Oklahoma State is quickly becoming a dark horse to not only win the Big 12 conference, but to make the College Football Playoff. It’s rightfully deserved since they return arguably the most explosive offense in the country and a defense that should be able to hold its own. Yet while there is plenty of good will in Stillwater heading into the 2017 season, there remains a reason why Oklahoma State is not the year-in, year-out national powerhouse Cowboys fans expect: assistant coaching salaries.
There are two ways to spin this: Pete, you’re an idiot. (I’ve heard this before.). The Pokes have won 10 games three of the past four seasons and have double-digit wins in five of the past seven seasons. That’s absolutely true and Mike Gundy deserves a ton of credit for that success.
But the flip side is that Oklahoma State has reached the level where their fan base believes it should be a consistent Big 12 conference title contenders and winners. They have a top-notch head coach, elite facilities, and millions of dollars flowing into the program. Yet despite this recent string of success, Oklahoma State has one Big 12 championship over the past 40 years, which came in 2011.
One of the reasons Oklahoma State has been able to maintain the consistency of a highly-competitive Power 5 program, but hasn’t made that leap to a consistent Big 12 championship contender is because the assistant coaches mean far more to a staff than most fans recognize.
In fact, last season was the first time since the 2006 offseason OSU returned the same cast of assistants. Often times that was driven by folks on the staff leaving for better and higher paying jobs.
In the most recent batch of raises for Oklahoma State assistants, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich received a raise from $500,000 to $600,000, while defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer got a boost from $600,000 to $675,000.
By comparison, the SEC had at least ten assistant coaches making $800,000 last season, with six making over $1 million per year.
To put this in more of a Big 12 football perspective, Oklahoma State spent $3.31 million on their assistant coaches last year (up to $3.64 million this season). At Iowa State, the university paid their football staff $3.23 million combined last season. This is in no way meant to knock Iowa State, but if Oklahoma State wants to pretend it’s playing with the big boys, then you have got to start paying like the big boys.
Does this mean you have to pay your strength coach $525,000 like Alabama does? No.
But it does mean if you want to get the best coaches and the best recruits you can, while creating as much continuity within the program as possible, then putting together a highly-paid staff is the best way to do it. To Oklahoma State’s credit, they have paid Mike Gundy well at over $4 million per year, moving him into the top 15 highest-paid coaches in the country.
However, it’s the staff that oftentimes does the majority of the legwork, especially on the recruiting trail. Ever notice how Oklahoma State rarely recruits at the highest levels of the country or the conference? Granted, one can argue Gundy doesn’t pay attention to stars and he gets “his guys” who he can develop. That’s all well and good. But there is a reason Alabama and Ohio State land the the most 5-star players year-in, year-out. Stars do matter, to an extent.
According to Rivals, the past 3 seasons Oklahoma State has had recruiting classes ranked 36th, 45th, and 38th in the country. Yes, the Pokes could challenge for a Big 12 title this season. But it’s taken a perfect storm to create this scenario. Both Mason Rudolph and James Washington decided to forego the NFL Draft after the 2016 campaign. This is just like in 2011 when the Cowboys had a washed up minor league prospect turned future NFL quarterback fall into their laps in Brandon Weeden, and a two-star wide receiver in Justin Blackmon turn into a top 5 NFL Draft pick.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
There’s no doubt Mike Gundy has built a helluva program in Stillwater, and few have done more with less in terms of wins versus recruiting rankings. But at the same time, for Oklahoma State to take that next step, the staff salaries need to be jacked up to compete at the national level. From offensive and defensive coordinators, to recruiting coordinators to strength coaches.
Would I adjust Mike Yurcich or Glenn Spencer’s salary at this point? No. But if both coaches continue to do a quality job and potentially find themselves with a bigger offer next offseason, then Oklahoma State has to be prepared to put their money where their mouth is. Imagine that, Oklahoma State grooms Mike Yurcich through all his growing pains at the FBS level and then once he has it all figured out, he bolts for big bucks. That would sting. If nothing else, Oklahoma State can let him (or whoever) walk, but be prepared to dump substantial money into finding a solid replacement.
That’s college football in 2017. Money talks.
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