Nov. 25, 2011; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Dennis Erickson prior to the game against the California Golden Bears at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

New College Football Assistant Coaches Have High Stakes

Reshuffling of coaching staffs is a reminder of the eternal chess match that is big-time college football. It’s hardly a new practice; assistants have come and gone from programs with regularity for ages. But as is evident in rapidly growing paydays for assistants, their importance is weighted more heavily than before.

Restructuring a staff is often the last gasp of a head coach on the hot seat. And few seats are as hot as Lane Kiffin’s. The USC sideline general has made sweeping changes to his staff this off-season: Marvin Sanders, Kennedy Polamalu and Monte Kiffin are out. Clancy Pendergast and Mike Summers are in, while speculation about a new offensive coordinator are swirling.

Jeff Tedford is an increasingly en vogue suggestion that our Carlos Sandoval suggested months ago. The most successful head coach in Cal Golden Bears history produced two first round draftee quarterbacks, and turned Berkeley into a veritable conveyor belt of 1000-yard running backs — J.J. Arrington, Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best, Isi Sofele — and reestablishing the ground game is a priority for the Trojans.

The sooner Kiffin makes a move, the better, as spring football is fast approaching. Moreover, the Trojans are entered into an assistant coaches arm race in the Pacific 12 Conference with foes like the Utah Utes. The hiring of Dennis Erickson Hoyo’s Revenge was out in front on came to fruition. Erickson is tag-teaming offensive coordinator duties with young Brian Johnson, but the former’s press conference on Wednesday indicated the change will not be marginal.

“If you look at probably the top 10 offenses in college football, all of them run 75, 80 plays,” Erickson said. “Well, you can’t run 75, 80 plays if you’re in the huddle.”

Erickson’s sentiment is almost a microcosm for life in the coaching ranks: speed up to keep pace with the herd, or get trampled.

UU head coach Kyle Whittingham has far more leeway than his conference counterpart Kiffin. The Utes are just four years removed from running through a perfect season, including a Sugar Bowl rout of Alabama. Utah also has the learning curve of joining the Pac-12 from the Mountain West, entering just its third season. But a repeat of the disappointing 5-7 performance in 2012 can wear out goodwill quickly, particularly after the Utes finished Year One in the league strong.

A stone’s throw from Rice-Eccles Stadium, BYU is similarly trying to inject some energy into its listless offense with the hire of Robert Anae, a former Cougar coordinator who oversaw some potent passing attacks at Arizona, and previously BYU.

Bronco Mendenhall knows firsthand the value of coordinators; his decision to make himself defensive coordinator midway through the 2010 season instantly changed the identity of Cougar defense, which is now among college football’s very best. Entering a challenging 2013 schedule, BYU needs an offense to complement it.

The stakes are high for Anae, as they are for Erickson, and for the team joining Kiffin at USC. When assistants around the nation have such profound impacts as Shawn Watson turning Louisville from one of the worst offenses in the nation, into a team hanging 33 on the mighty Florida Gators and boasting a Heisman Trophy candidate, expectations grow.

Look at Auburn’s dramatic decline after Gene Chizik’s staff began parting ways for the opposite end of the coin. No conference dictates terms of a football arms race more than the SEC, which upped the ante on assistant value.

Auburn tried to prevent its eventual collapse with a $1.3 million contract for then-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn — less than 15 years after Steve Spurrier raised eyebrows with the first $1 million dollar contract for a head coach.

In December, unsubstantiated rumors that Arkansas was pursuing LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles surfaced. The cynic could see the next step a mile away: Miles was given more money, including spending cash on assistants. Two months later, he hired Cam Cameron to a three-year, $3.4 million deal.

Tags: Auburn Tigers BYU Cougars Football Louisiana State Tigers Utah Utes

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