LSU was the first college football program to decide it was cool with paying an assistant coach more than $2 million per season. The Tigers gave defensive coordinator Dave Aranda a four-year, $10 million extension in January 2018, bumping his $1.8 million in pay from 2017 up to a $2.5 million average.
LSU was the first school to breach the $2 million mark, but Clemson has now joined it there. The Tigers are giving DC Brent Venables $2.3 million per year for five years, Yahoo’s Pete Thamel reports. The total of $11.6 million on the Venables contract makes it the richest by total value ever given to a college assistant, though not quite the richest annually.
At $1.7 million in 2017, Venables was already the sport’s second-highest paid assistant behind Aranda at $1.8, according to USA Today’s database.
Venables’ deal, like Aranda’s before it, is all about keeping an elite assistant from leaving for a head coaching job.
Venables is regarded as one of the elite coordinators in college football. For years he’s been extremely selective about head coaching opportunities, and this contract by Clemson is a proactive, strategic way to ensure that he’d only leave Clemson for a blue-blood head coaching job. The contract essentially prices Venables out of jobs in the Group of Five conferences and gives him incentive to be even more particular about Power Five head coaching jobs.
There’s no buyout for Venables to take a head coaching job, but if Venables were to leave for another assistant coaching position he’d have to pay 25 percent of the total remaining on the agreement.
At $2.3 million per year, Venables would’ve made more money in 2017 than every mid-major head coach and a handful of Power 5 bosses, too. He’s a former player and assistant at Kansas State and is occasionally floated as a eventual, potential replacement for 78-year-old K-State head coach Bill Snyder. But the guy who’s led Clemson’s defense to three straight Playoff appearances and assembled a monster for 2018 would be a good hire at lots of places. The Tigers’ hope, like LSU’s with Aranda, is that he’ll hang around for a while.
Someone else will pay a coordinator north of $2 million per year soon, and then another team will, and then another and another.
The fear of falling behind is a strong motivator.
As always when discussing milestones in coaching salaries, remember that big-time college athletic programs don’t have enough money to let players be paid.