Two of the brightest defensive minds in the Big Ten the past couple of years belonged to Dave Aranda and Bob Shoop. Both guys consistently fielded elite defenses despite having some obstacles.
Next season, both Aranda and Shoop will be working their mastery in the SEC. And that's rough news for the Big Ten.
During Aranda's three-year run as defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, the Badgers led the nation in total defense and were second in points allowed. He did that despite not having a plethora of five-star recruits. He helped turn a former walk-on linebacker, Joe Schobert, into an All-American this past season.
Shoop did similar great work as defensive coordinator at Penn State, where his Nittany Lions ranked second in total defense in 2014 and 15th in 2015. He did that despite depth problems that lingered from the NCAA sanctions and an offense that often put the defense in tough positions. A former walk-on, defensive end Carl Nassib, won several major awards this past season.
As far as assistant coaches go, Shoop and Aranda were two of the most invaluable around. Yet neither of their programs could keep them when the SEC raiders came calling.
Aranda nearly tripled his salary by going to LSU, where he reportedly received a three-year guaranteed contract with a starting salary of $1.3 million, and he'll get to work with unlimited blue-chippers. Shoop agreed in principle over the weekend to join Butch Jones at Tennessee for a reported $1.15 million.
SEC teams have shown no qualms about paying assistant coaches more than $1 million per season, while the Big Ten -- even though it is equally swimming in riches -- has been more reluctant to go there. According to the most recent USA Today salary database, six SEC assistant coaches were paid in the seven figures during the 2015 season, while Maryland's Mike Locksley was the highest-paid Big Ten assistant at just less than $900,000.
You can certainly question whether schools should be spending so much money on assistant coaches. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez had this to say in a recent story posted on the Badgers' website:
"The reason they can go up higher (in the SEC) is they're not supporting as many sports," Alvarez said. "It's a difference in philosophy. The Big Ten is known for being more broad-based in its sports offerings. We are committed to supporting a broad-based athletic program. People may dismiss that, but it's a real thing. They can sink more of their money into football."
There's no doubt the SEC is doing just that, spending whatever it takes to get the best football coaches available. And that's why the Big Ten, despite some modest strides made in 2014, is likely to continue looking up at the SEC when it comes to on-field performance -- at least from a league-wide perspective.
Michigan, which lured away highly respected defensive coordinator Don Brown from Boston College this offseason, and Ohio State, which snagged Greg Schiano as its new defensive boss, each have the financial muscle and commitment to swim in the big-boy waters. Michigan State has taken a slightly different approach by emphasizing staff continuity. But the Spartans did step up and pay Pat Narduzzi more than $900,000 to keep him as defensive coordinator as long as they reasonably could until he took the head job at Pittsburgh last year.
But look at where some of the many other Big Ten coordinator hires came from this offseason: Louisiana-Lafayette (Minnesota, offense), Fordham (Penn State, offense), internally (Purdue and Illinois, offense), Northern Illinois (Rutgers, defense), Arkansas State (Maryland, offense) and even a coach who was out of football for a year (Purdue, defense). Maybe those moves will work out brilliantly, but they hardly bring the sizzle that Tennessee and LSU acquired.
Penn State ought to be able to play in the same financial ballpark as Tennessee, given that both have 100,000-seat stadiums. That Shoop apparently left for not all that much more money, and after bucking previous interest from Auburn and LSU, is not a great vote of confidence in Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin's job stability. Wisconsin has had a difficult time staying competitive in coaching salaries despite some huge revenue flowing into the Badgers' coffers.
SEC teams up and down the standings, meanwhile, are throwing crazy money around at coaches. How many Big Ten teams will be willing to match those price tags? Distasteful or not, that's the cost of doing business if you want to be college football royalty. And that's why the SEC continues to lord over the Big Ten.