The Division I-A Athletic Directors' Association keeps a database of assistant football coaches' salaries.
But executive director Dutch Baughman was reluctant to discuss this year's numbers because the salaries "have been blown out of the water."
For starters, coordinators such as Tennessee's Monte Kiffin and Southern Cal's Jeremy Bates, are commanding the seven-figure deals once reserved for an exclusive club of head coaches.
College football's arms race has reached the ranks of the assistants, many of whom are banking big raises this winter as schools bid for their services. The country might be locked in a recession, but the market for football coaches is bullish.
"This is what shocks me the most: We're on the front end of a very serious economic downturn," said Baughman, former athletics director at Furman, Virginia Tech and Oregon State.
"For the first time we're seeing coordinators receive multiple-year contracts and levels of compensation that have actually caused some schools in some conferences to be at a major disadvantage."
That has not been the case in the SEC, where Tennessee has upped the ante by offering multi-year deals to the assistants of first-year coach Lane Kiffin, none richer than the $1.2 million contract given to his father. The Vols also will pay former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron $650,000 a year as their recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach.
The Vols' assistants will make a combined $3.325 million this year, according to figures the school released Thursday.
But Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton said that kingly sum is mitigated by Kiffin's $2 million salary, which is $550,000 less than what former coach Phillip Fulmer was scheduled to make this year.
Hamilton predicted that when the dust settles after the SEC shopping spree, the Vols' aggregate salaries for Kiffin and his staff would remain fourth in the SEC -- behind Alabama, LSU and Florida.
"It's just that we have a little different model. Our head coach is being paid less, and to his credit, he understands what it means to have a good team surrounding him as it relates to the assistant coaches," Hamilton said. "And I think he's built an excellent team. Hopefully that'll be proven in some ways in the remaining two or three weeks of recruiting here. And then hopefully as we begin to hit the field."
By contrast, Florida coach Urban Meyer makes $3.4 million a year but his highest-paid assistant is defensive coordinator and former South Carolina assistant Charlie Strong at $310,000 a year. But with Meyer in the market for a replacement for new Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, Florida will find the cost of coordinators has risen.
Ex-Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis will make $500,000 in the same post at LSU, which recently gave Gamecocks safeties coach Ron Cooper a $125,000 raise to come to Baton Rouge.
Cooper received a three-year deal believed to be worth $300,000 a year as the Tigers' secondary coach.
While some point to the SEC's new TV contracts with CBS and ESPN as the driving force behind the increased salaries, USC athletics director Eric Hyman believes the trend began two years ago when Alabama opened the vault for Nick Saban.
In fact, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier might have played an indirect role. After Spurrier and then-West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez turned down the Crimson Tide, Saban had leverage when Alabama officials approached him.
In addition to the eight-year, $32 million deal he received from Alabama to leave the Miami Dolphins, Saban had the highest-paid coaching staff in the country at $2.245 million.
That ripple has forced Hyman to get creative with assistants' contracts. Hyman maintained his policy of awarding multi-year deals only to coordinators, although USC created titles to give three-year contracts to offensive line coach Eric Wolford (run game coordinator) and safeties coach Lorenzo Ward (defensive coordinator).
USC has not released the contracts of its new assistants because they have not been finalized and are pending board approval. Sources said Ward's deal is worth $275,000 a year, while Wolford will get $250,000 a year.
Ellis Johnson became the assistant head coach for defense and gave Ward his coordinator's title to get his friend the security of a long-term deal. Ward's situation might have its own ripple effect.
With no buyout in his two-year agreement at Arkansas, Ward was able to leave after one season without owing anything to the school. Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino said last week he might put non-compete clauses -- like the one in his contract -- in his assistants' deals to prevent them from bolting to SEC West teams or schools the Razorbacks play every year, i.e., USC.
Hyman agrees that schools have to protect themselves with buyout clauses. Johnson, who remains the Gamecocks' highest-paid assistant with a three-year deal worth $350,000 annually, has to pay USC the remainder of his contract if he leaves early, unless he becomes a head coach.
Johnson, who made about $100,000 in 2003 in his last year as The Citadel's coach, knows there will be groups like the Knight Commission that denounce the escalating coaches' salaries at a time when budgets of public universities are getting gutted.
But Johnson said the SEC's new TV deals -- $2.25 billion from ESPN and a reported $825 million from CBS over 15 years -- are proof of the conference's power no matter the economic climate.
"We don't play the Knight Commission and we don't compete against people that have that theory (arguing fiscal restraint). We compete in the SEC," Johnson said. "You get in the left lane and go slow in the SEC, they'll run over you."