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The Most Overpaid Defensive Coaches in College Football 2018

LSU got their money’s worth in Dave Aranda.

Texas A&M v Mississippi State Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Last week, we laid out the most overpaid offensive performers in 2018. Now, let’s flip to the defensive side and perform the same exercise.

As with last week... same conditions apply:

How will I determine this?

Every year, USA Today aggregates and releases all of the publicly available coaching salaries in college football, both assistant and head coaches. You can find that data here:

Assistant Coaches Salaries

Head Coaches Salaries

Additionally, SB Nation’s own Bill Connelly produces his own set of analytics called the S&P+. If you aren’t familiar, you can find an explainer here. In the most reductive sense possible, it measures a team’s efficiency based on the idea that the most efficient teams are the best teams. The final 2018 rankings can be found on Football Outsiders.

I’m gonna do a simple mash-up of the data for each side of the football, plot it out and drop in a trend line for a basic analysis indicating who are overpaid, who are underpaid and who are paid just about right. I’ve added filters by conference, so we can also do some high-level looks at what conferences are paying for production.

What’s Missing?

Private schools largely don’t make coaching salaries public. Now and again the terms of a contract may get released, but even then, it’s typically only a coordinator in an entire staff. For that reason, I have no choice but to exclude them, as that would only convolute the data pool. Thus, the following schools will not be represented in the data set:

Air Force



Boston College





Miami (FL)



Notre Dame

Penn State












Wake Forest


Here’s an embedded, interactive version of the chart:

You can find the link here.

Let’s Talk About LSU

There was a ton of media consternation last year when LSU made Dave Aranda the highest paid assistant in college football. Ahem:

Never really understood the angst, as LSU’s total salary pool for assistant coaches is actually 5th nationally (behind Ohio State, Clemson, Texas A&M and Auburn) and falls even further in total coaching staff salary when you add in the cost they are paying for Ed Orgeron. Not that LSU is getting a bargain, but they are paying market rate for what is arguably the 2nd most important coach on staff. If Aranda made more than O, then you could dive into AD mismanagement, but LSU being pot committed to one of the 10 best assistants in all of college football? Hardly seems like a bad investment. LSU did what it needed to do to assure the only reason Aranda would bounce is for a head coaching job or an NFL opportunity. Period.

Did Aranda deliver? He did. LSU finished 12th in Defensive S&P+. Some may balk at calling this success. After all, Aranda is the highest paid assistant in college football. But it’s incredulous to suggest LSU should field the nation’s top defense yearly. If you look at the total picture, including injuries, and roster building, there’s no doubt Aranda is worth his coin. Dave Aranda gets paid the way he does because of games like the Fiesta Bowl, where he managed to bottle up one of the most explosive offenses in the country with three pieces of chewing gum and half a Grant Delpit in the secondary.

The Good

  • Clemson pays near tops nationally and clearly gets their money’s worth, fielding a dominant defense year-in, year-out under Brent Venables. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare in 2019 when doing a big reset up front.
  • I’ve often mocked Kevin Steele, but he’s been genuinely wonderful since arriving on the Plains in Auburn. His defense held up their end of the bargain of a National Title contender this year. Now if Gus could only find his offense again...
  • Michigan State is getting absolutely insane value, paying less for their entire defensive staff than LSU pays Dave Aranda, and fielding the nation’s top defense. Sadly, their offense was nearly the worst nationally.
  • Jimmy Lake at Washington put out amazing defensive unit in his first season as the solo DC. Rumors are that he may be targeted to replace Tosh Lupoi at Alabama. Lake is a young DB guru with a really bright future.
  • Jeff Tedford may have found a young star in Bert Watts, who was promoted to DC after serving just one season as the team’s LB coach in 2017. After producing a unit ranked 7th nationally, he’s one to watch for a move to bigger and better things. Fresno is paying just a shade over 750K for their defensive staff. Insane value for production in 2018.
  • Justin Wilcox hired Tim Deruyter and they’ve thrown Cal football into the upside down, now fielding a dominant defense while languishing on offense.

The Bad

  • Texas A&M made a run at Dave Aranda before paying a pretty penny to steal away Mike Elko from Notre Dame. Typically I’d place this in the ugly, but everyone knew A&M had a steep defensive rebuild on their hands and in a first-year situation, it’s hard to punish too much. That said, there’s a ton of A&M hype due to the way they finished the season and many seem to be ignoring that A&M replaces three starters on the DL, two of three LBs and two members in their secondary. Replacing seven of 11 on defense isn’t the best recipe for finding value. Elko’s gonna really need to earn his paycheck in 2019.
  • Georgia Tech stunk on defense and it’s hard to imagine how bad of a DC you have to be to field a terrible unit despite playing across from an offense that specializes in ball control and shrinking the game.
  • Houston fired Major Applewhite and it’s at least partially because his defense didn’t hold up their end of the bargain in 2018. Maybe don’t hire a DC from the Kendall Boys & Girls Club?
  • Really bizarre to see Bud Foster’s defense perform so poorly at Virginia Tech, but this was one of the weirdest VTech teams in some time.
  • Tons of Big 12 schools below the trend line. Product of the insane Big 12 offenses? Only Iowa State settled above the trend line. Matt Campbell is gonna make a lotttttttt of money somewhere.

The Ugly

  • Ohio State paid more than anybody for their defensive staff in 2018 and are well below the trend line. Alex Grinch left for OU and Greg Schiano won’t be back. That’s probably for the best.
  • UCONN’s defense might be the worst in college football history. Even paying 800k, they are so far below the trend line. It’s stunning, really.
  • Ole Miss paid 2.7 mil for the worst defense in the SEC. I suppose there’s a reason they changed coordinators.
  • Texas paid almost 3 mil for Todd Orlando and staff. While their defense wasn’t abjectly terrible, ranking near middle of the pack will drive you below the trend line. Texas replaces a ton on defense in 2019. They are talented, but young. Should be interesting to see if they get better performances going forward or Herman might have to part with his long-time DC.
  • OU was somehow worse than Texas, but at least they canned Brent Venables.
  • What’s Lovie Smith doing in Champaign? At least his DC gracefully exited, I guess?
  • Good lord, Oregon State. They were a fun team, once.