Martin’s pay cut illustrates Notre Dame’s improved assistant salaries

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After spending four seasons with Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, Chuck Martin got his opportunity to run his own football program, taking the Miami (Ohio) job in early December. But apparently he had to take a pay cut to make the move.

While the news is illustrative of the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots in college football, it also is another datapoint that dispels the lingering myth that Notre Dame doesn’t pay its assistant coaches competitively.

Finding out with any certainty what Brian Kelly is being paid is difficult, especially with Notre Dame a private institution. But assistant salaries is even harder to determine, with money and terms only estimated, even for those in the know. But the Toledo Blade caught up with Martin, who discussed candidly the dilemma some established assistant coaches find themselves in.

Miami acquired Martin only after he agreed to forgo $650,000 at Notre Dame, a figure the Irish were willing to sweeten to coax him into staying. Martin, who received a five-year deal at Miami for $450,000 annually, said he wouldn’t have left “for just any MAC job” and was confident the infrastructure at Miami is sufficient to revitalize a program coming off a winless season.

“I think the (top schools) are trying to put you in a position that you can’t take these jobs, which makes sense; they are trying to keep their assets in house and eliminate as many possibilities for them moving in another direction,” Martin said. “There aren’t too many people crazy enough to do what I did.”

Martin’s comments give you a rare window inside the hiring process of non-elite programs, and the challenges that come with staying competitive if your football program isn’t a revenue generator. For Martin, who ran his own program at Grand Valley State before joining Kelly in South Bend, the allure of taking his shot, and being confident that the program’s assets were being deployed properly, gives you an idea of the gamble coaches take on themselves.

It’s easy to understand why Bob Diaco left Notre Dame, with his five-year contract at UConn paying him a reported $1.5 million a season. (If there was a worry that teams in the new AAC conference would stop investing in their programs, Diaco’s contract all but kills that assertion.)

But it’s also illuminating that Martin was being paid $650,000 by Notre Dame, and Kelly and athletic director Jack Swarbrick were willing to sweeten that deal to keep him in South Bend. That helps put into context the deal parameters Kelly likely had to work with when hiring Brian VanGorder, who may have only been coaching linebackers for the New York Jets, but has a coordinator quote of $850,000 annually, a number that was the top of the heap in college football in 2012.

Put simply, Notre Dame is willing to pay for elite coaches. Ultimately, Swarbrick and Kelly are looking at their assistants as investments, keeping “their assets in house,” as Martin said. That was clear when Mike Elston reportedly turned down the defensive coordinator job at UConn to stay on as defensive line coach, a job that likely pays more than Diaco was able to offer.

Kelly has repeatedly talked about encouraging his coaches to leave for “leadership” positions. You can read that as head coaching jobs, with Martin, Diaco and Charlie Molnar before him all getting their shots to run programs.

As the gap widens economically in the coaching ranks, you can expect to see schools take shots on less traditional coaches, with guys like Elston and Tony Alford potentially more viable candidates than an established coordinator who’ll be taking a significant pay cut to lead a MAC program.

That’s good news for all parties involved, making Notre Dame and Brian Kelly an even more enviable place to work.