The salary pool for UW’s assistant coaches appears to be shrinking.

But is that the reality, or a momentary mirage?

In 2020, after Jimmy Lake replaced Chris Petersen as the Huskies’ head coach, UW’s salary pool dipped from $5.94 million to $5.15 million — due to Lake’s promotion as well as the comparatively affordable hires of offensive coordinator John Donovan, tight ends coach Derham Cato and assistant defensive backs coach Terrence Brown. That number topped all Pac-12 programs but dropped from 10th to 17th nationwide, according to USA Today’s coaching salary database.

And, following last month’s departure of former UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski — the Pac-12’s highest-paid assistant, who was set to make $1.1 million in 2021 — Lake’s assistant coaching pool will shrink again to roughly $4.87 million beginning July 1, according to contracts provided to The Seattle Times by a university spokesperson on Wednesday. Instead of paying handsomely for an outside hire to replace Kwiatkowski, Lake named inside linebackers coach Bob Gregory his new defensive coordinator and promoted quality control coach Rip Rowan to tutor UW’s defensive line.

Meanwhile, the programs with the top three assistant salary pools nationwide — Alabama ($8.85 million), Ohio State ($7.86 million) and Clemson ($7.64 million) — also qualified for the College Football Playoff last season.

If you get what you pay for, this could be perceived as a troubling trend.

But, according to UW athletic director Jen Cohen, it’s actually an aberration.

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“Football is the engine that’s going to actually give us the ability to come out of this pandemic and stabilize,” Cohen told The Times last week. “So we’ve always been invested in football salaries. At one point in time, we were top five in assistant coaching pool salaries. Those numbers went down not because we wanted them to, but because of Jimmy (UW’s highest paid assistant in program history, at $1.4 million in 2019) becoming the head coach. Those (salary pool numbers) were lowered.

“But Jimmy knows. He’s heard from me directly. And as challenging as the financials are, we have to invest in football, and I don’t see limitations there. I do think there are definitely some schools that even 10 years ago, five years ago, it’s always hard to compete with them just with the (level of financial investment) in general. But we’ve always been in the range and we will be. There’s no limitations there.”

The financial effect of COVID-19 is hard to quantify. It’s true, four of UW’s assistants — wide receivers coach Junior Adams, running backs coach Keith Bhonapha, tight ends coach Derham Cato and defensive backs coach Will Harris — took temporary salary reductions in parts of 2020 and 2021. But eight of UW’s assistants (excluding Cato and offensive line coach Scott Huff) will also see their salaries rise this year, and five — Gregory, Adams, Bhonapha, Cato and Harris — were awarded fresh raises this offseason. All Husky assistant coaches are now under contract through the end of 2022.

The top earner on the list is second-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach John Donovan, who is set to make $875,000 in both 2021 and 2022 after netting $850,000 in his first year on staff.

He’s followed, unsurprisingly, by Gregory — who received a massive raise along with his new title. After earning $575,000 in 2020, Gregory will make the monthly equivalent from $776,010 for Feb. 1 to June 30, before that salary spikes to $800,000 beginning on July 1. Should Gregory accept any assistant coaching position at a Pac-12 program before his contract expires on Jan. 31, 2023, he’d owe the university one year of guaranteed salary.

The Huskies’ highest paid noncoordinator remains offensive line coach Scott Huff, who is due $700,000 both in 2021 and 2022. Co-defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach Ikaika Malloe did not receive a new raise this offseason, but his salary is set to increase from $525,000 to $575,000 nonetheless.

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Besides Gregory, third-year wide receivers coach Junior Adams is set to make the largest leap. After accepting a salary reduction from $375,000 to the monthly equivalent from $363,756 for July 1, 2020, through Jan. 31, Adams’ pay will spike to $500,000 in 2021 and 2022.

Likewise, running backs coach Keith Bhonapha — who added the special teams coordinator title this offseason — will also make a leap. After accepting a temporary salary dip from $400,000 to the monthly equivalent from $388,008 for July 1, 2020, through Jan. 31, Bhonapha will receive the monthly equivalent from $436,500 for Feb. 1 to June 30. Thereafter, the longtime Husky assistant’s salary will spike again to $450,000.

In his second season after being promoted to UW’s defensive backs coach, Harris will also receive a moderate raise. The former USC DB’s salary decreased from $300,000 to the monthly equivalent from $291,000 for July 1, 2020, through Jan. 31, but he’ll make the monthly equivalent from $315,252 for Feb. 1 to June 30 — at which point his pay will increase to $325,000.

Cato is the only Husky assistant whose salary reduction is set to stretch an entire year. The second-year UW tight ends coach’s pay dipped from $225,000 to $218,256 from July 1, 2020, through June 30 of this year. His salary will be restored to the monthly equivalent from $225,000 from then until Jan. 31, 2022, at which point he’ll receive a raise to $250,000.

Brown — a UW graduate assistant from 2015 to 2017 — earned $200,000 in his first year back on Montlake, and he’s set to make $215,000 each of the next two years. Likewise, Rowan’s two-year contract includes a salary of $200,000 in 2021 and $215,000 in 2022.

Without nationally coveted coordinators like Kwiatkowski and Lake, UW’s salary pool figures were bound to deflate. But Lake — who has taken pride in his penchant for promoting from within — believes wins and titles will yield more dollar signs, too.

“Look, this place is always going to be about bricklayers and hard workers,” said Lake, who is set to make $3.1 million in the second of a five-year deal. “When we start doing things the way I know we’re going to be doing them around here, if that’s what you want to see — salaries go up — that’s probably what’s going to happen to keep these great coaches that are here.

“For us to go outside of what we’re doing on defense and go spend a bunch of money on a (defensive coordinator) that’s going to change our whole defense? This is my opinion, and probably a lot of shared opinions around here: for how successful we’ve been on defense, that’s not the right thing to do. So President (Ana Mari) Cauce and also Jen Cohen have always been very forthright. Anything we need, we will be able to do. And I know that’s going to be the case here going forward.”

UW assistant coach 2021 salaries (beginning July 1)

  • Offensive coordinator/QB coach John Donovan: $875,000
  • Offensive line coach Scott Huff: $700,000
  • Wide receivers coach Junior Adams: $500,000
  • Running backs coach/special teams coordinator Keith Bhonapha: $450,000
  • Tight ends coach Derham Cato: $225,000
  • Defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach Bob Gregory: $800,000
  • Co-defensive coordinator/outside linebackers coach Ikaika Malloe: $575,000
  • Defensive backs coach Will Harris: $325,000
  • Assistant defensive backs coach Terrence Brown: $215,000
  • Defensive line coach Rip Rowan: $200,000

Assistant salary pool: $4.87 million