UGA has made hiring assistants look easier than it is
Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning earned a raise this offseason, and his new salary is likely to rank him among the highest paid assistant coaches in the sport. However, a comparison between Lanning and the coordinators who had the largest salaries in 2020 reveals an interesting point.
The 10 highest paid assistants in 2020 were:
- Alabama O.C. Steve Sarkisian ($2.5 million)
- Auburn D.C. Kevin Steele ($2.5 million)
- LSU D.C. Bo Pelini ($2.3 million)
- Clemson D.C. Brent Venables ($2.1 million)
- Texas A&M D.C. Mike Elko ($2.1 million)
- Florida D.C. Todd Grantham ($1.8 million)
- Oklahoma D.C. Alex Grinch ($1.7 million)
- Michigan D.C. Don Brown ($1.7 million)
- Tennessee O.C. Jim Chaney ($1.6 million)
- Texas O.C. Mike Yurich ($1.5 million)
The first thing one might quickly notice is that more than half the names on the list won’t be back in their same role in 2021.
Sarkisian was hired as head coach at Texas. However, many of the other coordinators weren’t nearly as lucky.
Pelini was fired at LSU after the Tigers finished 10th in the SEC in points allowed. Brown met the same fate at Michigan after the Wolverines yielded the fourth-most yards in the Big Ten. Steele, Chaney and Yurich each worked for head coaches who were fired, and therefore, lost their jobs too.
Even some of the coordinators who remain employed have had their issues.
Grantham isn’t getting much love from Florida fans after the Gators surrendered an average of 47 points per game in three straight losses to conclude the 2020 season. And while Grinch led a successful Sooners defense last year, much of his tenure at Oklahoma has been pretty shaky.
The point is that even with a seemingly unlimited budget to hire a coordinator, identifying an assistant who’ll prove to be successful is no sure thing.
Which brings me back to UGA.
Lanning is a relatively young and inexperienced coach, but the results he’s produced for the Bulldogs thus far are promising. UGA has finished first in the SEC in yards per play allowed in each of his two seasons as defensive coordinator.
UGA coach Kirby Smart should be credited with recognizing Lanning’s potential when he first hired him as outside linebackers coach in 2018, and then promoted him to defensive coordinator the following year.
Similarly, even though the Bulldogs didn’t achieve most of their preseason goals in 2020, the hire of Todd Monken as offensive coordinator seems to be a success.
UGA averaged 32.3 points per game last year in Monken’s debut season. That’s an improvement of nearly two points per game better than the Bulldogs’ 2019 average — despite playing a conference-only schedule in 2020 that didn’t include any Group of Five or FCS opponents to beat up on.
The bottom line is successful coordinators are a key component to a championship pursuit, and Smart appears to have nailed his two most recent coordinator hires. There are a lot of other power programs who wish they could say the same thing.