The buck doesn't stop with head coaches.
College football's trickle-down economics, affected both by college and professional football, have made coordinators and positions coaches the next big earners.
If the NFL sets the value of a top-shelf coordinator, colleges must react to keep assistants from shipping out to the pros.
If a school wants to hire the best coordinators and assistants, it must compete with other schools that are willing to pay increasingly higher salaries, too.
"The assistant coaching salaries in the NFL have increased," UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said, citing Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and his $3 million salary. "So the filter-down effect goes, head coaches at the college level are paid higher thus the coordinators are paid higher, thus the assistant coaches are paid higher."
It's a simple progression, really, as Hamilton lays it out.
When a head coach's cost climbs to more than $2 million, it stands to reason that his right-hand assistants are worth more, too. Likewise, a school's seven position coaches become more valuable as well.
UT defensive coordinator John Chavis has seen his salary more than double since 2001, the most recent year for which past figures were available through the university. Offensive line coach Greg Adkins' pay has gone up 50 percent since coming to UT in 2003.
Salaries for other longtime assistants like defensive backs coach Larry Slade, defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell and defensive line coach Dan Brooks have all risen by more than 30 percent, as well.
"Let's be honest, people in leadership positions are only going to be as good as the people they have around them," Hamilton said. "Phillip Fulmer is an outstanding person and an outstanding coach, but he needs to have good people with him."
To that end, Tennessee instituted three-year contracts for its coordinators and two-year deals for assistants. To protect the university's investment in that coach, UT instituted a clause last summer that requires a coach who leaves for a similar position to repay or forfeit half his salary.
Agent Jimmy Sexton's firm, Memphis-based Athletic Resource Management, represents a slew of major coaches both in the pro and college ranks.
And they're not all head coaches.
ARM represents high-profile assistants like Florida State head coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher, Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and plenty of others.
For Sexton, the process of trying to find and sign the next round of head coaches is key.
"We've been doing that since day one," Sexton said. "You have to start going after them at the coordinator level and start signing those guys as they're coordinators and assistants and still rising up through the ranks."
Over the years, that rise has become more profitable for the coaches. And it's also becoming another, sometimes hidden, cost of fielding a football team.
"Today, the real change has been in what they're paying assistant coaches," says Dan Parker, president of Parker Executive Search, which has helped several universities fill high-profile coaching positions. "You add all that up, and your budget for your (assistant coaches at) major universities today range from $1.5 million up to a high of $2.5 million."
Tennessee's assistant salary pool for last season was nearly $1.7 million. That figure will rise this year, too, with the hiring of four new coaches on offense and likely raises for everyone else, including Chavis and Caldwell, both of whom were approached about other opportunities in the offseason.
The total price tag for the NCAA-allowable 10 on-field coaches ran UT some $3.75 million for the 2007 season.
Alabama paid its 10 assistants $2.245 million, while LSU paid $1.928 million for its assistant coaches in 2007. The Tigers also boasted the two highest paid coordinators in the SEC with Gary Crowton and Bo Pelini, who left to become head coach at Nebraska, both making $400,000 in 2007.
According to figures published in the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger last summer, only three assistant coaches in the SEC earned less that $100,000 - two at Ole Miss and one at South Carolina.
But those numbers are already out of date.
According to information from major newspapers that cover SEC schools, every coach (aside from Vanderbilt, which does not release salary information) in the SEC earns at least six figures. Fresh off its No. 2 national finish Georgia upped its assistant coach salary pool from $1.595 million to $1.91 million in March, including a raise to $310,350 for defensive coordinator Willie Martinez.
Sexton says total staff cost has become an issue in recent search processes.
"A lot of athletic directors are looking at what is the total cost of their staff, the head coach plus the nine assistants," Sexton said. "That's one factor I've heard talked about - 'What am I paying my 10 guys?' That's one issue."
And it's one that's not likely to change anytime soon, either.
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.