There were four head coaches hired in the 13-team Mid-American Conference this hiring season. Three were no-brainers. Dino Babers left Eastern Illinois for Bowling Green, Chris Creighton departed Drake for Eastern Michigan and Mark Whipple, who sat out the 2013 season, returned to Massachusetts.
And then there's the case of new Miami (Ohio) head coach Chuck Martin. A step up the coaching ladder actually cost him a $200,000 pay cut. Martin was slated to make $650,000 as Notre Dame's offensive coordinator, but turned it down in order to take a five-year deal at Miami (Ohio) for $450,000 a year.
“I think the [top schools] are trying to put you in a position that you can’t take these jobs, which makes sense; they’re trying to keep their assets in house and eliminate as many possibilities for them moving in another direction,” Martin said. “There aren’t too many people crazy enough to do what I did.”
It's an interesting conundrum that the Toledo Blade tackled on Sunday. The average MAC head coach made $400,143 in 2013. Eight BCS assistants made twice as much as that last season, and a whopping 80 assistants earned more than that figure, according to USA Today. In fact, the Blade notes, Bill Cubit actually got a $20,000 raise in between getting let go as Western Michigan's head coach and landing a job as Illinois' offensive coordinator.
“What’s troubling for me is we used to in the MAC, when we needed a coach, look at the 10 to 12 best coordinators out there,” Akron athletics director Tom Wistrcill told the paper. “That was your starter pool. Now if you’re going to hire someone from there your first thought is if we’re paying $400,000 and they’re making $800,000 they’re probably not coming.
"Two years from now, they’ll be making a million or two million as a coordinator, and we’ll still be paying $500,000 or something like that.”
How can the MAC possibly compete for top coaching talent in such an environment?
In some ways, they aren't. In fact, it appears the landscape has already shifted. For decades, the tried-and-true career path to the big time for a coordinator, especially in Big Ten country, was to take a MAC head job and then springboard to a major school. But of the 13 current MAC head coaches, only three - Martin, Kent State's Paul Haynes and Buffalo's Jeff Quinn - arrived from a BCS coordinator job.
As salaries for top-level coordinators have risen, the MAC has turned to alternate avenues for hiring head coaches. Four current coaches were hired away from lower-level programs (Babers, Akron's Terry Bowden, Creighton and Ball State's Pete Lembo), two were temporarily out of work (Whipple and Ohio's Frank Solich), two were promoted from within (Toledo's Matt Campbell and Northern Illinois' Rod Carey), and two were position coaches before getting MAC jobs (Central Michigan's Dan Enos and Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck).
Alternatively, being forced to look a little harder may not be a bad thing for MAC schools looking to fill a vacancy. In his quest to replace Don Treadwell, hired away from Michigan State's offensive coordinator role, Miami (Ohio) athletics director David Sayler commissioned a study that found half of all BCS coordinators hired in the past decade were failures. Of course, that didn't stop him from hiring Martin - and that didn't stop Martin from taking the job, either.
For top-level coordinators, the MAC is still a yellow brick road to the eight-figure guaranteed paydays offered by the Power Five conferences. You just might have to take a pay cut to get there.
“What we talk about is if you come here and do the job we all think you’re going to do, you’ll triple that salary in four years,” Sayler said. “Some people aren’t willing to wait that long.”