Ole Miss coaching legend John Vaught once told me his top salary at Ole Miss was $27,000 a year.

That was what he made in 1970. In today’s money, that’s about $173,000. I think we can safely say Ole Miss got a bargain in a guy who won six Southeastern Conference championships and took the Rebels to eight Sugar Bowls and 18 bowls overall back when there weren’t that many bowls.

So why bring this up today?

Earlier this week, USA Today published a listing of the salaries of assistant coaches around the country. Assistant coaches, mind you. Wesley McGriff, the Ole Miss associate head coach and defensive coordinator, is the highest paid assistant coach in Mississippi. McGriff makes $1 million a year.

You have to wonder how much Vaught would make today – or, for that matter, how much Bruiser Kinard, Vaught’s right-hand man, would make.

You can access the USA Today list here. Spend a few minutes and you will find many interesting numbers, including these:

• Seven of the 10 highest paid assistant coaches in the USA coach in the SEC. None of them is named McGriff. At a million a year, McGriff ranks No. 15.

• Two of the top four highest paid assistants work for Ed Orgeron at LSU. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda makes $1.8 million. Offensive coordinator Matt Cananda makes $1,505,000, which doesn’t include the $375,000 LSU paid to buy out his contract from Pittsburgh.

• Even though LSU pas its coordinators handsomely, Alabama has the biggest dollar pool for assistant coaches. Tide full-time assistant coaches make a total of $5,995,000, slightly higher than LSU’s salary pool of $5,915,000. Keep in mind, that Alabama salary pool does not include money paid to Nick Saban’s army of analysts and consultants who assist the assistants. In case you are wondering, Alabama’s football budget is approximately $51 million. You should also know it more than pays for itself.

• Ole Miss won the recent Egg Bowl, and should have if you look at assistant coaches pay. Ole Miss paid its assistants a total of $4,075,000, compared to State’s $3,195,000.

• Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham ($660,000) was State’s highest paid coach and he presumably will get a healthy raise at Florida, where d-coordinator Randy Shannon made just under $1 million this year.

• The difference in assistants’ salaries at power five schools and the rest of Division I is astounding. Here’s a for instance: Eddie Gran, the Kentucky offensive coordinator makes $825,000. That’s $5,000 more than the combined salaries of all of Southern Miss assistant coaches. USM is getting a bargain because Kentucky just barely eked out a victory over USM this past September.

• Cash-strapped USM ranks last in coaches salaries in Conference USA and would be next to last in the Sun Belt. That’s at least partly because Shannon Dawson, USM’s offensive coordinator, was paid only $50,000 by USM, but was still being paid $1.375,000 from his buyout by Kentucky, which fired him in 2016.

Eighteen years ago, John Vaught and I worked together on a book. He was 91 but still mentally sharp as could be, and talked about the importance of hiring and keeping together a staff. He believed he had the best in college football for most of his career. I asked him how he kept them together.

“Number one, we paid them very well,” he said. “We paid them as much as smaller schools paid head coaches….Number two, we went to a bowl game every year so they almost always got a good bowl bonus. Number three, we were real close. We were like a football family. Number four, we won.”

They may have been paid well at the time, but those Ole Miss assistants of yesteryear never could have dreamed of the money being made for doing the same jobs today.


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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 12 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.

One reply on “SEC assistant coaches break the bank”

  1. Remember also that most colleges supplemented or “justified” pay of assistant football coaches by giving them additional athletic dept. duties. At Ole Miss, for example, Swayze coached baseball, Hovious golf, Cain tennis, Knight track, etc.

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