CHAMPAIGN — The price of football at Illinois is about to go up. Way up.
The team just reached its first bowl game since 2014, upsetting Wisconsin at the start of a four-game winning streak.
When the Illini rallied from 25 points behind to win at Michigan State, they secured a 13th game. The staff is being rewarded for reaching the postseason. The 10 returning assistant coaches are all getting bumps in pay. The Illinois Board of Trustees approved their extensions at Thursday’s meeting. The raises total $773,000 for the 2020 season.
The hikes range from $40,000 for receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker to $145,000 for defensive passing game coordinator and safeties coach Gill Byrd. The former NFL defensive back is scheduled for another $105,000 bump in 2021.
The total 2020 salary for nine assistants, plus strength coach Lou Hernandez, is $4.05 million.
The number will climb again soon. Illinois still has a position to fill on the defensive staff after the departure of Austin Clark, now with the Miami Dolphins. Clark was paid $275,000 in 2019.
Nine of the 10 returning coaches had two years added to their contracts. The exception is offensive coordinator Rod Smith, who has three more years. His salary will increase $50,000 each of his final three seasons, topping out at $850,000 in 2022.
You will get no complaints from me about high coaches salaries. I have seen how they work. Most of them earn every penny.
They are separated from their families for days at a time. They must travel in miserable weather, then try to convince some 18-year-old that Champaign-Urbana is the place to be.
They don’t get enough sleep. They eat on the run.
And I haven’t even mentioned social media. They have to be adept at it. Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok (don’t ask).
Apparently, recruitable players don’t talk on the phone much anymore. Coaches need to be willing to stay current.
The pressure is enormous. Every game is on television, so every play is analyzed.
Sure, the rewards are great. When you win. Not everybody can be LSU and Clemson and Ohio State. Especially for the schools in the bottom half of the Power 5, it’s a difficult climb.
In my 31 years covering Illinois football, I have seen five coaches come and go. The longest stay: Ron Turner’s eight seasons. Ron Zook got seven.
Only one coach managed to put together three winning seasons in a row: John Mackovic. He left for Texas where he ... wait for it ... got fired.
Cash is flowing
For now. The Big Ten knows how to take advantage of its brand. As long as networks have interest, the conference is golden.
The revenue produced by Big Ten football and basketball makes it possible to increase salaries by $773,000 at Illinois. Remember, that’s 1 of 14. I promise, Minnesota is trying to figure out how to keep its staff happy. Same with Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa.
You’ve got to spend money to make money and the schools are more than willing to participate.
Illinois already showed a commitment to football by building the Smith Center. Staff salaries are another important part of the program.
Lovie Smith wants to keep his staff together as much as possible. Handing out raises is one way to do it.