Young and the Restless - The Soap Opera that is the Badger Assistant Coach Salary Debate

by Andy Schaaf

Last year the 5 teams with the most talent in Major League Baseball were the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Giants.

If you’re a baseball fan you might be confused by that because only 2 of those 5 teams made the playoffs and the two that did - Dodgers and Yankees - were quick exits. The Red Sox were abysmal.

What am I basing the most talent on? These were the top 5 teams in total payroll dollars spent. They must be pretty good and those owners must be the most committed to winning in all of baseball, after all they spent the most money.

We know that’s not true of course, the Royals won the World Series by playing a somewhat unique brand of baseball and finding guys who fit their system. They beat the Mets who focused on young pitching and less on other parts of the team. The Cubs made a run with young, cheap bats. Their owners didn’t want it less than the other owners, they were just smarter about how they spent their money.

You get where I’m going (hopefully). Payroll is an awful way to evaluate baseball teams, but payroll is really the only way we really evaluate assistant coaching talent in college football, at least this time of year. If Team A pays their assistants $4m and Team B pays their assistants $2m, then Team A has better coaches and is obviously more committed to building a winning team.

We don’t do this for any other sport.  When it comes to talent, good teams find ways to get it for cheap. They avoid paying that expensive past his prime veteran *cough Jeff Suppan cough* the huge money. They know the goal isn’t to spend the most money, the goal is to spend smart money .

Like everyone else in the world, college coaches are paid based on their resume. Want a guy with a ton of experience? That will cost you. Want an assistant who used to be a head coach? That will cost you (and the SEC loves these guys). Want a guy to come to your school when he has zero connections to the area? That’ll cost you.

With the recent focus on Badger assistant coaches, I decided to look at the ages of the coaching staffs in their peer group. I wanted to try to get an answer on if the Badgers were paying “cheap” for guys with bad resumes or “cheap” for guys with short resumes. I think the difference is really important.

Paying cheap salaries for guys with poor resumes is obviously not something you want to do. Paying cheap salaries for a younger guy with lots of potential, that’s alright. It allows the Badgers to take risks some teams in the Big Ten can’t. Getting a 36 year old DC with a short resume (1 year at Utah St, 2 years at Hawaii) isn’t something a SEC team would ever do, but it got the Badgers 3 really good years with a great assistant coach.

Lets look at the average age of the top 8 schools in B1G assistant coaches salaries for 2015, from which Wisconsin was #8.

Average age:

  • Iowa - 50
  • Ohio State - 49
  • Michigan St - 48
  • Nebraska - 48
  • Michigan - 46
  • Minnesota - 44
  • Maryland - 44
  • Wisconsin  - 41

 

Obviously could be influenced by a couple outliers, so if we look at median age:

  • Nebraska - 51
  • Iowa - 49
  • Mich State - 49
  • Ohio State - 49
  • Minnesota - 46
  • Michigan - 46
  • Maryland - 46
  • Wisconsin  - 43

 

There’s no doubt about it, a large reason Wisconsin pays less for assistants is they target younger assistants than their peer group.

It seems to suggest Wisconsin is paying less money for guys with the short resume and betting they outperform it, not paying less money for guys with poor resumes.

This is a pattern as well. Four of the last five defensive coordinators were given the job when they were in their 30s. They seem to always have room for a young coach with potential - Strickland, Brown, Turner. Heck, it goes back to betting on Bielema to run a program when he was only 35 years old.

One of the major complaints when Alvarez was coaching was the assistants got complacent and there was a lack of fresh blood with new ideas coming in. It certainly hasn’t been that way since he left.

Teams spend money in different ways:

  • Nebraska is paying 52 year old Bruce Read $450,000 as a special teams coach. He doesn’t recruit.

  • Michigan State has had a mostly stable group of guys who started with a lower salary but through raises all make over $300k. Neither coordinator made more than Rudolph/Aranda but overall salary was higher.

  • Iowa pays their offensive line coach $317,000 and Iowa is his first college coaching job. His last name is Ferentz.

  • Maryland paid Mike Locksley $891k in hopes he would jump start their recruiting.

 

That’s not making judgements, just showing teams have different reasons for paying guys. Its not necessarily the best guys making the most money.

Going young has its drawbacks of course. Sometimes that young assistant does so well that he becomes close to impossible to keep on staff - Aranda, Doereen and Brown come to mind. Had Bielema stayed at Wisconsin its likely Ash and Partridge would have left for opportunities they couldn’t pass up. An assistant in his 50s or 60s may not have the career ambitions an assistant in his 30s and 40s does.

Sometimes that assistant isn’t quite ready for the job.

It also brings up the inevitable - the younger, cheaper, less accomplished staff won’t always be this cheap. Opportunities will arise, raises will be demanded. Its a weird time to complain NOW about the low salaries, the time to complain, if ever, will be when the once young cheap staff becomes older and not so cheap (basically, what Michigan St is dealing with). That’s where decisions will have to be made and the checks will need to be cut.

For now, be happy that it appears the Badgers have a pretty good staff (pending the DC hire of course) with room to grow the payroll to the higher end of the conference if and when its needed. They dealt with a variety of key injuries, still won 10 games and as of this morning have the 28th ranked recruiting class per 247 Sports.

This isn’t to say Wisconsin has never had poor assistants, they certainly have or perhaps currently do. God knows I’ve complained about a few. Analyzing the staff is fine, there are certainly strong parts and weak parts. Rudolph adjusting and developing the OL. Settle, uh, “recruiting.” Before the season starts we’ll live and die with every recruiting win or loss, then we’ll spend 4 months to analyzing every game. We have a lot more ways to evaluate and opine on the staff instead of the dollar amount assigned to their contracts.