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The Dollars and Cents of Iowa Football, Part I

Addressing the misconception that Iowa’s Chris Doyle is overpaid, again

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David Scrivner/Iowa City Press-Citizen-USA TODAY Sports

You may have heard Iowa’s strength and conditioning coach’s salary made some noise this week when we learned he is now the highest paid such coach in all of college football at $595,000 a year. Let’s start with the obvious: that’s some serious dough. If anyone wants to pay me that kind of money to do just about anything, let me know. But the question at hand isn’t whether that’s a lot of money, it’s whether that’s too much money.

It’s a tough question and given the dollars involved in college sports and football in particular, it’s one I think worth dissecting. If you’re in a hurry, let me give you the cliff notes version: no, it’s not too much. Got a few minutes to spare? Let me elaborate.

The key here is that value is relative. Anything is only worth what someone is willing to pay. What someone is willing to pay is dependent on a lot of different factors. For starters, how much money do they have available to pay? Let’s say, for example, we’re looking at pay for secretaries at firms across the country. Which do you think makes more, the one who works at your local bank or the one who works for Goldman Sachs? The company with more money to spend is going to spend it.

Iowa Football, well, they have a few dollars to burn. Just south of $106 million last year to be more specific. For those keeping track at home, that’s good enough for 20th in the FBS. My guess is, if Iowa Football were any other sort of business, outsiders would be all for them paying top dollar for a high level employee provided the revenues are there to support it.

Iowa ranked 20th in the country in athletics revenues for the most recent year available.
Clipped from

So we agree if a company, or in this case program, makes more they will spend more. But perhaps more importantly in a case like Doyle’s is they play a role within an organization. Let's look at another example: surgeons. Surgeons, by any measure, serve a great purpose and make good money for their skills. But all surgeons are not equal. One who is tasked with stitching up open wounds from a fight or a scrape or any other cause (again, while doing a valiant job) isn't as valuable (strictly in dollars) as a brain surgeon or an oncologist. The strength and conditioning coach who gets players at a school in shape to survive a long season and avoid injury is valuable, but not as much as the one who turns them into athletes capable of playing at a higher level.

At a school like Iowa, the strength and conditioning coach is more than just the guy screaming in the weight room and blowing the whistle during pre-game stretching. He’s the guy who sets the tone and the culture of the program for months at a time when the rest of the coaching staff can’t have contact with the squad. He’s the guy who’s with them at 5 am building team unity while Ferentz is rolling into Starbucks. And as we read recently from little brother to the west, culture is a crucial part of building a winning program that can last.

And it’s not just the role within, but the overall need of the organization for excellence at the position. One more time, let’s try an example. Let’s take two hypothetical homeowners. The first, we’ll call him Mr. Farbaugh, owns a gorgeous, historic, mansion that has already been updated inside. I mean, top of the line everything. He has a go-to plumber he relies on for when things need fixing, but “fixing” for Mr. Farbaugh is typically just a leaky faucet or toilet that won’t stop running. He pays his plumber the going rate.

Now the second homeowner, we’ll call him Mr. Furnace, also owns a pretty nice house. It has good bones. Only problem is it hasn’t been updated. The place needs a lot of work to make it comparable to the house of Farbaugh. So Mr. Furnace goes out and finds the best plumber he can and he pays him a little more. Not because he has more money to throw away, but because his plumbing needs are more like re-doing an entire bathroom and replacing old lead pipes. It’s a hell of a lot more work to make the place nice to entertain guests than just fixing a leaky faucet.

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Florida vs Alabama
Scott Cochran does jumping jacks with his 5-star recruits.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

That’s a BS example, you say. Doyle at Iowa and Scott Cochran at Alabama are doing essentially the same thing but one is winning national championships. And you’re right. But look at the raw inputs into those strength and conditioning programs. Over the last five recruiting classes season where would you guess Alabama ranked on average? You guessed it. That Cochran sure is a magician turning the #1 recruiting class in the country FOR FIVE YEARS RUNNING into a group of guys capable of winning.

Now Doyle, he’s working with an average class of 49th. That’s just inside the top half of Division I programs. He turned the 49th best group of players into a team capable of rattling off 12 straight wins and a top-10 ranking.

If you took a program with similar rated recruits and took away Doyle, how many wins would you be left with? The answer isn’t totally straightforward since we can’t account for the rest of the staff and a myriad of other variables, but let’s look at an example. Our new most hated rival in the East, Rutgers, actually had a slightly higher average recruiting ranking than Iowa over the 5 years leading to last year’s season (it actually is worse for Iowa if you drop out 2011). They averaged the 43rd best class to Iowa’s 49th. How many wins did Rutgers have last year? Four. Do you think Iowa would let Doyle go to hire Rutgers’ strength coach?

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs
Doyle has a history of taking unheralded recruits and turning them into monsters who make millions.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Lastly, and in my opinion probably leastly, is the question of longevity. We all have jobs. Who makes more in your place of work? Is it the recent college grad? The 30-something who has a little experience, but just enough to be dangerous? Or is it the guy who’s been there for 20 years? There’s also this thing called compounding. If you take two guys and you pay them the same thing, give them the same raise every year, but one of them is there twice as long, who makes more per year at the end? Yeah, the guy who’s been there longer. Doyle? He’s been there 18 years. That’s longer than any head coach in college football, save Ferentz and Bob Stoops. The guy who Doyle’s being talked about alongside, Scott Cochran at Alabama, has been in his job for half as long. And while reports are conflicting on his exact pay (USA Today claims $525k, ESPN says north of $600k), let’s just say they make similar money.

So let’s recap:

  1. Doyle is working for a program that made over $100 million last year, good enough for 20th in the country. They have the money to pay him whatever they want.
  2. Doyle has a job within that program that requires skill and expertise and the organization utilizes the role to take on more responsibility than some other programs might.
  3. In addition to the already great responsibility, Doyle is tasked with working his craft with inputs that are, by almost all accounts, of lower quality than his peers in that top 20 of revenue generators (it’s a who’s who of blue bloods with Florida State, Texas and Oklahoma being the only non-SEC or Big Ten schools listed).
  4. Doyle has been doing what only he can do for nearly two decades. Just based purely on pay raises across the coaching staff, the man was going to be making a lot of money at this point in his career.

Bottom line, Doyle is worth the dollars Iowa is paying him. If you disagree, tell me how much, exactly, he is worth. Then tell me how much you make and outline your contributions to your employer. It’s not close.

Next week, we tackle the perennial criticism of Iowa Football’s spending and the lack of funding at the university broadly.