NFL Assistants Get Big Bucks

Times Staff Writer

Norm Chow joined what is increasingly a millionaire’s crowd Wednesday when the Tennessee Titans formally announced his hiring as offensive coordinator.

Chow, who molded Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart and was part of two national championships at USC, will earn a salary approaching $1 million, nearly doubling the approximately $500,000 he earned with the Trojans as one of the highest-paid college assistants.

Only three years ago, Marvin Lewis -- now coach of the Cincinnati Bengals -- reportedly became the NFL’s first $1-million coordinator when he jumped from the Baltimore Ravens to the Washington Redskins as defensive coordinator.

“There are 20 or 25 at a million -- or close to it -- now,” said Larry Kennan, executive director of the NFL Coaches Assn., which conducts an annual salary survey. “It’s amazing.”


Three defensive coordinators, one offensive coordinator and one quarterback coach reported seven-figure salaries in the coaches group’s voluntary survey in 2004, with a little more than half of coordinators participating.

The club keeps growing.

Mike Heimerdinger, Chow’s predecessor at Tennessee, will earn $1 million with the New York Jets, where he replaced former USC coach Paul Hackett.

The highest-paid assistant in the NFL is Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin -- the father of USC assistant Lane Kiffin -- at $1.7 million.


Only recently, a typical position coach might earn $200,000. Now at least two position coaches who also carry the title of assistant head coach -- Atlanta offensive line coach Alex Gibbs and Dallas quarterback coach Sean Payton -- reportedly make seven figures.

Miami Coach Nick Saban recently cited the lack of a coaching salary cap when he lured offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and offensive line coach Hudson Houck with contracts averaging about $830,000 a year.

Tennessee Coach Jeff Fisher made note of the increasingly heated competition for coordinators as he discussed Chow’s hiring.

“You’ve got enough turnover with players that you need to get your coordinators in place and get the right ones in place that have been successful,” Fisher said.


“Successful coordinators are a premium right now.”

With player moves limited by the salary cap, NFL teams more and more are turning to the men who draw up the game plans to try to gain an edge.

“Is there that much difference between coaches? I don’t know,” said Kennan, a former NFL assistant. “If Norm Chow is the best guy you can get and he costs you a million, why would you not? If he can help you win a game or two during the course of the season, he’s worth at least a million dollars.”