LITTLE ROCK — Happiness, talent, success, and class are some of the things on a list of “What Money Can’t Buy.”
On a less thought-provoking level, winning football games in the Southeastern Conference falls under that broad umbrella. Check out the salaries of coordinators in the league and their 2012 records and there is no hard-wired correlation between money paid and games won.
The subject comes up because of ado about Arkansas shelling out $3 million per year for the nine assistants on Bret Bielema’s staff, but that’s probably about mid-pack in the SEC.
In 2012, defensive coordinators Kirby Smart of Alabama and John Chavis of LSU were the highest paid assistants in the SEC at $950,000 and $900,000 and their units were top-notch. Right behind them were Auburn’s Brian VanGorder and Tennessee’s Sal Sunseri at $850,000 and $8000,000, let go when Gus Malzahn and Butch Jones were hired to take over.
Also caught in those house-cleanings were Tennessee’s Jim Chaney (Arkansas) and Auburn’s Scott Loeffler (Virginia Tech). In 2012, they were 2-3 among offensive coordinators at $550,000 and $500,000. Alabama’s Doug Nussmeier was no. 1 at $590,000 and LSU’s Greg Studrawa was tied with Loeffler.
No. 3 in the country in total offense, Texas A&M paid coordinator Kliff Kingsbury $400,000. Kentucky OC Randy Sanders made more than Mike Bobo at Georgia, which came within a completion of beating Alabama in the SEC championship game.
Quarterback Johnny Manziel and two superb offensive tackles improved Kingsbury’s play-calling; quarterback Aaron Murray and running back Todd Gurley did the same for Bobo. By the same token, Zach Mettenberger didn’t do much for Studrawa.
Arkansas needs better athletes to live up to expectations that come with the $550,000 salary of defensive coordinator Chris Ash and offensive coordinator Chaney, but the recruiting blitz by Bielema and his staff says the point is being addressed. The early-December day that Bielema was introduced, he mentioned the proverbial fence around Arkansas, and put Florida right there with Texas. He was dead serious.
Bielema, Charlie Partridge, Randy Shannon, Joel Thomas, and George McDonald, before he left for Syracuse, have been in Florida, contacting about a dozen athletes. Five have scheduled visits to Fayetteville. The last two weeks, the staff has scoured Texas, helped by the addition of wide receiver coach Michael Smith from Kansas State.
Bielema is out front with at least 20 in-home visits in Colorado, Oregon, Hawaii, Florida, and Arkansas. “He’s a tireless monster when it comes to that,” said Dudley Dawson, who stays on top of recruiting for Hawgs Illustrated.
Previously established relationships have paid dividends. Arkansas was not on safety Tiquention Coleman, offensive lineman Reeve Koehler of Hawaii, offensive lineman Dan Skipper of Colorado, or any of the Florida athletes until the new staff arrived.
When Bielema left Wisconsin, he promised himself he would not initiate contact with any players who had committed to the Badgers. On that list was Coleman, who took the first step, sending what Bielema called a “pretty detailed message.” Bielema let him think it over for a few days before responding and now Coleman is one of five junior college players who signed on in December.
Koehler said assistant Sam Pittman told him part of his move from Tennessee was that Arkansas had to offer Koehler a scholarship. Pittman’s pitch was probably a stretch, but it is clear that their lengthy relationship prompted his commitment to the Razorbacks.
So far, Arkansas has severed ties with more than a half-dozen athletes who committed to the previous staff and the recruiting class is on the improve. Arkansas has a long way to go to be in the conversation with the five SEC teams in ESPN’s top 10. Once Arkansas lands back-to-back top 20 classes, it will be easier to evaluate whether the coaches are worth the money.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.