David Ching, Contributor
Bob Shoop might have been the best bargain in major college football last season. Mississippi State got him at a temporary discount and the hiring paid off in spades.
After agreeing to a contract extension at Mississippi State this offseason, Shoop now must put that Yale-grad brain to good use in order to overcome the loss of nearly every notable starter from last season’s stifling defense.
With NFL first-round picks Jeffery Simmons, Montez Sweat and Johnathan Abram leading the charge, the Bulldogs led the nation in total defense (263.1 yards per game allowed) and ranked second behind national champ Clemson in scoring defense (13.2 points per game allowed). Those results helped Shoop become a Broyles Award finalist in his first season in Starkville despite Mississippi State paying him a salary, $400,000, that qualified as a pittance compared to those of other Power Five coordinators.
In fact, a study of USA Today’s assistant coach salary database revealed that Shoop’s 2018 pay tied for 215th among all FBS assistants at public schools whose payrolls were subject to open records reporting. Salaries from prominent private-school programs like Notre Dame, USC, Stanford, Miami, TCU and Shoop’s former employer, Vanderbilt, were not included in the database.
Place an asterisk beside Shoop’s 2018 salary, however. While it’s true that the Bulldogs got him at a massive discount last year, Shoop supplemented his Mississippi State salary with a $755,471 buyout payment from the University of Tennessee. That brought his total 2018 pay to nearly $1.16 million, a slight upgrade from the $1.15 million he was originally set to make each year in a three-year deal he signed at Tennessee in 2016.
Shoop and the rest of Butch Jones’ staff were ushered out after an atrocious 2017 season, but the year left on Shoop’s UT contract allowed Mississippi State to hire him at a substantial first-year discount.
Shoop’s original deal with Mississippi State called for him to make $600,000 in 2019, but Mississippi State’s 247Sports affiliate reported in January that Shoop agreed to a new two-year deal to stay in Starkville. Terms of Shoop’s new contract have not been made public.
Nonetheless, while Shoop’s combined 2018 payment helped him remain among his better-paid peers, Mississippi State’s share of the deal was downright miniscule.
Shoop’s $400,000 salary tied for 49th among the 52 solo or primary Power Five defensive coordinators included in the USA Today database. North Carolina’s John Papuchis ($325,000) was the only Power Five defensive coordinator whose reported salary was lower than Shoop’s last season.
In comparison, the average salary of the SEC’s other 12 primary defensive coordinators was $1,308,975 – led by LSU’s Dave Aranda, who led all FBS assistants with a $2.5 million salary.
Last season’s dominant results salvaged Shoop’s reputation after two rough seasons in Knoxville. He had generated consistently positive results in previous coordinator stints at Vanderbilt and Penn State before his disappointing defenses played a contributing role in Jones’ 2017 implosion. The Vols ranked ninth in the SEC in scoring defense in both of Shoop’s seasons at the helm, surrendering 40-plus points in blowout losses to Georgia, Alabama, Missouri and, worst of all, Vandy.
The Bulldogs gave up as many as 20 points just three times all last season, but that was with Simmons, Sweat and Gerri Green wreaking havoc up front and Abram headlining a strong secondary. Although the 2019 defense returns some experienced players – namely at linebacker with players like Erroll Thompson, Willie Gay and Leo Lewis all back – the Bulldogs lost a whopping seven defensive starters.
It will be nearly impossible to repeat last year’s performance, but Shoop still believes this can be a competitive SEC defense even without the departed superstars.
“We always talk about relentless pursuit and never-ending pressure – being dominant and disruptive up front and challenging all routes on the back end,” Shoop told reporters last weekend at the Bulldogs’ media day. “Those are things that we’ll continue to do, just the strengths of the unit and the strengths of the group might be a bit different than they were last year.”
His stint at Tennessee aside, Shoop’s decade as a coordinator at big-time programs indicates he will find a way to play to his current defense’s strengths. Even if he will not come at the massive discount he did in 2018, Shoop’s track record predicts he will be worth the additional compensation.
HOW BIG WAS THE SHOOP DISCOUNT?
The opinion that Shoop was 2018’s best bargain in major college football seems inarguable. While this is obviously an incomplete list since all 65 Power Five defensive coordinators were not included in the USA Today salary database, comparing teams’ scoring defense rankings to their coordinator salaries reinforces this point.
Shoop’s Bulldogs ranked second nationally in scoring defense, while his salary tied for 49th among solo or primary Power Five defensive coordinators. In comparison, big names like LSU’s Dave Aranda (first in salary, 16th in scoring defense among Power Five teams), Texas A&M’s Mike Elko (fourth in salary, 21st in scoring defense) and Oregon’s Jim Leavitt (sixth in salary, 22nd in scoring defense) didn’t fare as well.
I came up with an informal system of comparing value, subtracting a coordinator’s salary ranking from his team’s scoring defense ranking. Thus, a negative number is good and a positive number reflects poor value.
Shoop’s value rating was minus-47, easily the best among the Power Five defensive coordinators listed in the USA Today database. The closest defensive coordinators to that rating were Virginia’s Nick Howell at minus-36 (13th in scoring defense, tied for 49th in salary), Utah’s Morgan Scalley at minus-33 (11th in scoring defense, tied for 44th in salary) and Michigan State’s Mike Tressel (fifth in scoring defense, 34th in salary).
The worst values among Power Five defensive coordinators? Ole Miss’ Wesley McGriff at plus-36 (49th in scoring defense, tied for 13th in salary) and Louisville’s Brian VanGorder at plus-34 (51st in scoring defense, 17th in salary), neither of whom remain employed with those programs. Among the worst results for returning Power Five defensive coordinators are plus-27 for both Illinois’ Hardy Nickerson (50 in scoring defense, tied for 23 in salary) and Florida State’s Harlon Barnett (42nd in scoring defense, 15th in salary).