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Examining the MACtion: Can the MAC Afford the Leadership It Needs?

Welcome back to a new part of Hustle Belt. We will take some time every week or two in order to take a good long look at a certain topic or event. We began with looking at the major MAC football coaching changes. Now we will move on to the ripple effect that BCS coaching salaries have on the MAC's success.

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Toledo Blade recently ran an interesting piece that was centered around the verifiable fact that Chuck Martin, formerly the head coach at Grand Valley State, wound up taking an annual pay cut of at least $200,000 in order to leave his offensive coordinator position at Notre Dame and sign on the dotted line to become the next head football coach at Miami. It goes on to list specifics:

In 2010 there were 37 assistants on Division I coaching staffs who made at or above the average MAC head coach salary of roughly $358,000, [and] Al Golden of then-MAC member Temple made a league-most $513,868, more than all but nine assistants.

In 2013 there were 86 assistants reaching the MAC average of $400,000, an increase of 135 percent in three years. Among them was former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit, who was fired by the Broncos after the 2012 season and earned an increase of more than $20,000 as Illinois’ offensive coordinator. [By that time], 38 assistants made more than the $513,900 Frank Solich pocketed at Ohio.

Last season, the 13 head coaches in the MAC made a grand total of $4,801,867 in salary. To put that in some perspective, Butch Jones started his first season as Tennessee's head coach (a job he left Cincinnati to take, after leaving Central Michigan before that). His salary in year one was $4,860,000 and placed him as the fourth-highest-paid coach in the country. Read that again; last season there were four individual head coaches who made more salary than all of the coaches in our conference combined.

I'll pause until your head stops spinning...

Seriously, Linda Blair, calm down or we'll never get through this.

The Blade article makes a fair point. The MAC is a conference that just doesn't have the same depth of pocket as other conferences, as none of the MAC athletic departments generated more than $30 million in revenue in 2012. Compare that with South Carolina, who generated more than triple the revenue of the best MAC school and still wasn't in the top 20 in the country in that category. That top MAC school was EMU, by the way - since UMass is football only.

From that angle, it makes sense that in order to hire a coordinator away from a big school (which for a long time has been the de rigeuer means of getting your next big head coach), you had to either promise money you didn't yet have (and might not ever get) or hope that your preferred coordinator wanted a coaching job badly enough to take a salary reduction and an "intrinsic benefits" package (ego boost, for you non-business-savvy readers).

But is that really to the detriment of the conference? As we've discussed previously, hiring a coordinator to be your next head coach can have disastrous results (see: Molnar, Charlie and English, Ron), especially when considering the shift in responsibility that has to happen from coaching part of an elite team to every aspect of a lower level team.

Miami hired a coordinator, but it was a coordinator who was recently removed from a successful head coaching tenure at a lower level. The RedHawks hired an aspiring and ascending coach who got sidetracked into a coordinator gig (as evidenced by the money he so readily sacrificed), not a coordinator "deserving" of a promotion.

The Blade article lists the hires of Chris Creighton at Eastern Michigan, Dino Babers at Bowling Green, and even Mark Whipple at Massachusetts as the selection of "unheralded, albeit successful" head coaches from the lower ranks. However, I think that's an unfair diminishing of just what each school accomplished.

Miami, Eastern Michigan, Massachusetts and Bowling Green each gets a coach who has demonstrated their ability to handle an entire program at a lower level (with varying degrees of success and recency). I, for one, would argue that proving you can do the same thing at a new level of competition is an easier transition than stepping down a level into a newer more expanded role that you've never done before (and may actually be more likely to screw up).

The coach gets to prove himself at a new level, while earning a salary that is almost always a raise for him, while also not being a huge departure from what the athletic department paid the previous coach. I appreciate that there are struggles on the horizon, but rather than seeing it as "keeping us from getting the big name coach," I see it as allowing us to exploit the new "market inefficiency" - deserving lower level coaches.