This may be the most eventful college football off-season fans in Utah have ever seen.
Each of the state’s three FBS schools saw shake-ups in their respective coaching staffs, ranging from unsettling tremors to outright 7.0 earthquakes.
And whether you root for BYU, Utah State or the University of Utah, as a fan you’ll enter that magical start of the football season in August with lingering questions that need answering.
But as we enter the spring football season, many fans are scratching their heads even at present as they try to decipher those coaching changes and make sense of the position and title shuffling that was as pervasive the last few months as snow on the ground and bite in the air.
Fans seem to be particularly interested in — and opinionated about — what’s on a coach's business card.
Not to be outdone by one another, Bronco Mendenhall, Matt Wells and Kyle Whittingham each generously offered a coaching assistant or two a “Co” or shared title in the months since the teams last took the field in November and December.
Utah State’s Wells made former Cougar coach Mark Weber his “Assistant Head Coach” in addition to his duties as offensive line coach.
The Utes went out and grabbed an old sage in Dennis Erickson to help out yearling offensive coordinator Bryan Johnson as “Co-Offensive Coordinator.” This about a year after another former BYU coach, Kalani Sitake, was promoted to “Assistant Head Coach” at Utah.
And BYU somehow lured Robert Anae back from the prestigious Pac-12 and made him “Assistant Head Coach” to Mendenhall as part of the reacquisition, which they also did for Lance Reynolds in 2004. At the same time Mendenhall, who himself holds (tightly) the reins of the defense, made Nick Howell his “defensive coordinator."
Before the ink had dried on the aforementioned coaches’ business cards, fan consternation, speculation and sarcastic pontification began.
USU fans were confused how Weber, an O-line coach could be an assistant head coach and report up through offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven.
Utah fans were concerned about division of labor, conflicting offensive philosophies, and the adage that when you have two offensive coordinators you have no OC.
And when Mendenhall made Anae his co-head last month, fans immediately hit the overreact button and speculated that this was perfunctory to Dr. Anae becoming Dr. Head Football Coach Anae and Bronco Mendenhall soon surfing off into the sunset.
And the last time the Cougars had a defensive coordinator, it didn’t go too well.
Like most things, this comes down to money. Well, in large part at least.
Sure, there are some pride issues involved and certain people really need a fancy title to stroke their ego. But for the most part, this is about the bottom line on the pay-stubs of those co-coaches. Assistant coaches at major universities don’t drive ’95 Ford Aspires and eat at Rancheritos. They like to be taken care of.
Most institutions — like some private companies — have clearly defined pay scales by job function or level. To oversimplify for illustrative purposes: A manager title has a ceiling on how much he can earn before he would have to be promoted to director. And a director will bump up against a max salary and would need to be a VP to get more moolah.
University athletic departments operate much the same, and in some cases, may use the same pay-grade scale as the school itself.
What it ultimately means is if a head coach has a coordinator or assistant he wants to keep, making sure he doesn’t bolt to become say, the Defensive Coordinator at North Carolina, he has to give him a title change in order to give him a pay bump. Some schools have more leeway than others, and there are exceptions to the rule. But for the most part, it’s about the money, not the title.
Or you can give a coach two titles and throw a little money in for the extra responsibility, if there is any. You commonly see coordinators also serve as position coaches all across the college football landscape.
The point is the title carousel seen among the schools in Utah is more about getting guys paid than anything else you might read into it.
Sure, coaches and administrators will praise the promoted for strong work ethic and desire to shoulder new responsibility. But it’s all a euphemism for “Dude gettin’ paid.”
Until they bolt or get fired, which is the other side of the bottom line.
Editor's note: This article has changed from its original publication. In the original, the article incorrectly read, "Each of the state’s three FCS schools saw shake-ups..." In this version, FBS has been substituted for FCS as Utah, BYU and USU are FBS programs.
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