To reiterate something you already know: the passing game has never been better in college football. Twenty-eight teams posted season-long passing efficiency numbers of 150 or greater in 2020; that’s double the number from a decade ago.
As such, it’s never been more important to find a coach who can stop (or at least slow) the passing game. Or, short of that, to pay your defensive backs coaches as if they can.
As the importance of the passing game has grown, so have the numbers of people dedicated to that phase of the game. The default number of defensive backs on the field at a given time has grown from four to five, the number of defensive backs coaches on a given staff have grown as well.
Rare is the staff in 2021 that employs just a single defensive backs coach. In fact, it’s more common nowadays to see head coaches assign three assistants to the secondary compared to one. In Mike Leach’s case, he employs a safeties coach, a corners coach and a nickel backs coach — and pays the three of them a combined $1.225 million.
And while not too long ago it was assumed all defensive coordinators would also coach linebackers (because the mike ‘backer was the QB of the defense), it’s not always the case anymore. Sure, lots of coordinators also coach linebackers, but not all of them.
Many head coaches build their defensive staffs from the back forward. In 2021, the secondary often comes first.
And as you’ll see, at least 20 secondary coaches now earn at least half a million dollars a year.
1. Mike Elko, Texas A&M — $2.1 million*
2. Alex Grinch, Oklahoma — $1.8 million*
3. Barry Odom, Arkansas — $1.75 million*
4. Daronte Jones, LSU — $1.3 million*
5. Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin — $1.1 million*
6. Jay Bateman, North Carolina — $900,000*
7. Phil Parker, Iowa — $890,000*
8. Charles Kelly, Alabama — $800,000
9. Bryan Brown, Louisville — $750,000*
10. Terry Joseph, Texas — $750,000+
11. Maurice Linguist, Michigan — $680,000+
12. Nick Howell, Virginia — $650,000*
13. Chris Partridge, Ole Miss — $625,000+
14. Justin Hamilton, Virginia Tech — $600,000*
15. Corey Raymond, LSU — $575,000
16. Mike Reed, Clemson — $545,000
17. Mickey Conn, Clemson — $515,000
18. TJ Rushing, Texas A&M — $513,000
19. Jahmile Addae, Georgia — $500,000
19. Steve Clinkscale, Kentucky — $500,000
19. Tony Hughes, Mississippi State — $500,000+
19. Brian Norwood, UCLA — $500,000
* – Defensive coordinator
+ – Co-coordinator/passing game coordinator/assistant head coach
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— Ryan Day shuffled his staff following a national runner-up finish in 2020. Kerry Coombs and his $1.4 million salary is now a “walk-around” coordsainator and Matt Barnes is now the Buckeyes’ secondary coach, full stop. He earned $450,000 in 2021.
— We don’t yet know how much Auburn will pay defensive coordinator (and safeties coach) Derek Mason, nor cornerbacks coach Zac Etheridge.
— We also don’t yet know what Jay Valai will get to coach Alabama’s corners, but I’d bet it’s north of the half-million mark. The fastest-riser of the 2020-21 cycle landed at Alabama after just two seasons of on-field coaching, and walked away from an NFL job to don his crimson polo. Valai earned $300,000 at Texas in 2020; the man he replaced, Karl Scott (now with the Vikings), made $550,000.
— Torrian Gray took a pay cut in leaving Florida for South Carolina. After earning $461,5000 for Dan Mullen’s staff, he joins Shane Beamer’s new South Carolina staff on a 3-year deal that starts at $350,000 but his $500,000 by 2023.
— We don’t have salary information for Florida secondary coaches Wesley McGriff and Jules Montinar.
— Nothing’s been announced, but don’t be surprised if Wisconsin gives Jim Leonhard a new deal soon. The Badgers’ defensive coordinator nearly traded his Bucky head for a cheese head, turning down the Packers at the 11th hour. “I was about the door,” he told the Wisconsin State Journal last month.
— Arizona State’s staff page lists Chris Hawkins as the club’s lone defensive backs coach. The 2020 USA Today salary database lists his pay at $100,000, lowest of the 504 coaches on the list. (For the record, Antonio Pierce made $700,000 as ASU’s defensive coordinator, recruiting coordinator and associate head coach.)
— Listed as Tennessee’s sole defensive backs coach, Willie Martinez will make $425,000 in 2021.