Highest-paid assistant football coaches: Worth it or overpaid?

FILE -In this April 22, 2017, file photo, LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda applauds during the first half of a spring NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La. Nebraska’s switch to the 3-4 defense wasn’t solely motivated by the “if you can’t beat them, join them” idiom. It’s true the Cornhuskers have been chasing Wisconsin in the Big Ten West for three years, and coach Mike Riley and the rest of college football have witnessed the Badgers’ defensive dominance that started when Dave Aranda brought the three-man front to Madison in 2013. Riley said he’s been intrigued for decades by the problems the 3-4 can cause for an offense, but his longtime defensive coordinator Mark Banker always preferred the four-man front. (Hilary Scheinuk/The Advocate via AP, File)

FILE -In this April 22, 2017, file photo, LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda applauds during the first half of a spring NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La. Nebraska’s switch to the 3-4 defense wasn’t solely motivated by the “if you can’t beat them, join them” idiom. It’s true the Cornhuskers have been chasing Wisconsin in the Big Ten West for three years, and coach Mike Riley and the rest of college football have witnessed the Badgers’ defensive dominance that started when Dave Aranda brought the three-man front to Madison in 2013. Riley said he’s been intrigued for decades by the problems the 3-4 can cause for an offense, but his longtime defensive coordinator Mark Banker always preferred the four-man front. (Hilary Scheinuk/The Advocate via AP, File)

A dozen college football assistant coaches made more than $1.15 million this year, but some of their salaries are more easy to justify than others. Here’s a look at which of the top-10 highest-paid assistants earned their keep this year, and which ones appear overpaid.

1. Dave Aranda, LSU defensive coordinator

Total pay: $1.8 million

Verdict: Worth it (barely). LSU wasn’t a defensive juggernaut during the regular season, but Aranda does deserve credit for leading his unit to another top-20 finish. The Tigers rank 13th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense and 17th in scoring defense and won six of their final seven games to earn a spot in the Citrus Bowl against Notre Dame. There’s some value in consistency, too; Over the past four years, Aranda’s units at Wisconsin and LSU have ranked eighth, on average, in scoring defense at the end of the regular season. 

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2. Brent Venables, Clemson defensive coordinator

Total pay: $1.7 million

Verdict: Worth it. Despite the loss of quarterback Deshaun Watson, among other key pieces, Clemson booked another spot in the national semifinals and Venables’ defense is again ranked among the nation’s best. The Tigers are tied for third in the country in sacks per game and are holding opponents to just 13.6 points per game, which ranks fifth nationally.

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3. John Chavis, Texas A&M defensive coordinator

Total pay: $1.6 million

Verdict: Overpaid. Though the Aggies finished the regular season above .500 at 7-5, Chavis’ defense has been mediocre at best, ranking 81st in scoring defense and 59th in yards allowed per game. For a man being paid twice as much as some of his Power Five peers, that just isn’t good enough.

4. Matt Canada, LSU offensive coordinator

Total pay: $1.5 million

Verdict: Overpaid. In Canada’s first season as offensive coordinator, the Tigers are ranked 54th in total offense and in the bottom half of the country in scoring at 28.1 points per game (No. 72 overall). Head coach Ed Orgeron even “stepped in” to make a few changes to Canada’s system.

T-5. Don Brown, Michigan defensive coordinator

Total pay: $1.3 million

Verdict: Worth it. In the midst of a lackluster 8-4 season, the Wolverines actually boasted a solid defense under Brown, who is wrapping up his second season with the program. Only two teams in the country — Wisconsin and Alabama — gave up fewer yards per game than Michigan, which also boasted the nation’s No. 1 passing defense.

T-5. Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama defensive coordinator

Total pay: $1.3 million

Verdict: Worth it. The Crimson Tide have long had one of the most dominant defenses in the country, and this season has been no different. Alabama leads the country in scoring defense, allowing just 11.5 points per game, and ranks second in total defense, leading Pruitt’s name to pop up in reports surrounding a few Power Five coaching searches.

T-7. Brian Daboll, Alabama offensive coordinator

Total pay: $1.2 million

Verdict: Worth it. Alabama’s first-year offensive coordinator has guided his unit to top-20 rankings in both yards and points per game, eclipsing the 40-point mark in seven of the team’s 12 regular-season games. Daboll has plenty of talent to work with, mind you, but he’s kept the Crimson Tide offense in good shape following the departure of former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and most of last year’s offensive staff.

T-7. Kevin Steele, Auburn defensive coordinator

Total pay: $1.2 million

Verdict: Worth it. The Tigers finished the regular season ranked 10th in scoring defense and held season-ending No. 1 Clemson to a season-low 14 points in a September meeting, albeit a 14-6 loss. Steele was also a finalist for this year’s Broyles Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top assistant.

9. Bob Shoop, Tennessee defensive coordinator

Total pay: $1.155 million

Verdict: Overpaid. The Volunteers brought Shoop to Knoxville two years with hopes that he could build their defense into a powerhouse. Instead, they allowed 29.1 points per game this season after giving up 28.8 last year, ranking in the middle of the pack in the FBS each year. This season, they gave up 40 points or more in half of their SEC games.

T-10. Tim Drevno, Michigan offensive coordinator

Total pay: $1.15 million

Verdict: Overpaid. The Wolverines’ offense was somewhere between average and below average this season, ranking 86th in the country in scoring and failing to even crack the top 100 in yards per game. 

T-10. Pep Hamilton, Michigan passing game coordinator

Total pay: $1.15 million

Verdict: Overpaid. In Hamilton’s first season as passing game coordinator, Michigan’s passing game ranks 111th in the country. Due in large part to injuries, the Wolverines have shuffled through three quarterbacks who threw a combined nine touchdown passes and eight interceptions in 12 regular-season games.

T-10. Jim Leavitt, Oregon defensive coordinator

Total pay: $1.15 million

Verdict: Overpaid (barely). The Ducks paid a steep price to woo Leavitt from Colorado and didn’t see a strong return on that investment. Oregon’s defense ranks among the top 30 in a few categories, including sacks per game and forced turnovers, but it’s also 76th in the country in scoring defense and gave up nearly 35 points per game against Pac-12 opponents this year.

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad. Follow Steve Berkowitz on Twitter @ByBerkowitz.

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