SEC teams are shelling out crazy money for assistants, but Todd Grantham is worth every penny
I could almost hear the collective groan when Todd Grantham’s salary went public Tuesday.
Let me correct myself.
I could almost hear the collective groan when Todd Grantham’s record-setting salary went public Tuesday.
It’s true that the Gators have never paid an assistant as much as the $1.39 million that their new defensive coordinator will make in 2018. It’s also true that thanks to Dave Aranda, who is a few months removed from signing a record-setting deal for $2.5 million annually at LSU, that contracts for assistants are sky-rocketing faster than Tua Tagovailoa’s stock.
We’re now living in a world where coaches like Grantham and Aranda are making comparable salaries to Group of 5 head coaches (Aranda is actually set to earn more than what 14 Power 5 coaches made in 2017). It’s a crazy reality that, in my opinion, is only going to distance the gap between Group of 5 schools and Power 5 programs.
But while I have some reservations about those soaring assistants contracts, I’m still a capitalist who believes that everyone should be able to make as much money as the market deems worthy.
Grantham not just the product of a bloated market. He’s absolutely worth the $1.39 million that he’ll make in 2018 (it increases $100,000 every year).
If you don’t agree with that, perhaps you slept through 2017.
Rewind to the end of the 2016 season when Mississippi State was coming off a 6-7 season under Dan Mullen. They only got to play in a bowl game because their APR gave them a rare opportunity to do so with 5 wins. They only won that bowl game because Miami (OH) forgot how to kick field goals.
What does any of that have to do with Grantham? Oh yeah. Mullen couldn’t fix MSU’s defense, which finished 93rd in scoring. So at season’s end, he went out and hired Grantham to do just that. And what did Grantham do in his one season in Starkville? You guessed it. He fixed the defense.
MSU went from 93rd to 26th in scoring defense. While Mullen’s offense might have gotten more attention, it actually only improved by 1.6 points per game from 2016. Grantham’s blitz-happy defense was the reason that MSU went from a team that only made a bowl game because of a technicality to a team that finished in the Associated Press Top 25.
Needless to say, the well-traveled Grantham was worth more than the $660,000 that he made in 2017 (No. 48 among assistants according to USA Today). As soon as the dust settled on Mullen’s somewhat surprising departure to Florida, a second thought probably crept into the minds of MSU fans.
“Man, I really hope Joe Moorhead can keep Grantham on board.”
I don’t know what those negotiations started at, but based on where they finished, I doubt anything less than a new 7-figure deal was discussed. Whether he genuinely meant it or not, it turned out to be a pretty wise move by Grantham to say before the 2017 season that he was tired of moving his family and that he hoped to stay in Starkville (it was his seventh home in 16 years).
Obviously it was going to take a big chunk of change to get Grantham to follow Mullen to Florida. But after seeing the jolt that Grantham provided at MSU, you knew Mullen was going to try and use Florida’s deep pockets to his advantage.
That’s why Grantham is set to earn more money than all but 4 assistants made in 2017. With Cece Jefferson playing the Montez Sweat role of rush end and key returners like David Reese back, the expectation is that Florida will turn around its defense overnight while Mullen takes the more long-term approach to fixing the offense.
But maybe this just speaks to the change in perspective of how assistants are valued. We’re seeing more coaches who are super advanced on one side of the ball who turn around and spend big bucks for coordinators to cover their non-area of expertise. It happened all over the SEC this offseason.
Look at Tennessee, where defensive-minded Jeremy Pruitt hired USC quarterbacks coach Tyson Helton for $1.2 million to revamp the Vols’ offense. Compare that to the $655,000 that previous Tennessee OC Larry Scott made under “offensive-minded” Butch Jones.
Arkansas did the same thing. It went out and hired offensive guru Chad Morris as its next head coach, and then it paid John Chavis just shy of $1 million to turn around the No. 114 scoring defense in FBS.
This isn’t just a trend for programs with new head coaches leading their first big-time programs. Texas A&M paid offensive-minded Jimbo Fisher $75 million guaranteed and then lured Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko with $1.8 million annually, which was as much as any assistant made in 2017. That all went down after Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly called the surging coordinator salaries “ridiculous” (Kelly also tried to shoot down rumors that Elko would leave South Bend, but money talks).
Call me crazy, but Grantham’s new contract doesn’t sound so “ridiculous” given the context. He’s still only making roughly a quarter of Mullen’s salary (Aranda’s $2.5 million is 71 percent of Ed Orgeron’s $3.5 million). For a guy who played a massive part in turning around MSU, it’s easy to justify that Grantham was worth the price that it took to get him to Gainesville.
It feels like we’re finally seeing athletic directors give into head coaches’ desires to ramp up their pools for assistant salaries. Shoot, Bret Bielema only went to Arkansas because Wisconsin refused to budge on paying assistants more. For better or worse, we’re seeing that trend turn around.
Grantham’s salary is a big part of a record-setting $4.74 million that Florida will pay its assistants in 2018. That’s $1.44 million more than the $3.3 million that Jim McElwain got for his staff in 2015. For all you math nerds, that’s a 44 percent increase in just 3 years. And by the way, neither of McElwain’s coordinators started with $500,000 salaries. If that doesn’t show you how much the market has changed, nothing will.
There’s no doubt that Grantham benefitted greatly from this assistant salary boom. He certainly picked the perfect time to lead a defensive turnaround.
If and when he does that again, nobody will balk at that $1.39 million.