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In the NFL, where middling quarterbacks now pass for more than 4,000 yards in a season, the value of good defensive coordinators is on the rise. For these coaches, who design and call plays to stop opposing teams from scoring, success brings rewards. While some teams don't release details of coaching salaries, defensive coordinators now earn salaries in the high six- or low seven-figure range. Some, such as former NFL defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who became head coach for the Cincinnati Bengals, move on to head coaching gigs.
The 2013 mean annual salary for coaches of spectator sports was $58,400, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But big-money professional sports pay coaches much higher salaries. After all, they stand to lose a lot in ticket sales, concession receipts and merchandising revenue if their teams don't perform well. According to ESPN, the average salary for assistant coaches in the NFL was $150,000 to $175,000 in 2000. Since then, salaries for NFL coordinators have shot through the roof. In September 2009, the Los Angeles Times, citing an NFL source, reported that the average NFL defensive coordinator made approximately $850,000. A few made more than $1 million, and Norv Turner, now the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, earned $3 million per season.
Top defensive coordinators receive star treatment from team owners, fans and the media. Diehard football fans know the names of these top NFL assistant coaches and clamor for team owners of their favorite franchises to replace unsuccessful coaches with one of the league's top coordinators. In 2011, the Houston Texans signed Wade Phillips to a three-year contract paying him $2.1 million. The Texans defense improved under Phillips, but the Texans released him after the 2013 season. Monte Kiffin accepted the defensive coordinator job with the Dallas Cowboys prior to the 2013 season. According to ESPN, USC paid Kiffin $1.5 million while he coached at USC in 2012, and the Cowboys likely gave him at least $1 million in 2013. He ranked as one of the better-paid defensive coordinators. But the Cowboys struggled on defense, and team owner Jerry Jones demoted Kiffin to assistant coach for the defense before the 2014 season and likely cut his pay.
Most defensive coordinators aspire to become head coaches, who command significantly more money for their services but face greater scrutiny and tenuous job security. Prior to the 2013 season, Mike Shanahan, who won two Super Bowl titles in Denver, signed a $7 million contract to coach the Washington Redskins, but team owner Daniel Snyder canned him at the end of the season. In 2012, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid signed a new contract paying him $5.5 million per season, according to Forbes Magazine. Head coach positions also bring greater responsibility. They must make personnel decisions, communicate with the media and make gutsy real-time game decisions.
In the NFL, team owners and fans demand success, and coaches receive much of the blame when teams fail to meet expectations. A single bad season can cause management to make coaching changes. After a disappointing 2012 season, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton fired defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who led a 2012 defense that gave up an NFL record number of yards. Even top coordinators such as Wade Phillips, fired by the Texans after the 2013 season, risk losing their jobs if their teams perform poorly on defense.
- ESPN: Is Monte Kiffin One of the NFL's Highest Paid Assistants?
- ESPN: Assistant Coaches Are Turning into Stars
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Coaches and Scouts
- Forbes: The Highest-Paid NFL Coaches
- Houston Chronicle: Unlikely to Coach During 2014 Season, Wade Phillips Is Not Ready to Call It a Career
- ESPN: Cowboys Shuffle Coaching Staff
- NOLA.com: New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton Fires Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo
- Los Angeles Times: The Men of Troy and the Men of the NFL
- ESPN: Redskins Fire Shanaham
- NFL: Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles Both Better Off After Parting Ways
Based in Central Florida, Ron White has worked as professional journalist since 2001. He specializes in sports and business. White started his career as a sportswriter and later worked as associate editor for Maintenance Sales News and as the assistant editor for "The Observer," a daily newspaper based in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. White has written more than 2,000 news and sports stories for newspapers and websites. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.