juice up their West Coast attack. Notre Dame replaced defensive coordinator Rick Minter with Corwin Brown after the Irish ranked 90th in the nation in pass efficiency defense last season.

    "There's just more and more pressure to win," Dykes said. "You have more media, more coverage and more accountability."

    But the tales of coordinator turnover include more promotions than demotions.

    For example, when the Oakland Raiders selected former Southern California offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin as their head coach, the Trojans promoted quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian. Georgia's Mike Bobo made a similar move last December after former Bulldogs offensive coordinator Neil Callaway accepted a job as UAB's head coach.

    Other new coordinators followed Kelly's lead by moving to BCS programs after successful seasons at smaller schools.

    Scott Shafer built a Western Michigan defense that led the nation in interceptions and sacks last year on its way to an International Bowl bid. The Broncos played well enough to help Shafer land a job as a defensive coordinator on new Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh's staff.

    That story sounds all too familiar to Florida coach Urban Meyer, who remembers the difficulty of maintaining successful coaching staffs at non-BCS programs.

    "I've coached at Bowling Green and Utah, and it's really difficult to keep a staff together (there)," said Meyer, who coached two seasons at both places. "I'm not sure I ever did. Every year I'd lose one, two, up to three coaches just because you couldn't pay them their value."

    Meyer certainly understands the rising value of a quality assistant. Meyer said he made $55,000 as a Notre Dame receivers coach before taking over as Bowling Green's head coach in 2000. As Fisher and Crowton recently proved, top coordinators now can receive more than seven times that amount.

    "I'm shocked," Meyer said, "but that's just part of the business."

  • Fisher brings the old mentality back to FSU | The Coaching Carousel: Coordinator edition

    Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.


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