Thursday, June 25, 2009

Damn semantics

To recap: last January, the JCCW posited that Tennessee's and Auburn's commitment to spending far more money on their assistant coaches than at any point in their program's history while simultaneously spending less (far less in Auburn's case) on their new head coaches than their predecessors might represent "perhaps a new way of financial thinking in the SEC." Blutarsky responded with skepticism. The JCCW responded with silly pictures. Earlier this week, Rocky Top Talk made a similar argument regarding Kiffin. Blutarsky responded, again with skepticism. The JCCW responded to that response.

That brings us to this new post from Blutarsky in response to that response. And it's tough to take too much issue with it. Unsurprisingly, it's a compelling, convincing argument that faced with a potential choice between the usual "break the bank to hire the biggest, best name we can" plan and an Auburn/Tennessee-like "hire a n00b but make him look better by throwing bushels of money at this assistants" blueprint, no AD is actually going to choose the latter--including Jay Jacobs and Mike Hamilton, who weren't making a choice so much as simply doing the best they could with what appeared to be a less-than-optimal pool of candidates to choose from. (I'd maintain that any pool in which Brian Kelly is still coaching at Cincinnati is a perfectly optimal pool, but that's neither here nor there.) So Auburn and Tennessee aren't so much "new models" for other schools to follow as just, well, a pair of programs who happened to make the same hires any school like Auburn and Tennessee would have made in similar circumstances.

So I won't argue that there's perhaps no "new model" here. But there's some crossed wires in the semantics here--no, maybe Auburn's not a "model," but that doesn't mean they're not something new. Blutarsky writes:
(T)he reason that there isn’t a traditional gap between Lane’s and Monte’s salaries is because there’s a huge gap between their resumes. At some point in time, this deal got sold to Hamilton and the UT fan base as a package arrangement. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
My first response to this was Wait ... isn't whether the Kiffins and possibly Chizik/Malzahn/Luper represent "package deals" or not what we're arguing about? Certainly, expecting other schools to discover their own "package deals" isn't likely, and yeah, Jacobs and Hamilton would have taken a better non-package deal if there would have been one available.

But there's still the matter I tried to emphasize last time: maybe these "package deals" aren't models, aren't revolutionary, aren't anything to get overexcited about from a "future of football" standpoint ... but how many other package deals have we had at programs like Auburn and Tennessee? Any? Whatever the thought process--or, sure, the lack thereof--that brought us the Kiffin Chimera and the Chizik-eclipsing Luper-and-Trooper Show, this isn't the sort of thing we've seen before, is it? Has an SEC football coach ever made a collective $1.3 million less than his own assistants?

Blutarsky writes
Why does it matter, anyway? Why are we getting all the chest beating about a new economic order from the ADs, the coaches and their supporters?
The chest-beating, yeah, that could be toned down, I guess. But the reason it matters is because it's interesting. It's different. The cult of the college football coach has dictated forever and ever that a team will eventually be as good or as bad as its head coach--don't Auburn and Tennessee represent an excellent chance to put that hypothesis to the test? No one would ever confuse "5-19 Gene" as a head coach anywhere near on par with, say, Steve Spurrier, right? So what do we do if Chizik succeeds while Spurrier keeps floundering in Columbia? We've been told a thousand times from a thousand different non-Knoxville directions that Lane Kiffin is a bumbling Mr. Magoo of a head coach (a view I largely agree with)--if his Dad's defense wins 9 games this year pretty much singlehandedly, doesn't that mean that Tennessee's head coach being an idiot would be a non-issue? Wouldn't the Tigers' and Vols' success--or failure--at least make us think about the relationship not head coaching salaries and victory, but between assistant salaries and victories? And have we ever really considered that a factor before?

What interests me (and what I suspects interests Blutarsky) about the Chizik and Kiffin hires isn't really the steps or decisions, on their part or the part of their administrations, that have brought them to this point; it's what happens next. A "new model"? Eh, maybe not. A fascinating, possibly unrepeatable experiment? Yeah, I think so.

A quick p.s.: I do also have to disagree with Blutarsky when he says that Chizik and Kiffin aren't at least a little on the underpaid side. Remember that Auburn and Tennessee are among the richest football programs and athletic departments in the country.... but that their head football coaches are still both currently making less than the coaches at Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, or Virginia? No, they're not underpaid based on what their respective resumes would call for, but you would expect the title of "Auburn/Tennessee head football coach" to come with a certainly salary scale of its own. If Kiffin (who was initially greeted in most corners as a sensible hire, until he started flapping his gums) was being paid as much as Fulmer was, would anybody really have cared? If Chizik has been earning $2.3 million instead of $1.9 million, would anybody outside of the Auburn budget-keepers have blinked an eye? To me, that says that for the time being the two of them are earning a little less than full wages.


KungFuPanda9 said...

As soon as Chizik wins some games, his salary will go up. I see that kinda like probation. The schools don't want to get burned by these fairly young coaches with a somewhat cloudy resume.

However, they see something in these guys that they like. So, they will get paid for success. A reasonable business model.

Big names = big bucks.

Chizik will make a name for himself at Auburn.

Stan said...

As someone who once worked on an SEC football coaching staff, I've wondered for years why some schools didn't decide to spend more on great assistants. In fact, I've wondered why some head coaches didn't voluntarily shift some of their own pay to lure a top assistant or two.

This especially true of the Kentucky, Ole Miss, SC type schools. An extra hundred grand or two to lure the best recruiters around would pay off far better than trying to hire a big name coach.

Perhaps UT and AU didn't do it on purpose, but it is a damn good idea.