The Man, The Process, and the Staff

That cop looks pissed. Someone must've told him about Sal Sunseri's gameplan. - Randy Sartin-US PRESSWIRE

Butch Jones is the Tennessee head coach, and - for some reason - his contract is now public domain. You know what that means, don't you? Numbers! Analysis!

So Butch Jones is the Tennessee head coach. At this point, this is approximately the 4,3051st post about this on Rocky Top Talk today, so it's not like I'm telling you anything new. Let's get the obvious out of the way: I hope he succeeds. I've read both (well, four) sides of it, so I know most of the details. Jones is 50-27 (yay!) in a career spent following Brian Kelly around (aroo?) and is 2-1 against Louisville under Charlie Strong (yay!), although it took a while for Strong to turn Louisville around so do you award full credit for that (well?) and he has four titles in five years (woo!) but shared the two Big East ones (erm) and can recruit according to word of mouth (yay!) and not by ranking (umm) and national media loves him (yay!) and a lot of us were confused and angry and may still be (erm).

Yeah, parse that sentence again. I'll wait.

Ready? Great.

So yeah, things are conflicted. Generally, I like the idea of Jones; Will did a great job nailing it that a guy like Jones look good optically for this program, given our last few years. Upward trajectory, no NFL-itis (which is a holy grail for some, but it's not like I make my bias hidden, and this is my post, dangit), and success still counts regardless. I'd be lying if I said I followed his Cincinnati teams closely - and I'd be lying through my teeth if I knew anything about him at Central Michigan - but hey, he seems to know what he's about. To some extent, national media won't pan a head coach right as he signs, but I don't get the sense that everyone nationally is wrong either. We have a good head coach. (We also have a coach who knows how to work his way through a presser, so congrats on passing the first test.) I'm still frustrated with his hiring, though.

Let me clarify; I'm not frustrated with Butch Jones, but I'm frustrated with the process that made us end up here. I talked about this in more detail yesterday, so read up for some background. I have the perception that finances as much as success played a role in his hiring, and I can't shake that perception, not on the heels of the general confusion over the Dooley hiring and the seemingly off-radar hiring of Cuonzo Martin. (Again, no complaints about the latter, plenty about the former.) I'm not convinced that Jimmy Cheek knows how to give an athletic department the resources it needs to not only be successful, but to be so successful it can in turn funnel money back to the academics. That's the golden calf Cheek should be after.

As it is, the administration curtailed athletic donations to the academic program to the tune of $18 million over three years, or $6 million a year. Here's the relevant point, though: that $6 million effectively "freed up" from the athletic commitments to the academic side looks pretty familiar to me right now once I look at the contract.

Here, look at the contract too. Some key points:

  • The deal runs through 2019; it's close enough to $3 million a year for us to basically call it $3 million a year, so let's do that. $18 million, 6 years. Great.
  • Lookit those incentives! How will they be paid for? Well, it stands to reason that since those metrics are basically success metrics, that means the team will be good if those metrics are reached, save the APR one. A successful team roughly corresponds to more butts in seats and merchandise flying off the shelves, so those can be covered by the increased revenue, I'd reckon.
  • I have no clue what he'll do with that second vehicle. Don't ask.
  • The buyout's basically 67% of the contract, plus a one-time fee. Based on that, I'd bet we see him for three years at minimum, unless recruiting is awful. Anyway, that's depressing. Let's move on.
  • Budget for the assistants starts at $3 million.
Let's come back to that. What on earth does that mean? Well, there aren't many schools with a $3 million budget for assistants; last year, there were only 6, five of which came from the SEC: LSU, Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee. (I'm not sure who the sixth one is offhand, but I'd guess Clemson. Feel free to prove me wrong in the comments.) That's elite enough company, but lost in there is something interesting; considering the previous staff roughly ran a $5.4 million tab (using Dooley's salary along with those coaching numbers, give or take), you're looking at a coaching staff budget of about $6 million at minimum. That's a $600,000 staff raise at least.

There's more in there, though - note the minimum. I don't know what the buyouts for Dooley's staff look like, but I'd guess that those buyouts would also come out of the new-found money. Anything left over could go to the staff, unless they need to beef up the cash reserve, which would be a pretty good idea. Hopefully, they don't do that and the rest of that academic hold goes toward the staff. Then you're looking at closer to $5 million a year for the staff, which is ...kinda nuts when you think about it.

Now, do I think they'll actually spend $5 million on a staff? No, for the reasons I outlined yesterday and above; I'm not convinced that Jimmy Cheek understands the idea of investing in the athletic program to fund other outfits. That being said, the language certainly makes it possible, and there's budget room in theory to be able to get there, hopefully, at least at first glance. And if ticket sales are a concern, then hauling in the best assistants they can get is the best way to get people excited.

We're probably not going to know everyone's salaries on the coaching staff, but we'll have a general idea for name power. Doing things like reaching out to Tee Martin? That's smart, for both staff power and name power. Personally, I like going back to a 4-lineman approach, especially if it doesn't preclude the use of a NT; get a DC who can teach that. (Keep Chaney. He ain't bad, and he likes the job well enough since he's stuck around, but let him do his thing; the offense isn't the problem.) Hire a recruiting coordinator who knows the right people and can fill the team's needs. But, for the love of Sunsphere, pay the men. $3 million is enough to get one heck of a staff. $4 million is enough to get the kind of staff that consists of guys whose names are spoken in awe. I can't even fathom the staff you could get at $5 million. It's also enough to get Sal Sunseri, so Jones (and Hart, possibly - not sure how much involvement he'll have in the decision process) need to get the right guys at the right prices. Money isn't a cure-all, but hoo boy does it help the football fan sleep at night.

And so I'm back at the investment vs. first cost discussion. The smart move - the one that will get people spending more money for the university - is to now dish out on the coaching staff. The hope is that this happens above and beyond the minimums. But I'd be lying if I didn't think the minimum was $3 million and the maximum is a rounding error above $3 million right now. I want to be wrong.

And so help me, I hope that's enough for Butch Jones to build a staff that leads Tennessee back from the desert. I don't want to think about what will happen if it isn't.
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