Alabama’s New Coaching Contracts Reflect Nick Saban’s Emphasis on Loyalty

June 21, 2016

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was a very untypical exchange during what’s usually a routine conference call.

Tuesday morning, the University of Alabama board of trustees’ compensation committee approved raises for nearly all of the returning football coaches on Nick Saban’s staff and contracts for the new additions, including a $1 million annual salary for defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

However, his name wasn’t the one to generate some discussion. It belonged to Scott Cochran, who technically isn’t a football coach, yet director of athletics Bill Battle described him as “The loudest and most energetic coach in America.”

“I know we’re excited that he’ll be with us and is more than a strength coach,” committee chairman Harris Morrissette said. “We’re lucky to have him.”

“He really is,” Battle responded. “He’s the equivalent to a coordinator with what he contributes to our team and the coaching staff.”

The board subsequently approved an annual raise exceeding $100,000 for the assistant athletic director for strength and conditioning (yes, that’s his official title), bumping his salary up to $525,000 a year.

To put that into perspective, the only non-football coach to get a raise Tuesday was women’s basketball coach Kristy Curry, from $400,000 to $440,000 through 2020, and it’s probably more than new baseball coach Greg Goff will make (his deal has yet to be announced).

Additionally, all of the football contracts and extensions announced were for two seasons (2016 and 2017). Cochran had three years added to his deal, which was also telling.

More than just rewarding everyone, Tuesday was about the thing that may matter the most to Saban when it comes to his staff: loyalty.

It’s huge to him, and Saban believes it’s worth paying for.

You may remember that Cochran recently had the chance to follow former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to Georgia. After thinking it over, he turned his good friend down. Not only is he one year away from being vested in the state’s pension programs—which translates to a lot of money via lifetime membership benefits—but he might now be the highest-paid strength coach in the nation.

According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, Iowa’s Chris Doyle held that title last year by making $515,000.

Alabama fans won’t even think twice about the raise for the popular figure who’s “YEAH, YEAH, YEAH, YEAH” yells are played at Bryant-Denny Stadium to fire everyone up, just like they haven’t regarding the salaries of the assistant coaches and having probably the most elaborate support group in college football. 

It’s just the cost of winning national championships.

The only assistant coach who didn’t get a bump was offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who is set to make $714,000 in the final season of his three-year contract with Alabama. According to the Los Angeles Times, he had still been receiving paychecks from his former head coaching job at USC through 2013-14, but it’s unclear if that’s concluded.

After Cochran, the biggest raises this year went to Burton Burns and Tosh Lupoi, who are taking on added responsibilities. In addition to the running backs, Burns will oversee special teams, while Lupoi is now co-defensive coordinator in addition to outside linebackers coach.

While on the outside it may appear that Saban’s trying to hedge his bet that Pruitt will do a good job, Lupoi may have turned down an opportunity elsewhere like Cochran and/or is now being groomed to someday become defensive coordinator.

Pruitt was the one being groomed few years ago, only to be lured away by Florida State in 2013, where as a first-time defensive coordinator he made $540,000 before landing a much bigger contract at Georgia.

According to the USA Today coaching salary database, he made $1.3 million last year at Georgia, and offensive line coach Brent Key made $1.04 million at Central Florida. Moreover, defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley had just been named co-defensive coordinator at Kentucky. 

All four of the new coaches will be making less than their predecessors, which, with this offseason having the most turnover since Saban arrived, will ironically keep Alabama from contending for having the highest-paid coaching staff in 2016.

Smart, for example, had a base salary of $1.5 million last year. He had also been with Saban since his LSU years, moved up the ranks and enjoyed tremendous success along the way.

That’s the thing about loyalty—it can go both ways and be equally beneficial.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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