Uneven Sidelines
By Joseph Caulo on November 30, 2016

On the field, a football game remains numerically even on both sides. Eleven players on offense match up with eleven players on defense, no exceptions.

The deviation in numbers can be found by a player when he comes off the field to his coaching staff. Some sidelines have coaches spanning the length of the 50-yard coaching box, possessing a coach for each position corps on the team, if not more. Other times, a team will have as little as three coaches filling the most basic coaching positions in football: head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator.

It is up to a head coach to pick his assistants. But many times he is hindered by restrictions that are out of his control, only being able to go as far with his hires as the presiding school district and school board will allow him to go. Now that the 2016 Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) football season has concluded, a question rises. How did the size of coaching staffs make a difference in determining the success of a program? As it turns out, quite a bit.

In Arizona, the salary of a high school football head coach and his assistants is largely based on where the high school is located, not on the merit of their coaching. Naturally, a high school in a wealthier school district will be able to pay its football coach and assistants a better salary than a high school in a struggling school district. This creates a situation where the best coaches and staffs tend to land in better-funded school districts.

Better coaches and larger staffs make for more success on the football field, and the results of the 2016 AIA State Football Championships support this. Chandler High School, located in Chandler Unified School District where the average salary for a football coach is $41,103, defeated Mountain Pointe High School, located in Phoenix where the average coach's salary is much lower, by a score of 36-17 for the 6A state title game.

In 5A, Williams Field High School, located in Gilbert where the average yearly salary of a head football coach is about $46,000, took home the state title. Saguaro, located in one of Arizona’s wealthiest cities, Scottsdale, where the average head coach makes well over $50,000 a year, won the State Championship at the 4A level.

Compare these salaries to the average salaries made by coaches in cities without a football state champion this year. In Phoenix, the average yearly salary for a high school football coach is $29,960. In Tucson, the number is not much better at $33,150. These are two major metropolitan areas that have a plethora of talent playing on the field, but are unable to break through due to financial shortcomings.

A head football coach at an inner city high school in Phoenix, who’d like to remain anonymous, said one of the biggest challenges keeping his school from excelling in the playoffs is the lack of funding his school receives for athletics.

“You compare us to schools in the surrounding area such as Scottsdale or Gilbert and our funding for football doesn’t even begin to warm them up," the coach said. "There is just no way I could have 10 or more assistant coaches like they have… It’s hard to be as prepared as the other team when they have more guys over there preparing for us then we have to prepare for them. We make up for it the best we can, but it’s definitely a struggle.” 

This head coach is faced with the challenge of taking his full-time coaching staff of just five and competing against schools, such as state champion Chandler, where head coach Shaun Aguano is accompanied by 10 assistant coaches on the sidelines of each varsity game.

For numerical purposes, let's just say that between the two coaching staffs each coach puts in exactly four hours of work preparing in the four days leading up to a Friday game. Larger coaching staffs, such as Aguano’s, will have put in about 176 hours of preparation for the opponent. The smaller coaching staff of just five coaches will have only spent 80 hours preparing. That’s a lot of ground to make up if you’re a part of the smaller staff.

A factor besides salary that determines a coaching staff ’s size is the number of open teaching positions at a high school. Regardless of the sport, many high school coaches must take up a job as a teacher.

According to a report by cron.com, “Some school districts and state athletic associations require all assistant coaches to work in full-time contractual positions at the same school, and most schools that are not required to meet this standard still prefer it. Therefore, many assistant coaches also work as teachers in the same school or school district. Although they do not receive coaching income, they sometimes land teaching jobs due primarily to their willingness to work as unpaid assistant coaches.”

These requirements can make it extremely hard on a coach to build a larger staff if his school is no longer hiring additional teachers, or worse yet, is in the process of laying-off teachers. Following a decision this past spring by the Arizona State Legislature to allocate less money to K-12 schools than the previous year, it will become increasingly difficult for unpaid assistant coaches to exist. If there simply isn’t enough teaching positions open at a school, then it will be tough for head coaches to be accompanied by unpaid assistants.

This is a story that is constantly changing on a yearly basis as school districts receive new budgets to match their enrollment. The evidence of a disparity existing in the size of coaching staffs is clear. Does this disparity grow or narrow in the coming years?

Only time will tell.

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