Tennessee's new coaching staff will earn $5.325 million this season, including $3.325 million in salary for its nine assistant coaches, UT announced Thursday.
The latter sum is the highest in the SEC, surpassing the $2.405 million Alabama paid its assistant coaches for the 2008 season by more than $900,000, and is believed to be the highest in college football.
UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said Thursday that he is more concerned with UT's overall staff cost of $5.325 million, which would rank fourth in the SEC based on 2008 figures for the conference's other 11 schools.
"First of all, ultimately I look at the salary pool - the head coach and assistant coaches - as a line item in our budget," Hamilton said. "At a lot of institutions, the model is the head coach is making a significantly higher salary than anybody else on his staff.
"This model is a little bit different from that. It spreads the dollars around a little bit more. You've got a couple other guys that are making pretty high-end salaries."
Nearly two-thirds of UT's total budget for assistant coaches will be paid to the two men deemed essential hires by new coach Lane Kiffin: defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and assistant head coach, defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron.
Monte Kiffin, who reportedly earned more than $2 million with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season and turned down an offer worth more than $3 million from another NFL team before the 2008 season, will be UT's highest paid assistant with a salary of $1.2 million this season. Monte Kiffin, who is Lane Kiffin's father, will also receive a $300,000 retention bonus Dec. 31 in addition to his salary.
Orgeron, the former Ole Miss coach who spent last season as an assistant with the New Orleans Saints, will earn $650,000.
Both have three-year deals, as do offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and linebackers coach Lane Thompson.
"The two individuals he said he wanted to get on board early on, those two are the guys that are there on the high end, Monte and Ed," Hamilton said. "Those dollars were available for those two individuals (only). There wouldn't have been the dollars for what we're paying Monte for any other defensive coordinator."
Orgeron, Monte Kiffin and perhaps others could also have bonuses written into their contracts in addition to UT's typical bowl bonus for coaches, Hamilton said.
Hamilton said UT is working to finish those contracts.
"We've got some final t's to cross and i's to dot with a couple guys, but obviously we have a baseline understanding and are in the middle of the process to bring contracts to fruition," he said.
Chaney, who will also coach offensive line, is UT's next highest paid assistant at $380,000.
Thompson, a former Alabama assistant, will earn $350,000, which represents a $125,000 raise from what he earned last year as one of Nick Saban's best recruiters. Thompson must pay Alabama a buyout of approximately $45,000 under his old contract.
Running backs and special teams coach Eddie Gran will earn $185,000, while tight ends and tackles coach James Cregg, quarterbacks coach David Reaves and wide receivers coach Frank Wilson will all earn $150,000. Defensive backs coach Willie Mack Garza will make $110,000.
All told, UT's $3.325 million pool for assistants - a sum that does not include Monte Kiffin's $300,000 bonus - is an increase of $1.39 million over last year's assistant salary pool.
As has been the case in previous years, liquidated damage clauses will be included in each of the contracts, costing an assistant about six months' pay if he left for a similar job. The clause does not apply to a coordinator who takes a head coaching job or to a position coach who becomes a coordinator.
While Tennessee leads by a wide margin in assistant coach pay, its $5.325 million price tag for the entire staff ranks fourth in the SEC based on 2008 figures, Hamilton said.
"We may go down in that, after the other schools make their adjustments, but I anticipate we're still going to be fourth," Hamilton said.
LSU, Alabama and Florida all paid more for their entire coaching staff in 2008, largely because their head coaches are the SEC's three highest paid coaches.
UT, meanwhile, will pay Lane Kiffin $2 million, $550,000 less than former coach Phillip Fulmer would have earned in 2009 and the seventh highest salary among the SEC's 12 coaches.
According to UT, the Vols' total coaching staff will earn $600,000 more in 2009 than the previous staff was slated to earn this season.
The increased salaries for assistant coaches will be offset somewhat by an anticipated increase in funds distributed by the SEC in 2010, the first year of a new blockbuster television deal with CBS and ESPN.
Last year, UT received about $10.6 million in shared revenue from the conference. Hamilton declined to provide an estimated amount UT would receive in 2010, but said it was important to reinvest in football, which is responsible for roughly 85 percent of UT's $87 million athletic budget.
"I think it makes sense for us to spend some of that money back on football to make sure that football is still strong both at the University of Tennessee and in our league," he said. "We also need football to be strong here because it has such a significant effect on our financial model for all of our sports in funding so many of other sports, which allows us then not to draw dollars from the university like so many athletic programs in America, particularly in a difficult financial time like we're facing right now."
UT will also likely have to pay at least partial buyouts for some of last year's staff in addition to a $6 million buyout of Fulmer's contract.
Assistants are guaranteed their 2008 salary for one year, while coordinators, who had three-year deals, are guaranteed two years' pay. UT must make up the difference, if any, between those coaches' salaries with the Vols and their new school.
Three assistants from last year's staff have not found other jobs, however Hamilton said he thought one of those coaches, former defensive line coach Dan Brooks, would remain at UT in an administrative capacity.
Specific figures for UT's responsibility to former assistants were not available Thursday.
No state or university dollars are used for athletic expenses, including coaching salaries, UT said in its release. The athletic department does receive $1 million in student fees, which is used largely to finance women's athletic programs.
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.
Coach Title Salary
Lane Kiffin Head Coach $2,000,000
Monte Kiffin Defensive Coordinator $1,200,000*
Ed Orgeron Recruiting Coordinator/Defensive Line $650,000
Jim Chaney Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line $380,000
Lance Thompson Linebackers $350,000
Eddie Gran Running Backs/Special Teams $185,000
James Cregg Tight Ends/Tackles $150,000
David Reaves Quarterbacks $150,000
Frank Wilson Wide Receivers $150,000
Willie Garza Defensive Backs $110,000
* Monte Kiffin will also receive a retention bonus of $300,000 on December 31, 2009.