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Clemson tops ACC with high-priced assistants

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Salaries for coordinators continue to rise in the ACC, as they do around college football.

But Clemson has taken it to a new level.

The defending Atlantic Coast Conference champions are paying out a combined $2.1 million this season for their coordinators. Second-year offensive leader Chad Morris is the highest paid assistant in college football at $1.3 million a year.

"I didn't know all those years as a coordinator I was so underpaid," quipped Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, the offensive coordinator on Tennessee's national championship team in 1998.

Cutcliffe made $340,000 his last season with the Vols in 2007 before joining Duke. That would be a coordinator bargain at some ACC schools.

Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops earns $550,000 while offensive coordinator Rick Trickett makes $440,000. Virginia offensive coordinator Bill Lazor earns $453,000 and defensive coordinator Jim Reid $395,000.

Virginia Tech defensive leader Bud Foster makes $471,762 this season while offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring will earns $349,980.

No campus in the league, though, tops Clemson where Morris and defensive coordinator Brent Venables ($800,000 a year) make more combined than the Tigers head coach, Dabo Swinney.

Swinney was scheduled to make $2.2 million this season coming off the school's first ACC championship in 20 years. However, Swinney reassigned a contractual bonus from winning the title, or about $265,000, so Clemson could reward the assistants with raises.

Morris brought his fast-paced offense to Clemson in 2011 only two years removed from coach high school football in Texas. The attack brought near instant success -- the Tigers set school records for points and yards gained last season -- and had other schools, most notably Ohio State and new coach Urban Meyer, seeking to add Morris to their staffs.

Swinney countered with a six-year, $7.8 million deal, the highest in the game for top assistants. Morris faces a major buyout the first three years if he leaves for anything other than a head coaching job.

Venables left Oklahoma after 13 seasons to fix Clemson's defense. His salary is a step up from the $675,000 Kevin Steele made in the position last year.

"It's really all been about building a program here that we call all be proud of," Swinney said.

Some coaches, including the Blue Devils' Cutcliffe, worry the salary system has gotten out of hand. Duke is among several ACC schools -- Wake Forest, Boston College and Miami -- who are private and don't release employee salaries.

"I don't like anything that gets out of whack," Cutcliffe said. "But the entertainment business that we're in is probably the most out of whack thing on earth. We obviously, as human beings, put a whole lot of premium on being entertained."

Don't expect that to change anytime soon.

The major conferences are awash with TV money -- the ACC extended it deal with ESPN in May that will net the league $3.6 billion over 15 years -- that wind up at member schools.

"It really doesn't shock me," said Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, who made $625,000 in 2009, his last year as the Seminoles coach in waiting. "Blame TV. The money is all in the TV. It's a business, it's a corporation."

Terry Don Phillips, who's retiring after 10 years as Clemson's athletic director, said as other programs have increased assistant salaries, schools must respond or get left behind.

The ACC's not the only league with escalating salaries. The Southeastern Conference isn't that far behind the ACC.

Auburn, the 2010 national champion, paid then-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn $1.3 million the following season.

Defending national champ Alabama pays defensive coordinator Kirby Smart $950,000, nearly tripling the $360,000 he made in 2009.

New South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner was an advocate for hiring the best as the school's national championship baseball coach. In his new role, Tanner said he's got to balance necessary spending with fiscal responsibility.

"That thought process of where do you draw the line?" he said. "I think it's foolish to think you're going to get a superstar for a minimal salary if that's not where the marketplace is."

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson doubles as his team's offensive coordinator in the Yellow Jackets option attack. He said each school has to set its threshold for what it can afford. Georgia Tech pays defensive coordinator Al Groh $312,795.

"Certainly the schools with bigger fan bases and bigger deals can probably pay more than some of the other schools," he said.

Duke's Cutcliffe is an Alabama graduate and knows in following his alma mater the amount of publicity, student applications and attention a successful football team can bring a school.

"Forget me being a coach," Cutcliffe said. "As an alum, I'm very pleased with what's going on. Somebody down there is putting the numbers together and (saying) `Nick and his staff may be a bargain"' for Alabama.

Virginia coach Mike London said the highest-priced coordinators face a pressure and accountability equal to that of a head coach.

"it's a daunting task to have that much behind you knowing that every game literally, your job depends on it," he said.

Morris has been through low times in his short stint at Clemson. The Tigers went on a 1-3 slide after opening 8-0 as the offense struggled last fall, finally righting itself in the ACC title game, 38-10 victory over Virginia Tech.Morris is grateful Clemson values his talents and is ready for all that entails, positive and negative. "We know the pressure we put on ourself and that I place on me, it's no different than when I was a high school coach," Morris said. "This is what we do, this is what I expect to have happen. All that other stuff? I've got other things I can worry about" expect salary.

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AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. in Richmond, Va.; and Aaron Beard in Raleigh, N.C.; and Associated Press Writers Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., and George Henry in Atlanta, contributed to this report.