CLEMSON -- Clemson made an increased commitment to football this week in the form of a record-setting agreement with Chad Morris, signaling a willingness to pay top-of-the-market prices to keep staff continuity.
With suitors lining up to talk to Morris last week, Clemson's offensive coordinator agreed in principle to a new contract that includes a total compensation package worth $1.3 million annually for six years. The agreement with Morris, two years removed from coaching at the high school level, is record compensation for an assistant coach in the ACC and in the state of South Carolina.
As of Wednesday night, the deal was still a verbal agreement and had not been signed, though no setbacks were expected by parties close to the situation.
The new contract signals an aggressive new approach to spending by the Clemson athletic department. Clemson will have two of the 10 highest paid assistants in college football (Morris and Kevin Steele), joining LSU as the only programs to have multiple top-10 compensated assistants. The compensation will tie Morris with his mentor, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, as the highest-paid assistant. The next highest-paid assistant coach is Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart ($850,000).
In 2009, the entire Clemson football staff earned $2.7 million. Clemson's total staff compensation for 2012 is on track to be at least $5.5 million.
"Every school that really wants to compete at a high level, you are in the market and you either respond to the market or you lose your coaches. That's the reality of it," Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips said Wednesday. "(The escalating coaching salaries) is a phenomenon driven by the escalation of television packages."
Morris is getting a raise of almost $1 million annually after signing a four-year, $450,000 per year deal earlier this year. Head coach Dabo Swinney met a substantial contract escalator by winning an ACC title, and his contract increases from $1.75 million to approximately $2.2 million per year.
A number of programs contacted Clemson with interest in speaking to Morris in recent weeks, including Ohio State, which CBSSports.com reported Sunday started a bidding war for Morris' services.
"Based upon what (Morris) has done at Tulsa and what he has done here, he has a lot of notoriety, nationally," Phillips said when asked about the bidding process. "He's a coach that a lot of schools would like to try to hire, and that's all I can say."
The commitment to outbid schools like Ohio State starts at the top with Clemson president James Barker, who told The Post and Courier that while coaching pay "is out of whack," Clemson will be competitive in putting together the best staff possible.
"To do otherwise is to basically say we are going to accept something less than being the most competitive we can be," Barker said. "As long as we are successful in terms of the athletic department paying its own way, and in the case of IPTAY making a $1.25 million gift to the university for need-based scholarships, it's a little easier to sleep at night."
Clemson made just a $216,000 net profit in 2010-11. But Clemson's ability to compensate coaches increased with the ACC's new television deal, which added $3 million in revenue to Clemson in 2011-12.
Barker believes the ACC will receive even more TV revenue after the deal struck with ESPN in 2010 is renegotiated following the additions of Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the conference.
"You can either say (coaching pay) is crazy and we refuse to play that game anymore," Barker said, "or you can say America is a great country and here's an Horatio Alger story."