Is Jones a Bargain as SEC Salaries Continue to Escalate?

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    Dave Hart-1Tennessee head coach Butch Jones’ raise and contract extension turned some heads in December. His bump up to $3.6 million from $2.95 million per year temporarily made him the 6th-highest paid coach in the SEC and put him in the same pay realm as coaches in championship contention such as Oregon’s Mark Helfrich and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher.

    Certainly few questioned that Jones had done a good job in two years, showing tangible improvement on the field in 2015 and revitalizing Tennessee’s public perception and, more importantly, recruiting. But it was certainly worth asking if Jones, who sat at 11-13 overall at Tennessee at the time, was worth the raise to such a lofty level.

    Helfrich and Fisher have both since been awarded large raises, and based on the money shelled out around the SEC since Jones’ updated deal, the bump that Tennessee gave Jones is looking like more of a bargain. Other raises across the conference have pushed Jones down to 10th in the SEC in scheduled pay for 2015.

    While it’s been just a few months since that raise, Jones has shown his value. The mediocre performance at Vandy that squeaked the Vols into the postseason was quickly forgotten when Tennessee rolled over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Jan. 2, and his recruiting acumen again showed when he closed out a consensus top-5 class in February – landing elite in-state offensive tackle Drew Richmond to put an exclamation point on an already strong class.

    The raise given to Arkansas’ Bret Bielema (that is eventually scheduled to pay him $4.25 million per year) proved that the SEC market isn’t just dictated by results. It’s an entire body of work that looks at what needed to be done, what is being done and the potential for what can be done by a head coach. That’s why Jones and Bielema, and their combined seven SEC wins in two seasons (5 from Jones, 2 from Bielema), both got significant raises over the offseason.

    And while Jones certainly still has work to do, if Tennessee is a contender in the East next year as many are predicting the Vols will be, perhaps we haven’t seen the last of Jones’ raises and extensions in Knoxville. The $4 million+ mark easily could be where AD Dave Hart needs to go next to keep up with his fair market value.

    Approximate look at what each SEC head coach is scheduled to make in 2015…may not be exact due to incentives and other factors. Vanderbilt, a private institution, does not release salary information for its football staff, though it’s a reasonable assumption that Derek Mason is among the least-paid coaches in the league, if not the lowest.

    1. Nick Saban, Alabama, $7.1 million 

    2. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M, $5 million

    T-3. Les Miles, LSU, $4.3 million

    T-3. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss, $4.3 million

    5. Gus Malzhan, Auburn, $4.1 million

    T-6. Bret Bielema, Arkansas $4 million (scheduled to escalate to $4.25 million in 2016)

    T-6. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State, $4 million (scheduled to escalate to $4.275 million in 2016)

    T-6. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina, $4 million

    T-6. Mark Richt, Georgia, $4 million

    10. Butch Jones, Tennessee, $3.6 million

    11. Jim McElwain, Florida, $3.5 million

    12. Gary Pinkel, Missouri, $3.4 million

    13. Mark Stoops, Kentucky, $3.25 million (escalates all the way to $4 million+ by the end of his deal)