When the Colorado Board of Regents met in February to approve the Buffaloes’ new football assistant coaching contracts, John Kroll from the state’s first congressional district applied one specific term to the new high-priced salaries: “Unpalatable.”
The total is eye-popping. CU’s 10 full-time assistant coaches will combine to make $3.35 million this fall, an increase of more than $1 million from a year ago. Colorado State will allot $3 million for its staff in 2018. Compared to their peers across college football, though, the Buffaloes’ and Rams’ cash-flow hardly compares.
CU’s highest paid assistant coach is defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot at $700,000. That figure would not crack the top-35 nationally last fall with 15 coordinators raking in seven-digit salaries, according to USA Today’s database.The discrepancy is even greater at Colorado State without Power Five revenue. Former offensive coordinator Will Friend, who’s now at Tennessee, was the Rams’ highest earner among CSU assistant coaches in 2017 at $540,000.
Atop the list nationally: LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda at $1.8 million.
“Legally, I don’t think you can ever put a cap on it,” CU athletic director Rick George said of the rising salaries. “But it’s certainly something that we look at. We’re never going to have the top salaries here at Colorado. I think we have a lot more to offer than money, but that’s important to a lot of people and we certainly want to be competitive.
“Hopefully, those things will slow down.”
Even then, CU and CSU won’t stand idle in college football’s assistant coaching contract arms race — and they have the Colorado legislature system to thank. Public institutions in the state, including universities funded with tax-payer dollars, were previously limited on the availability of multi-year contracts for employees. At CU, CSU and other state schools, that meant no more than six multi-year contracts per institution and term lengths no greater than five years.
When the Buffs hired Mike MacIntyre as head coach in 2012, he was the only football staff member with the security of a multi-year commitment from the university, a burden that opposing Pac-12 teams did not face.
“It was harder to get coaches,” MacIntyre said, “and sometimes harder to keep coaches.”
But change was afoot. State senator Kevin Priola, a CU graduate, helped lead the charge to pass Senate bill 17-041, which would allow self-funded auxiliaries, such as university athletic programs, to be exempt from restrictions on multi-year contracts. The bill arrived on Governor John Hickenlooper’s desk in March 2017 and it was signed into law. The change went into effect in August, but CU leadership did its homework first before fully implementing new deals for its football staff in February.
CU provided multi-year contracts to nine of its 10 assistant football coaches. Eliot and co-offensive coordinators Darrin Chiaverini and Klayton Adams were given three-year deals. The rest of the coaches were provided two-year contracts with the exception of tight ends coach Gary Bernadi who remains on a one-year deal.
“It really puts us at the same competitive level that our peers are at,” George said. “I think it’s great that we can show our commitment to coaches for a longer period of time.”
CSU football plans to provide multi-year contracts to two assistants this year, both of whom are first-year coaches: defensive coordinator John Jancek and offensive coordinator Dave Johnson. Jancek was initially hired at a salary of $325,000 and Johnson at $200,000; however, CSU declined to disclose if or when their multi-year contracts would be finalized. Those contracts are expected to increase their base pay.
Why only a pair of multi-year contracts for Rams football? The gap in resources between the Pac-12 and Mountain West creates challenges for CSU’s financial commitments to coaches.
“For Rick and in their space within the Power Five, it’s more of a competitive issue,” CSU athletic director Joe Parker said. “It’s probably a little less so for us, but I like to know that we have the flexibility if we move that direction in the future.”
The greatest boon to CSU football’s assistant coaching staff was a provision in the three-year contract extension head coach Mike Bobo signed in December that increased the Rams’ assistant coaching salary pool from $2.4 million to $3 million.
“To be honest, that was the most important thing for me,” Bobo said. “Extending (my contract) is great, but the number one thing I wanted to add was more money in the (assistant coaches salary) pool to have a better chance to attract more coaches because of what’s going on out there.”
CU hired former South Carolina co-offensive coordinator Kurt Roper as quarterbacks coach in January on a two-year contract with a salary of $300,000. Roper, whose first full-time coaching job was at Ole Miss in 1999, hopped between six football teams before landing in Boulder. A two-year contract doesn’t ensure Roper will finish his coaching career at CU, but it does provide a much-appreciated security blanket with the Buffs.
“For any assistant football coach, we all know it’s a pretty volatile profession,” Roper said. “It’s a profession that typically you’re going to have several stops in your career. But that affects our families. My daughter is in the fourth grade and will be in the fifth grade next year. It will be her fifth elementary school.
“Any time you can create any stability at all in the profession is a good thing.”
CU FOOTBALL ASSISTANT COACHING SALARIES (2018)
Coach; Contract term; Annual salary
D.J. Eliot, defensive coordinator; 3 years; $700,000*
Darrin Chiaverini, co-offensive coordinator; 3 years; $500,000
Klayton Adams, co-offensive coordinator; 3 years; $400,000
Gary Bernardi, tight ends coach; 1 year, $311,000
Kurt Roper, quarterbacks coach; 2 years, $300,000
ShaDon Brown, safeties coach; 2 years; $260,000
Ross Els, linebackers coach; 2 years; $250,000
Ashley Ambrose, cornerbacks coach; 2 years; $232,200
Kwahn Drake, defensive line coach; 2 years; $200,000
Darian Hagan, running backs coach; 2 years; $200,000
* Eliot has completed the first year of his three-year deal.
CSU FOOTBALL ASSITANT COACHING SALARIES (2018)
Coach; Annual salary
John Jancek, defensive coordinator; $325,000
Ronnie Letson, quarterbacks coach; $205,000
David Johnson, run-game coordinator/offensive line coach; $200,000
Keith Gilmore, defensive line coach; $200,000
Eric Lewis, cornerbacks: $175,000
Alvis Whitted, receivers coach; $158,000
Chase Gibson, linebackers coach; $150,000
Terry Fair, cornerbacks coach; $148,000
Bryan Applewhite, running backs coach; $148,000
Joe Cox, tight ends coach; $105,000
George Helow, safeties coach; $85,000
* Salaries are subject to change as CSU implements multi-year contracts and raises for the 2018 season.
TOP FOOTBALL COACHING SALARIES NATIONALLY (2017)
Coach; Annual salary
Dave Aranda, LSU defensive coordinator; $1.8 million
Brent Venables, Clemson defensive coordinator; $1.7 million
John Chavis, Texas A&M defensive coordinator; $1.6 million
Matt Canada, LSU offensive coordinator; $1.5 million
Don Brown, Michigan defensive coordinator; $1.3 million
Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama defensive coordinator; $1.3 million
Brian Daboll, Alabama offensive coordinator; $1.2 million
Kevin Steele, Auburn defensive coordinator; $1.2 million
Bob Shoop, Tennessee defensive coordinator; $1.15 million
Jim Leavitt, Oregon defensive coordinator; $1.15 million
* National salary figures provided by USA Today.