When Arkansas State athletics director Terry Mohajir went to hire a football coach six years ago for a program that had been a reliable launching pad to the Power Five, he looked to the staff of one of the most profitable athletic departments in the country.
At the time, Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin wasn’t just a highly-regarded rising assistant in college football, he was also attainable for a Sun Belt program whose total athletic budget is roughly one-fifth of schools like Texas.
“He was making ($700,000) and that was pretty high,” Mohajir said. “It was pretty good money, but I was able to pay him more to be a head coach.”
Fueled by an explosion in the cost of hiring and retaining top-level assistants, however, the economics of grooming the next generation of head coaches has been turned on its head in less than a decade.
Whereas only five assistants in the country were making $1 million or more five years ago, that number has now exploded to 21 in the latest Sports college coaching salary survey, with seven of those making at least $1.5 million.
Led by LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, whose total basic compensation for this year is $2.5 million, the motivation for top programs to retain elite assistants has turned many of those jobs into more lucrative and potentially more secure opportunities than a significant portion of head coaching gigs in the Football Bowl Subdivision.