Thursday, November 12, 2009

Assistant coaches collect titles as way to get financial security

(PHOTO- South Carolina offensive line coach Eric Wolford, center, was also given the title of running game coordinator, in part so he could get a multiyear contract.)

By Steve Wieberg

November 11, 2009

Behold today's college football assistant coach.

He's an executive associate, senior associate, associate or assistant head coach. Or a running or passing game coordinator. Or in one case, a defensive passing game coordinator. The array of fancier, added-responsibility titles — beyond the traditional offensive and defensive coordinators — has reached the point that well more than one in three assistants today are something more than mere position specialists.

And in many cases, their contract terms reflect it.

South Carolina, for example, limits multiyear contracts to its coordinators but wanted to extend that security to new hires Eric Wolford and Lorenzo Ward this year. Head coach Steve Spurrier runs the offense. Ellis Johnson was the Gamecocks' incumbent defensive coordinator.

So in addition to putting Wolford in charge of the offensive line, athletics director Eric Hyman approved his appointment as running game coordinator. Johnson was re-designated as the assistant head coach for defense, freeing Ward to become coordinator as well as safeties coach.

Beyond the contract length, "In the minds of assistant coaches, if you've got that coordinator's title, it gives you maybe a quicker timeline to becoming a head coach," Hyman says. "I think that's part of it."

He acknowledges, "There has been a proliferation of created titles."

Major-college football now counts at least six passing game and 13 running game coordinators. At Colorado, Greg Brown is in his fourth year as secondary coach and his third as the defensive passing game coordinator.

Close to 60 top-level assistants have some sort of senior, head-coach's-right-hand-man designation.

Alabama, whose nine assistants earn an average of more than $300,000, has two associate and two assistant head coaches in addition to offensive and defensive coordinators.

Florida State has executive, associate and assistant head coaches under Bobby Bowden, and they and offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher— the designated successor to Bowden — average a little more than $399,000.

"Up to this point, the coordinator has been the person who got attention after the head coach as someone with experience and authority and perhaps on the next-layer-of-the-onion route to becoming a head coach," says Dutch Baughman, executive director of the Division 1A Athletic Directors Association. "Here's an effort to identify people who are very, very good and title them differently to kind of elevate them from the crowd."

He sees little wrong with it, he says.

Among other things, Baughman says the moves could better position minority assistants to move into head coaching jobs — a sensitive issue in a sport in which the number of minorities in charge of programs has long lagged.

"Perhaps that's another way," he says, "a school can say, 'Look, he's not a coordinator but pay attention to this guy. He's really, really good. And to support him, we're going to give him this title.' "

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