The Alabama coaching staff got paid today, with head coach Nick Saban scheduled to make $11.125 million next season and vaulting him past Jim Harbaugh to become the highest paid coach in college football. Alabama’s defensive coordinator got a $300,000 raise, and athletic director Greg Byrne will make $900,000 next year. That’s good money for an AD but, curiously, it’s $50,000 less than outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi will earn.
Lupoi seems to be a very talented coach, but he isn’t becoming one of the highest paid assistant coaches in the country next year because he’s a defensive wizard or anything like that. Lupoi’s role on the Alabama coaching staff is to serve as the program’s star recruiter. Saban is the face of Alabama football and he has a penchant for, say, taking a helicopter to visit a recruit, but Lupoi is one of the most proven recruiters in the nation. He started out as the defensive line coach at Cal, his alma mater, and he helped bring in a series of future NFL players, including Keenan Allen, Richard Rodgers, and Cameron Jordan. He won Scout.com’s National Recruiter of the Year award in 2010, then left Cal two years later for a big payday at Washington, taking Shaq Thompson with him and ripping apart what would have been Cal’s best-ever recruiting class.
He left Washington in 2014 after being investigated by the NCAA for allegedly paying a recruit $4,500 in cash (he was not penalized in the case) and the investigation scuttled a planned move to follow Steve Sarkisian to USC. Lupoi then linked up with Saban at Alabama and started out as what Saban called a “recruiting intern.” It wasn’t long before he started paying off, bringing in the top recruiting class of 2016. Sarkisian was the top storyline of Alabama’s postseason meeting with Washington, yet it was Lupoi who was responsible for segments of the rosters of both College Football Playoff semifinalists last year. He also oversaw the recruitment of 2017's No. 1 overall prospect Najee Harris and had a hand in bringing many of that top-ranked class’s best players. Cal reportedly almost hired him back as defensive coordinator this offseason, but he ultimately turned them down. They probably couldn’t have paid him $950,000.
Lupoi is certainly one of the best in the nation at his job, but his hefty raise also crystallizes a lot of what makes the NCAA scam so gross. Legislators arguing that paying athletes will cost them money, rich university presidents defending the sanctity of the “student athlete” model, and athletic directors flailing desperately to cling to their cushy gigs in the multi-billion dollar NCAA pyramid scheme are all perfectly illustrative examples of the sham of amateurism, but nothing feels as direct as a linebackers coach raking in nearly $1 million to convince high school athletes to come work for free at Alabama.
Lupoi’s gaudy salary might be close to market rate when you compare it to those in a similar strata at other SEC and Big Ten schools, and he will inarguably help Alabama win football games. That doesn’t make it any less unjust.