Cost to keep Chad Morris likely high

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris (left) makes $450,000 per year, nearly $1 million less than Auburn assistant Gus Malzahn.

CLEMSON -- Two years ago, Chad Morris' celebrity was limited to central Texas, where he led Lake Travis High to multiple state championships.

This fall, Morris is known to college football fans, coaches and athletic directors from coast to coast. His offense has been widely praised, examined by Urban Meyer on ESPN, and critical to Clemson's remarkable turnaround.

The secret is out.

Success creates problems, albeit good problems, in regard to maintaining staff continuity. Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips said he is aware Clemson could be in competition for Morris' services after the season.

Phillips has begun to review the compensation for top assistant coaches to gauge the potential market for Morris. Morris is the protege of Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who became the nation's highest-paid assistant at $1.3 million per season, more than doubling his compensation after helping to lead Auburn to a national title.

Top assistants now routinely make more than $700,000 per season. Morris agreed to a four-year deal in January that pays him $450,000 per season.

Phillips said he has not yet spoken to the Morris camp about amending his contract.

'I don't think there's any question anyone in the business knows what Chad is doing, he is not any secret,' Phillips said. 'I assured him that we will be extremely competitive for his services.'

Along with other staff raises, including a potential $500,000 raise for coach Dabo Swinney, Clemson faces the potential prospect of increasing its total football staff compensation by $1 million or more in 2012 to keep the staff intact. Clemson increased its total football staff compensation from $2.67 million in 2009 to $4.25 million this season.

While Clemson officials note the Tigers compensate their football coaches as well as any program in the ACC — defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is the highest paid assistant in the ACC ($675,000), according to the USA Today coaching database — Clemson's ability to compensate its coaches has improved as the program is enjoying the first year of the ACC's new television contract, which adds approximately $3 million in additional revenue.

'I am going back through and reviewing what the (compensation for assistants is) nationally, but keep in mind, we are pretty doggone competitive for his services right now,' Phillips said of Morris. 'I have not talked to coach Swinney about it because we are still playing football, and that has to be the focus.'

If a program wants Morris as its head coach — Morris has been a head coach for much of his coaching career — Clemson might be hard-pressed to keep the native Texan. And even if Morris remains a coordinator, he has the leverage to demand a significant raise.

Phillips has been creative with contracts.

Phillips signed the unproven Swinney to an incentive-laden deal in 2009, when Swinney was perhaps the best value in college football by leading Clemson to nine wins and Atlantic Division title while making $900,000.

Swinney's contract contained a clause elevating his base pay to the median of all ACC coaches ($1.75 million) in 2010 after leading his team to the Atlantic Division title. Swinney's contract contains another clause elevating his compensation to the average of the top seven coaches in the ACC if Swinney leads Clemson to an ACC title. That would put Swinney's pay at approximately $2.2 million.

Phillips could also turn to a longevity fund, an incentive calling for a coach to receive a significant lump sum payment if he remains with the program for a certain number of years.

Phillips used a longevity clause in Steele's renegotiated contract, which calls for $100,000 to be placed in an interest-bearing special account each year and to be paid in total to Steele in January 2014 if he is still at Clemson. If a coach departs, the fund is forfeited.

A longevity clause is also included in Swinney's contract and former basketball coach Oliver Purnell's contract. Elsewhere in the ACC, Virginia Tech coordinator Bud Foster makes $430,000 per season, but he has a longevity fund in his renegotiated deal that will pay him a lump sum of $800,000 in 2014.

Morris has an interest in stability.

Part of the reason Morris signed a four-year deal was so his daughter could stay at the same high school through graduation.

'I have no reservation that Chad and his family feel very good in Clemson,' Phillips said.

Coach School Dollars

1) Gus Malzahn, Auburn $1.3 million

2) Kirby Smart, Alabama $850,000

3) Charlie Weis, Florida $765,000

4) Todd Grantham, Georgia $760,000

5) Greg Mattison, Michigan $750,000

6) Ellis Johnson, South Carolina $706,000

7) John Chavis, Louisiana State $700,000

7) Steve Kragthorpe, Louisiana State $700,000

9) Kevin Steele, Clemson $675,000*

10) Nick Holt, Washington $650,000

*Includes longevity fund payment