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B1G keeps pace with coach investments

1/9/2015

When the coaching carousel stops and all the moves and non-moves are assessed, Penn State's retention of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop could be overlooked.

There have been bigger moves nationally and in the Big Ten, none more so than Michigan's hiring of Jim Harbaugh to lead its struggling program. There have been more notable assistant transactions, such as Oklahoma dumping offensive coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell. Shoop, appearing Thursday on Pittsburgh's TribLive Radio, even said his brief flirtation with LSU was "a little blown out of proportion. When it ultimately came down to it, it really wasn't much of a decision."

But make no mistake: this is a big deal, not just for Penn State but for the Big Ten. Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman reported that Shoop will receive a new three-year contract from Penn State valued at around $1 million annually.

Shoop isn't the first Big Ten coordinator to make that kind of money -- Michigan State made a similar commitment to then-defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi last February. But the move shows that Penn State can step up in a competitive market to keep a top aide for James Franklin, a head coach it brought in for more than $4 million per year.

Until recently, Penn State hadn't been known as a place that shelled out big bucks for coaches. Joe Paterno obviously had a lot to do with it, as his salary, even in his final years, was well below that of less-accomplished coaches. But the Shoop raise, following Franklin's contract and a raise for former coach Bill O'Brien in 2013, underscores that Penn State has caught up.

So has the Big Ten.

The league adjusted slower to the salary surge than others. In 2010, the league had no assistants among the top 10 in salary and just one in the top 30. The SEC, at the time, had 14 assistants among the top 30 earners.

Michigan began the shift when it brought in defensive coordinator Greg Mattison for $750,000. Ohio State and others followed with stronger commitments. But Bret Bielema cited assistant pay at Wisconsin as one of the reasons he left for Arkansas in 2012. Moves like this and this suggested that Big Ten teams were vulnerable to losing top assistants for seemingly lateral moves.

The SEC's reign atop college football infuriated Big Ten fans, especially as the Big Ten was repeatedly dragged through the mud. But the SEC also raised the bar for investment in the sport.

When the Pac-12 coaches visited ESPN headquarters in July, each one of them mentioned the league-wide investment in facilities, coaches' salaries and other areas. That's the SEC effect.

ACC schools Clemson and now Louisville are paying top dollar for top assistants (Clemson has done so for years).

The Big Ten had even more resources to sink into football. In October 2013, I wrote about the disconnect between Big Ten revenue and Big Ten on-field results.

"I think we spend enough to be successful," league commissioner Jim Delany told me at the time. "Our coaches are good. We have 85 scholarships. Spending more money in football doesn't necessarily mean it's better."

But spending more money on the right coaches is a big step toward improvement. Urban Meyer, arguably the nation's best head coach at hiring assistants, has the resources to do so. Michigan State not only took care of Mark Dantonio after the Rose Bowl, amid interest from Texas and others, but boosted salaries for Dantonio's loyal staff.

Michigan, an athletic program flush with cash, spent a lot on Harbaugh, a potential program savior, and provided assurances that he can hire elite assistants. The process already has begun with D.J. Durkin, the former Florida defensive coordinator, who takes the same post at Michigan. Harbaugh is assembling a strong staff from both the college and pro ranks.

Penn State committed to Shoop before things got more serious with LSU. Like Penn State, the Tigers boast tremendous tradition on defense and regularly churn out top NFL prospects. Top defensive coordinators are in demand around the SEC, which is throwing around insane salaries for them. Shoop could have stepped into a great situation in Baton Rouge. Instead, he chose to remain in what he considers a great situation at Penn State.

Although the Big Ten is losing two of its top assistants, Narduzzi and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, both men left for solid head-coaching positions. It would have been much worse if they had taken coordinator jobs in other leagues simply because of the money.

Shoop isn't the only rising-star defensive coordinator the Big Ten should retain in 2015. Dave Aranda, who has elevated Wisconsin's defense in two years with his creative scheme, will remain in his post with new coach Paul Chryst. Aranda deserves a nice raise, so it will be interesting to see what Wisconsin does for him.

The silly season isn't over and there will be other assistant coaching transactions in the Big Ten. But the Shoop retention and moves like it show that the Big Ten is serious about its coaches.

Again, the league can't move its campuses to the South or scrap its athletic philosophy or academic standards. But the money is there, and it has been there, and the right investments are being made.