When Bo Pelini left Youngstown State to become the new defensive coordinator at LSU there was immediate scuttlebutt that UK recruiting ace Vince Marrow would be a target for the Penguins to become their next head coach. After heading up to his hometown to meet with YSU representatives, Marrow quickly ended all the rumors by announcing he was staying in Lexington.
Hey BBN I love ?? and appreciate you guys more than you know! It’s been a pleasure working for UK fans across the country. That said my desire to stay in the Commonwealth is greater than my desire to return to Youngstown and be Head Coach. Thanks for the respect & consideration
— CoachMarrowUK (@vincemarrow) February 1, 2020
A few days later, Kentucky was able to close the deal on Mike Drennen II to finish with a top 25 recruiting class and what looks to be a very focused team with 17 returning starters. All things appeared to be sitting pretty heading into what will be a 2020 season with very high expectations. That was all true until Mel Tucker was hired away from Colorado to become the next head coach at Michigan State.
Tucker grew up in Cleveland, Ohio before playing his college ball at Wisconsin. Right after graduation he headed to East Lansing to be a graduate assistant two decades ago for Nick Saban at Michigan State. Following stints at LSU and Ohio State, Tucker would move onto the NFL for a decade. While there, seven of those seasons would see Tucker serve as a defensive coordinator which included an interim head coaching stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012 following the firing of Jack Del Rio. A few years later he moved back to the college ranks.
The defensive back coach relocated to Alabama to work for Nick Saban in 2015 and then became Kirby Smart’s defensive coordinator at Georgia from 2016-18. His work in Athens opened up an head coaching opportunity and Colorado came calling. After one season where he made $2.7 million and went a promising 5-7, Michigan State made him an offer he couldn’t refuse after turning down the job on their first pursuit.
While I am flattered to be considered for the HC job @MSU_football, I am committed to @CUBuffsFootball for #TheBuild of our program, its great athletes, coaches & supporters. #UnfinishedBusiness #GoBuffs
— Mel Tucker (@Coach_mtucker) February 8, 2020
According to a report by The Athletic, Michigan State returned with an offer that is going to double Tucker’s salary to pay him around $5 million which would rank in the top-20 of college football and will double the assistant salary pool of $3.15 million that he had in Boulder. The Spartans are all in on their new head coach and that brings us to the news of the day.
Vince Marrow’s name has been mentioned as a potential candidate to become a member of Tucker’s first staff in East Lansing while Kentucky is all of a sudden in a position where they must again fend off a Big Ten school from taking their top recruiter and arguably most important member of their staff. Now it’s time to understand why he would take the job.
The Attraction to Michigan State
Back when Mel Tucker was at Georgia, Vince Marrow went on record and said that he was friends with Tucker at the time. While there is no work history together, it is pretty clear that they are pals and we hear all the time that college football is a relationship business. The first thing Tucker is looking to fix at Michigan State will be recruiting at a higher level in Ohio and keeping players from the Detroit area in-state. Marrow could solve a lot of those issues.
While it’s very unlikely that Marrow would get coordinator responsibilities, we must recognize that the Spartans have a lot of money to spend with a salary pool around $6 million which would be among the elites in the sport. Tucker’s work experience in college football has almost entirely been with Nick Saban and those practices were taken to Sanford Stadium with Kirby Smart. They run a program that centers everything around recruiting and devotes as many resources as possible to getting the best players. Georgia spent more on recruiting than Colorado paid Tucker last season. The core of everything they do centers around attracting talent.
While in Boulder, Tucker showed some of those skills by pulling in a top-35 class in 2020 with multiple recruits coming from Michigan in his first two classes. In East Lansing, he’ll be taking over a program with a much higher recruiting ceiling. The Spartans are likely going to make Marrow a very, very high priority to help fix their recruiting profile.
The bottomline in all of this, however, is that a pay raise is there for Marrow if he wants it. UK’s tight ends coach is set to make $625,000 this season after a raise and extension was given heading into the 2019 season, but the flirtation with two gigs in a matter of weeks certainly smells like Marrow wants to get paid more. According to Cats Illustrated’s Justin Rowland, the Spartans may be willing to reach seven figures.
After being courted by Jim Harbaugh to come to Michigan, Kentucky was able to keep Vince Marrow in Lexington with a pay raise. Now the Wildcats are up against another Big Ten program in the Great Lake State, but this one has a personal relationship with Marrow. However, UK has that too.
The Big Dog grew up and went to high school with Mark Stoops. There is no denying that they have a very close relationship. Even Stoops’ mother has been involved in keeping Marrow in Lexington.
“Mainly because my buddy Mark,” Marrow said of why he’s still at Kentucky. “His mother, I’ll never forget, in 2013 when I took this job — it’s kind of hard where we’re from in Youngstown, people say mafia and stuff — but she made a threat to me and said, ‘Vince, take care of my Marky,’ and I was like, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ I never forgot about that.”
The real issue in this situation really comes down to financials. Vince Marrow’s salary in 2019 ranked 95th nationally according to USA Today. In that list, 16 SEC assistants who are not coordinators ranked higher than Marrow. At this point, it’s fair to think that Marrow is more valuable than most of the coaches on this list and he should be paid more.
It’s clear that Michigan State is willing, at least right now, to go way above market rate to pay Marrow some big time bread. They have a ton of cash to spend and need to eliminate a Kentucky recruiting effort in both Ohio and Michigan that has been a really big thorn in their side. So this could very well come down to the Wildcats matching what the Spartans are willing to put on the line. Will they do it?
Kentucky’s salary pool currently sits around $5 million and this is the biggest commitment they have ever made to the football program. However, SEC schools have never had more money and it seems that Kentucky is still falling behind when it comes to providing salary for staff. Under new head coach Sam Pittman, Arkansas will be paying new coordinators Kendal Briles and Barry Odom over a million dollars. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee all had multiple non-coordinator assistants that ranked higher than UK’s highest assistant in 2019. Derrick LeBlanc appeared to leave UK for Arkansas because the Hogs were paying him $450,000 while UK paid $325,000. They now may be approaching put up or shut up time?
The university has shown a real commitment to football, but they need to show they have a real commitment to Vince Marrow. He has almost single-handedly raised UK’s recruiting ceiling to unprecedented heights and wants to be paid like one of the best non-coordinator assistants in the sport. Will Kentucky open the checkbook? If they do, there really is no reason Marrow should leave Lexington for East Lansing.