Josh Kendall

How the Gamecocks might compete in a world of skyrocketing coach salaries

You might have heard that “It just means more,” in the SEC. If you watched the CFB National Championship game between Alabama and Georgia on Monday night, you might have heard 20 or so times.

On Tuesday, after the crimson and white confetti fell on the Tide’s 26-23 overtime victory, South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner found himself talking about the other edge of the “It just means more” sword. Tanner discussed with members of USC’s board of trustees the details of upcoming raises for head football coach Will Muschamp and his coaching staff, and, as part of that discussion, he brought up the contract that LSU recently promised defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.

“I shared some information that I knew about the components of his contract,” Tanner said.

What we know, thanks to a report from the Baton Rouge (La.) Advocate, is that the deal is worth $2.5 million annually over four years. Speaking of “it just means more,” Aranda becomes the first college assistant to make more than $2 million per year, and no one on the planet is surprised that milestone was breached in the SEC. The contract, in fact, came in response to interest in Aranda from another SEC member, Texas A&M, which just signed head coach Jimbo Fisher to a contract worth $7.5 million per year for 10 years.

For the last 20 years, there has been handwringing about the rapid increase of the salaries of head coaches in college football, but that seems like the old frontier now. That luxury ship has sailed. The new line in the sand for the powers that be in college football is, or should be, assistant coaching salaries.

“I would prefer not to speak to decisions that are made at other universities that they feel are best for them,” Tanner said when asked what he thought about the deal.

Asked if he would ever sign off on paying an assistant football coach that much money while he was at South Carolina, Tanner thought for a moment before saying, “You never say never.”

“I don’t know,” he added later. “We all know that we are in an era right now where football coach’s salaries are escalating at a rapid pace. I think that athletic directors and presidents around the country are certainly concerned about the marketplace, but we deal with it.”

One way no one seems to be dealing with it is to be saying, “Enough is enough.” That’s what it’s going to take to stem the tide. It will take more than just a principled athletic director. The decision-making process at most Power 5 conferences rests in the hands of the athletic director, university president and board of trustees. It’s going to take a brave triumvirate to stop the madness, to say, “I’m sorry, Coach Fill In The Blank, we can’t pay your defensive coordinator that much money.”

This was Tanner’s response to that scenario, “What does that look like when that school does that in the aftermath?” It might mean the athletic director gets fired if the defensive coordinator leaves and the defense is worse the next year. Seriously, it might. This is the SEC remember? It just means more.

South Carolina’s highest-paid assistant coaches a year ago were defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Robinson will make more in 2018, but his salary isn’t going to come close to $2 million.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told The Advocate that he doesn’t think assistant coach salaries will follow head coach salaries into the stratosphere.

“I think there is an end,” Sankey said at the CFP Championship Game coaches news conference. “Where is the end? Resources and leadership drives that.”

Uh oh.

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