Are Minnesota Gophers Assistant Football Coaches Underpaid? The Contracts Say…

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Iowa
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time, not all that long ago, when Minnesota Gophers assistant coaches across the board were underpaid. Even as PJ Fleck’s salary grew with every rumored head coach opening that he was linked to, the salaries of his staff remained near the bottom of the Big Ten.

Related: Ihmir Smith-Marsette Claims PJ Fleck, Gophers Over-Pressured Him to Commit During 2017 Visit

And guess what? It appears that assistant coaching salaries at the University of Minnesota seem to fall into the, ‘some things never change’ euphemism. Really, we don’t even have to dig directly into where the Gophers’ assistant coach salary ‘pool’ currently ranks compared to other Big Ten programs.

Why do Minnesota Gophers assistant coaches keep leaving for other Big Ten jobs?

Sometimes, anecdotal evidence tells enough of a story that you don’t even need the entire picture before realizing the obvious. Minnesota has lost both its offensive and defensive coordinators each of the past two seasons. Why? You guessed it. They don’t want to pay them what other Big Ten schools will.

Fleck’s longtime OC Kirk Ciarrocca was hired away for a $500K raise at Penn State, before the 2020 season. After flopping there, he came groveling back and was hired at a discount to be the Gophers’ offensive coordinator again in 2022. After one season, he jumped ship again, when offered a $500K pay raise to at Rutgers, where he remains the offensive coordinator today.

Related: ’24 Gophers Commit Koi Perich Jumps Into Consensus Top-75 Nationally

Then earlier this winter, it was Joe Rossi — Gophers’ defensive coordinator since midway through the 2018 season — who was targeted by yet another Big Ten team out east. This time, it was Michigan State who came calling with a $400K raise (from $1.1M to $1.5M). How many times do you have to lose a coordinator before you realize you aren’t paying them enough? We are yet to find that out, apparently.

Minnesota paid football assistant coaches less than any other public Big Ten school in 2023

But, as promised, I didn’t come here with anecdotal evidence only. According to USA Today, the Minnesota Gophers football program had a smaller assistant coach salary pool in 2023 than any of the 12 (now 15) public Big Ten schools that report coaching salaries.

RkB1G SchoolAsst. Coach Salaries
1Ohio State$9.3 Million
2Michigan State$7.8 Million
3*Washington$7.5 Million
4*Oregon$6.8 Million
5Iowa$6.7 Million
6MIchigan$6.4 Million
7Illinois$5.7 Million
8Nebraska$5.5 Million
9Wisconsin$5.4 Million
10Rutgers$5.1 Million
11Maryland$5.1 Million
12*UCLA$5.0 Million
13Purdue$4.9 Million
14Indiana$4.9 Million
15Minnesota$4.6 Million
*New to Big Ten in 2024
—-
USC, Northwestern, Penn State are private institutions that do not report coaching salaries

I mean, the proof is in the numbers. PJ Fleck is the 9th-highest paid head coach in the (new) Big Ten, of the 15 schools that report. So, just below average. Not great, but in the top-30. Where the University of Minnesota is really lacking is in the assistant salaries, where they literally rank at the bottom of the Big Ten.

So, if you’re wondering why the Gophers continue to lose assistant coaches to other Big Ten schools, in what appear to be lateral moves, now you know. For whatever reason, the U of M is willing to pay Fleck enough to stay, but not an extra $1 million so he can pay his OC and DC not to go elsewhere?

PJ Fleck needs good offensive and defensive coordinators

NCAA Football: Quick Lane Bowl-Bowling Green at Minnesota gophers assistant coaches salaries pj fleck
Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

The worst part about these coordinators being hired away is the type of head coach PJ Fleck is. Yes, he has a lot of say in how the offense operates (probably too much), but Fleck is a former WR coach who has never called plays or been an offensive coordinator. He isn’t Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, Chip Kelly or Lincoln Riley, offensive coaches known for reinventing offensive systems and schemes, from a head coaching position.

Related: Under PJ Fleck, Gophers Will Never Lack Motivation

Instead, Fleck excels at being a program manager. His attention to detail and desperate search for perfection isn’t within the X’s and O’s. It’s in the culture and overall direction of the football team. PJ’s ability to set a tone and build a culture are unmatched. Every single person in the University of Minnesota football program knows what’s expected of them and the consequences if they do not meeting expectations.

That’s Fleck’s super power. But on the field, in the gameplanning room and on the recruiting trail, PJ relies on his assistant coaches to excel in their duties. And after Kirk Ciarrocca left the first time, Minnesota’s offense has never gotten back to the promise it showed from 2018 and 2019, when it averaged 29 and 34 points per game, respectively. The Gophers’ offense averaged 21 points in 2023.

Coming out of 2019, after the 11-2 season that ended in an Outback Bowl victory over Auburn, the Gophers offense was seen as one of the top up-and-coming attacks in the Big Ten. It’s difficult to believe it was only four years ago that Tanner Morgan, Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman were setting all sorts of passing records in Dinkytown, because those days have long passed this program by. Let’s just hope that’s not what comes to pass on defense, now that Joe Rossi is out.