I remember homecoming at Mississippi State 1996. We played Northeast Louisiana and the team ran out through butcher paper- like my high school team did. There was no East side upper deck, I don’t believe there were even any bleachers in the end zone. In fact, thoughts of enclosing Scott Field and building a football only facility were a pipe dream. We had Jackie Sherrill- a very good football coach who was at MSU in large part because he had debatable issues with the NCAA- but for a “program like MSU” he was worth the gamble. Joe Lee Dunn was our defensive coordinator and he was there in large part because he was so eccentric, not very many of the traditional teams such as Alabama wanted to use his “gimmicks”. But again, for a “program like MSU” he was well worth the gamble and helped us level the playing field. Before Jackie, we had Rocky Felker as our head coach in large part because we were not willing to pay someone- such as Steve Spurrier – in the 80′s to come to MSU. At the time, we did not have the money, the tradition, or the fan support- and we were probably doing about as well as we possibly could at the time.
Now, at this point- I know what many of you are thinking. “Great! Another we should be happy that we are an eight win team and we’ve come a long way from Charley Shira. Well, excuse me Todd for being upset at our bad performance at the end of the year”. If you’ve made it this far- this is actually the article you want to read and what you want to hear- because I believe it has answers to what MSU fans REALLY want to know. How do we move our football program forward from where it is today? I think you will be surprised at how simple the answer really is as well.
So, why the nostalgia in the first paragraph? Oh- by the way, we won 59-0. I mentioned that because at some point, people at MSU said you know what? We ARE going to compete. We ARE going to spend money. The result is what we have been seeing in recent years- stadium expansions, a new football facility being built, a head football coach that came from a former National Champion that until we hired him, had no ties to MSU and is by far the highest profile head coach we have had since Sherrill. No doubt we have made a LOT of progress over the past ten years, but there is one area that we are really lacking, and I think it has showed up on the field in the form of lack of creativity on offense, defense, and also at times off the field in recruiting. And no, I’m not talking about Dan- I’m talking about his assistants.
I believe that we have had issues in those three areas because we do not pay enough to have good assistants. Now, you as a fan can blame Dan all you want. And sure, some of it does go back to him. But with our assistants- that’s kind of like blaming Robert E Lee for losing the Civil War because his army didn’t have enough guns.
Now, MSU does pay their assistants more than the national average- which is 201,000 dollars. However, as of 2011 (most up to date info I could find), that was only good for around 10th in the then 12 team SEC. (Vanderbilt does not release salary info as they are a private institution). Granted, while my numbers are a little dated, I do believe that they are relevant enough to get the point across as our current coaches salaries have only increased very slightly since then.
Here are our coaches salaries from 2011:
Chris Wilson, co-defensive coordinator — $300,000
Geoff Collins, co-defensive coordinator — 280,000
John Hevesy, offensive line coach — 275,000
Les Koenning, quarterbacks coach — $275,000
Melvin Smith, cornerbacks coach — $225,000
Greg Knox, running backs coach — $220,000
Tony Hughes, safeties/recruiting coordinator — 205,000
Scott Sallach, tight ends coach — $135,000
Angelo Mirando, receivers coach — $75,000
As another point of reference, here are the top assistant coaches salaries from 2011:
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn $1,309,600
Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis $875,000
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart $851,500
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham $755,900
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis $708,000
South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson $705,180
LSU quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe $700,000
Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox $625,000
Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney $525,000
Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain $516,000
So, based on this relatively speaking, we are paying our coordinators about 200,000 dollars less than the top SEC programs. Now, as a result of that, we have ended up with coordinators that are either retreads- such as Carl Torbush or Les Koenning who have seen better days, or we’ve had to take chances on guys with very little experience such as Chris Wilson and Manny Diaz, and if we happened to land a coach like Diaz that was really good, we had to sit by and watch a larger program such as Texas buy them away from us.
By now, I think the answer to the question is obvious. If we want to move forward in the SEC and continue to compete at a high level and not have to watch stale offenses like ours this year, and disorganized defenses like this year, we NEED to pay for better assistant coaches. And Scott Stricklin and the MSU administration need to make this priority number one right at the moment. And now is the time to do it in light of rumors that there will be “some changes” in the coaching staff. Replaced those that need to be replaced and pay those that are doing what they should do and deserve it to keep them. And I believe that we can do that if our athletic administration is willing to spend by my unofficial calculations around 1.5 million more dollars- which was surprising to me because that’s a lot less than I thought it was going to be. I believe we can get a really good offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator for 500K-600K apiece. I also believe that we should pay Tim Brewster and Tony Hughes our recruiting coordinators between 400-500K apiece as well.
I know what you are thinking- um….Todd…aren’t we building a bunch of things for our football program? Do we have this money, and where is it going to come from?
Good questions- and my answer is this. We have put 70 million into the Bulldog Club the past two years. 31 million of that is going towards the stadium expansion and the new football facility. That leaves 39 million to spend on everything else. All I’m asking for is 1.5 million of that. And obviously, once those facilities are built, we will have money coming in since we won’t have to build something major every year.
MSU football has a ton of potential. Just like 1996, all it took was MSU willing to spend to get closer to that potential. Personally, I think Dan Mullen is a very good football coach- but for all he has done, I feel like he deserves to have good assistants to help him reach his goals at MSU. And I think Scott should go ahead and up the ante to help him get some really good coordinators to help him out.