If you’re building a football team from scratch and can only be elite at one position, you would definitely take an elite quarterback over anything else. That’s indisputable. A best-in-class quarterback makes life so much easier for the rest of the offense, especially in modern college football, that you simply couldn’t pass one up if given the option. But once that’s off the table, you’d rather be elite along your defensive line than anywhere else.
All four of the 2019 College Football Playoff participants ranked among the top 16 nationally in passing efficiency. They were also all in the top 21 in sacks, and in the top 23 in tackles for loss. Clemson’s 2018 national championship team led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss.
We’ve all seen those Twitter posts where you’re given $15 to build a mythical roster with options ranging from $5 to $1, right? College football head coaches get to play that game in real life, and they’re spending $5 on their defensive line coaches.
As always, the bulk of the information here comes from USA Today‘s coaching salary database.
1. Larry Johnson, Ohio State — $900,000
2. Rodney Garner, Auburn — $700,000
3. Joe Salave’a, Oregon — $650,000
4. Brick Haley, Missouri — $625,000
5. Odell Haggins, Florida State — $525,000
5. Tracy Rocker, South Carolina — $525,000
7. Todd Bates, Clemson — $515,000
8. Terry Price, Texas A&M — $508,000
9. Lemanski Hall, Clemson — $500,000
9. Freddie Roach, Alabama — $500,000
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— Larry Johnson is the highest-paid coach at $900,000, but Clemson spends more on defensive line coaching than any other school at $1.15 million. In a related note, Ohio State led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss in 2019. Clemson did both in 2018, as mentioned above.
— Florida State’s John Papuchis technically belongs on this list with a $550,000 salary, but he’s also the Seminoles’ special teams coordinator. We’re trying to isolate the value of defensive line coaching here.
— Before he left for Michigan State, Mel Tucker lamented the loss of Jimmy Brumbaugh to Tennessee, saying there was nothing he could do to keep him at Colorado since Tennessee doubled his salary. We don’t yet know what Tennessee will pay him, but we do know his CU salary was set to jump from $175,000 to $450,000.
— Derrick LeBlanc earned a $125,000 raise in moving from Kentucky to Arkansas. He now makes $450,000.
— Ron Burton earned $462,000 on Mark Dantonio’s staff in 2019. He had previously agreed to leave for Indiana after Dantonio left, but pulled a U-turn at the border to remain at Michigan State on Mel Tucker’s staff. Considering Tucker has $6 million to spend on his assistants, it’s possible Burton is now above $500,000, or at least $462,000.
— Mark Hagen made $408,000 at Indiana before leaving for Texas. Oscar Giles made $400,000 coaching UT’s defensive ends and tackles last season, so it’ll be interesting to see what both earn in 2020 with split duties (Hagen with the tackles, Giles with the ends).
— Georgia’s Tray Scott was the last one out at $470,000.
— Twenty entries in, the total number of non-SEC/Clemson coaches: 6.