Current Date: Tue, 11 Mar 2014 00:04:28 -0400
Seth Littrell didn’t have much time to get acclimated when he was announced as North Carolina’s offensive coordinator Jan. 24. He explored Chapel Hill that weekend with his wife, and three days later he was back on the recruiting trail — this time as a Tar Heel, not an Indiana Hoosier.
The college football coaching carousel brought Littrell to Chapel Hill, though recently a Tilt-a-Whirl has seemed a more apt analogy. In the Football Bowl Subdivision, 20 programs replaced their head coaches following the 2013 season, down from 2012, when nearly one-fourth of the 125 FBS programs made a head coaching change.
UNC lost three assistant coaches this offseason, including Littrell’s predecessor Blake Anderson, who signed a five-year, $3.5 million contract to become the head coach at Arkansas State on Dec. 19. Anderson brought Walt Bell, UNC’s tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, with him.
Then, on Jan. 26, running backs coach Randy Jordan was hired to fill the same position with the Washington Redskins.
“One of the biggest worries I have is stability in our coaching staff, identifying the appropriate talented individuals to run programs and then trying to retain them,” UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said.
The offseason changes mean five of the nine assistant coaches UNC head coach Larry Fedora hired in 2012 have left the program, including assistant coaches Deke Adams and David Duggan, who left for South Carolina and Southern Mississippi, respectively, after 2012.
Among the eight ACC universities required to disclose public records in USA Today’s database, UNC ranked last in total assistant coach pay at about $2 million. Boston College, Duke, Miami, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Wake Forest are not included in the database, which compiled data from all public FBS schools compelled by state law to disclose salaries.
Cunningham noted UNC has increased its salaries — the combined assistant coach staff pay rose 9 percent in 2013 from a year earlier. He pointed to a conservative culture, in terms of compensation for both coaches and faculty, as one reason UNC lags behind some of its peers.
Cunningham said he believes the departures of Anderson, Bell and Jordan were unrelated to salary concerns.
But for Adams, Cunningham said the opportunity for a 20 percent pay raise was a major factor in leaving.
“I think there are a lot of attractive reasons to be at North Carolina, but I don’t think pay is one that is a driver for us,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham and Littrell both declined to comment on the terms of the new offensive coordinator’s contract, which has yet to be approved by the Board of Trustees. Littrell also declined to reveal whether his UNC salary would be an upgrade from his previous contract at Indiana, which paid him $356,500 in 2013.
Coaching turnover in college football has become the norm at most programs, as the pressure to win and the deep pockets of Division I programs have caused upheaval at programs across the country.
“Because of the higher returns to success and the higher cost of failure, coaching tenures are getting shorter on average,” said Raymond Sauer, the chairman of the economics department at Clemson and president of the North American Association of Sports Economists.
The median salary of a Football Bowl Subdivision assistant coach in 2013 was $180,000, according to USA Today’s database. That number rises significantly among ACC schools, where the median assistant coaching salary at the eight schools disclosing that information was $242,500.
Many programs are willing to pay much more, though. Chad Morris, Clemson’s offensive coordinator, topped all assistant coaches in 2013 at $1.3 million.
Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, whose assistant coaching staff is the highest paid in the ACC at nearly $4.2 million, said keeping a stable coaching staff is necessary to create lasting relationships with recruits, current players and alumni.
“That family atmosphere that everybody talks about becomes, not just something to talk about, but actually exists,” he said.
Chapel Hill is Littrell’s fifth stop in his 12-year coaching career, which began as a graduate assistant at Kansas in 2002.
Littrell said UNC offers him the opportunity to recruit some of the top athletes in the country and live in one of the best places. As for UNC’s ability to pay its assistant coaches, Littrell said he isn’t worried.
“It’s not as much about the money, and that’s not talk — that’s reality,” Littrell said. “To me, it’s about coming in and working in a place and an environment that you feel like you can be successful and enjoy.”