By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – In recent seasons, Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio has been a steal for Michigan State. Even now, after about a 75 percent pay raise, Dantonio is still one of the sport’s best bargains.
Dantonio made less than $2 million in 2013, and for the third time in four seasons the Spartans won 11 or more games. Most recently, Michigan State went 13-1, soundly defeated rivals Ohio State and Michigan, won a Big Ten championship and brought home the program’s first Rose Bowl trophy since 1988.
In 2014, Dantonio’s salary bumped up to $3.64 million, placing him just outside the top 10 paid coaches in the country, according to the 2013 figures in USA Today’s database of head football coach salaries.
Last year, Dantonio’s salary of $1,959,744 ranked just 51st on that list. Iowa, Michigan, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas all paid their coaches much, much more in 2013 and ended up with no more than eight wins each. Certainly, schools shell out for a variety of reasons: if a coach is a big name, if that coach is particularly well established in that program, if the coach is expected to restore a traditionally strong program to its former glory, etc.
Among the 25 highest-paid coaches in the nation in 2013, only three coaches piloted teams that have equaled Michigan State’s achievement of winning 11 or more in three of the last four seasons: Alabama and South Carolina.
(Ohio State would also fit the bill if it was not forced to forfeit its 12 wins in 2010).
Seven coaches were at the helm of teams that had won at least 10 games in three of the past four seasons: Alabama, Oklahoma, Louisiana State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina and Florida State (and Ohio State with the asterisk).
The names of Nick Saban, Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Mike Gundy, Steve Spurrier and Jimbo Fisher will be familiar to most college football fans; they sit at the top of the profession, and they get paid like it.
For four straight years, though, Dantonio and Michigan State have logged some comparable accomplishments. In addition to winning 11 or more in three of the last four seasons, the Spartans have wins in three of four bowl games. Obviously, Dantonio has a long way to go before his resume resembles those of the above seven coaches, but he has the Michigan State program pointed that direction, and now the school is paying like it expects Dantonio to get there.
In the last four seasons, the Spartans have gone 42-12. If Dantonio had wanted to pursue other coaching jobs – he was rumored a favorite for the opening at Texas – he had one of the best track records in the country to propel him.
By rewarding Dantonio’s loyalty with the kind of money he could have gotten elsewhere, Michigan State committed to continuing to build a program under one of the hottest coaches in the country.
The school also paid much more than it had for highly sought-after defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi as well. Since nearly all assistant coaches eventually want to be head coaches, Michigan State will probably not be able to hold onto Narduzzi forever, but it kept him for another year by giving him upwards of $900,000 for 2014. The previous season he earned $558,908, according to another USA Today database.
Certainly, market value for Dantonio’s services had skyrocketed in recent years. Looking at what other coaches were being paid, giving Dantonio significantly more money had to be a no-brainer for Michigan State.
Even just in the Big Ten conference, eight head coaches made more than Dantonio in 2013 – Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Michigan’s Brady Hoke, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, Penn State’s Bill O’Brien, Nebraska’s Bo Pelini, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, Purdue’s Darrell Hazell and Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen.
Granted, Dantonio might have leapfrogged a few of those coaches near the bottom of the list after the Spartans finished their season 13-1 and undefeated in Big Ten play, surely triggering a generous portion of the $650,000 maximum bonus Dantonio was eligible for in 2013.
Dantonio definitely gave the Spartans their money’s worth over the past several years, and now Michigan State has decided the coach is worth the money. If the last four seasons are any indication, Dantonio is a solid investment.