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Big Red Business: Salary scale and how Frost’s staff stacks up

Nebraska may not have any million-dollar-assistants on Scott Frost’s coaching staff, but the salaries are trending higher, much higher in some cases.

Six of Frost’s 10 on-field assistants earn between $400,000 and $800,000. That includes the newest assistant, Matt Lubick, who signed a two-year, $500,000 annual contract in late January, according to contract terms released last week by the athletic department.

A seventh coach, head football strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval, also is in that club.

While the number of assistant coaches in that pay range is the same as from Frost’s original staff in 2018, the names on the paychecks and the money being spread around is different in some cases to reflect merit upgrades, new responsibilities and new hires.

Nebraska will spend $4.8 million of their allotted $5 million on assistant coach salaries for 2020.
Nebraska will spend $4.8 million of their allotted $5 million on assistant coach salaries for 2020. (Associated Press)

Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander is the highest-paid assistant at $800,000. Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud, a former Nebraska star and National Football League veteran, is the lowest paid, at $225,000 annually.

Frost’s salary pool for the 10 assistants plus Duval is about $4.750 million, down from the original pool two years ago of $5 million, of which only $4.8 million was actually spent. That’s an indication that Nebraska is not just throwing money around.

With the salary pool, Nebraska stands at around No. 19 in the country. Number one on the list is Clemson, which pays its 10 full-time field assistants a combined $8.145 million.

In the Big 10 conference, Nebraska is No. 4 or 5, according to data compiled by USA Today in 2019. (It’s hard to be precise because Penn State and Northwestern are not publicly required to release numbers.)

Those rankings are about the same as two years ago when Frost was hired.

Ohio State with a salary pool of at $7.4 million, Iowa at $6.1 million and Michigan at $6.01 million are ranked ahead of Nebraska, according to USA Today and other data.

But those numbers are constantly in flux this time of the year. Ohio State, for example, just shelled out $1.2 million to lure Kerry Coombs away from the Tennessee Titans to become the Buckeyes’ co-defensive coordinator. He becomes the highest-paid assistant football coach in Ohio State history, and the second on the staff earning more than $1 million.

Iowa, coming off a top 15 finish, boosted its salary pool for its 10 on-field assistants and head strength coach by $660,000 for the next fiscal year to about $6.1 million, an athletic department spokesman said.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker and strength coach Chris Doyle are the highest paid on Kirk Ferentz’s staff. In fact, Doyle is considered the highest-paid strength coach in college football.

On the flip side, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Purdue appear to be just behind Nebraska.

What do all the dollar signs mean? Schools are willing to shell out big bucks to assemble a staff of top-flight assistants who know their X’s and O’s, can scheme better than their rivals, are passionate about recruiting, and can coach-up players. Paying big bucks doesn’t always translate into success on Saturdays -- as Nebraska fans know all too well with the disastrous hiring of Bob Diaco who lasted one year as Mike Riley’s defensive coordinator -- but in many cases, it does.

Newly hired offensive coordinator Matt Lubick will make $500,000 in 2020.
Newly hired offensive coordinator Matt Lubick will make $500,000 in 2020. (Getty Images)

Opening the checkbook 

Since the end of the 2019 season, Frost has rewarded two staffers with big pay boosts, and has hired two coaches who will earn hefty paychecks.

Secondary coach Travis Fisher received the biggest boost in the off-season -- a $125,000 raise to $450,000. Running backs coach Ryan Held earned a $100,000 boost to $400,000 while also being named recruiting coordinator.

At the start of the 2019 season, offensive line coach Greg Austin, Ruud and Fisher each earned $25,000 raises. Austin, who now earns $500,000 annually and is the second-highest paid assistant on the staff, was recently tabbed with additional responsibilities as run game coordinator.

Frost also filled two vacancies on his staff in January.

*Mike Dawson returned to Nebraska after a year in the NFL to take over as outside linebacker coach. The former defensive line coach replaced JoVan Dewitt who joined Mack Brown’s staff at North Carolina.

Dawson will earn $325,000 this year, according to his contract. But his salary will jump to $500,000 in March 2021, and to $550,000 in January 2022. He’s also in line for a retention bonus of $100,000 if he remains at Nebraska through April 2022, according to contract terms.

Dawson made $475,000 in his one year at Nebraska.

DeWitt earned $475,000 last year.

*Matt Lubick takes over as offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, replacing Troy Walters. He signed a two-year contract at $500,000 annually. That’s less than Walters earned, as the second-highest paid assistant at $700,000 annually.

Lubick, who coached with Frost for three seasons at Oregon from 2013 to 2015, worked in private business last year. He succeeded Frost as Oregon’s offensive coordinator in 2016 and earned $603,600, according to USA Today data.

In 2017 and 2018, he was the offensive coordinator at Washington, and earned $475,000, so he took a $25,000 raise with the Nebraska job.

Erik Chinander and Travis Fisher are the two highest paid coaches on Nebraska's defensive staff.
Erik Chinander and Travis Fisher are the two highest paid coaches on Nebraska's defensive staff. (Nate Clouse)

Rounding out the salary pool

Here’s the salary breakdown in 2020. The contracts all run through December 2021.


Offensive coaches
Coach/Title Salary

Matt Lubick

Offensive coordinator/Wide receivers

$500,000

Greg Austin

Run game coordinator/Offensive line

$500,000

Sean Beckton

Tight ends coach

$400,000

Ryan Held

Running backs coach/Recruiting coordinator

$400,000

Mario Verduzco

Quarterbacks coach

$375,000

Defensive coaches
Coach/Title Salary

Erik Chinander

Defensive coordinator

$800,000

Travis Fisher
Secondary coach

$450,000

Tony Tuioti

Defensive line coach

$375,000

Mike Dawson

Outside linebackers coach

$325,000

Barrett Ruud

Inside linebackers coach

$225,000

Broken down another way, the five offensive coaches earn $2.175 million, while the five on defense are also paid $2.175 million.

Strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval earns $400,000, up $25,000 from his first-year at Nebraska in 2018.


Former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini will make more as LSU's defensive coordinator ($2.3 million), than what Nebraska pays their entire defensive staff combined ($2.175 million).
Former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini will make more as LSU's defensive coordinator ($2.3 million), than what Nebraska pays their entire defensive staff combined ($2.175 million). (Getty Images)

The millionaires clubs

Nebraska has never paid an assistant football coach more than $1 million. The only coach within sniffing distance of that sum was Bob Diaco, who earned a Nebraska record $825,000 in his one season as Nebraska’s defensive coordinator in the Riley regime.

Diaco was recently hired to run Purdue’s defense in 2020. His salary was not yet publicly available.

All in all, at least 25 assistant coaches earn at least $1 million, according to USA Today data. About half of those are from the SEC, five are from the ACC, while two are from Michigan and now two from Ohio State.

Atop the ladder is Auburn defensive coordinator and former Nebraska assistant Kevin Steele. He was awarded a new contract last week that pays $2.5 million annually through 2022. Previously he earned $1.9 million, fourth-highest on the list, according to USA Today.

He supplanted former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who earned $2.5 million before taking over in January as Baylor’s head coach.

No. 2 just might be Bo Pelini, who reportedly signed a three-year contract at $2.3 million annually as Aranda’s replacement at LSU. Pelini earned $3.075 million in his final year as Nebraska’s head coach.

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who earns $2.2 million annually, is No. 3.

As for Nebraska’s Erik Chinander, at least 45 coaches -- including numerous defensive coordinators -- earn more than the $800,000 he takes home annually, based on the USA Today salary survey.

Clemson has nine different assistant coaches that make $500,000 or more. Their total staff pay for 2020 is set to be $8.145 million.
Clemson has nine different assistant coaches that make $500,000 or more. Their total staff pay for 2020 is set to be $8.145 million. (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Deep diving in the salary pool

What’s the going rate for paying a staff of assistants? Start at $4.5 to $5 million.

That seems to be the minimum amount of money that schools in powerhouse conferences are allocating to paying a staff of 10 assistants. Consider these three schools that underwent head coaching changes, which meant a new staff of assistants:

*Arkansas’ new head coach Sam Pittman was allotted $5 million to build his staff. His two highest-paid assistants are defensive coordinator Barry Odom, at $1.2 million, and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles at $1 million.

*New Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach has a pool of $4.7 million to spend on his new staff.

*Missouri has a pool of $5.2 million for 10 assistants. The highest paid is defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, who is scheduled to earn $800,000 annually.

At smaller non-Power Five schools, the salaries are on a different scale. For example Wyoming, Boise State, and Fresno State have assistant salary pools of $1.85 million, $2.13 million, and $2 million respectively. Wyoming and Boise State played in bowl games this past season.

Steve Rosen covers the business of sports for HuskerOnline. Questions, comments, story ideas? Reach Steve at sbrosen1030@gmail.com.