LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. (Associated Press)
Alabama head football coach Nick Saban. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 1:56 PM
LSU’s new football offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, was trotted out onto the field at a baseball game last Friday and introduced to the fans.
Their enthusiastic reaction would have made you think the Tigers just hit a grand slam.
Maybe they did, figuratively, in football.
Cameron soaked in the ovation and the adulation with a big grin, enjoying the warm reception on a chilly night.
As they walked off the field, a veteran LSU administrator kept a big outward smile, too, all the while telling Cameron out the side of his mouth: “Don’t get too excited. This might be the last time these fans ever cheer you.”
Unless Cameron can snap his fingers and instantly turn the Tigers’ awkward offense into an indecipherable maze that baffles opponents and computers alike, he was probably correct.
It’s historically true that LSU fans can be pretty rough on offensive coordinators, probably more for their role of (unimaginative) play-caller than whatever creative coordinating they may be up to.
At best, it’s tough love, trying to be helpful from the cheap seats, which really aren’t that cheap anymore.
They will love him up to the moment a third-and-short play call goes against the grain and somehow does not work.
That’s generally the shelf life of the play-caller’s honeymoon — that telling moment when “my grandmother can tell you what’s coming next!”
When plays do work, it’s because LSU has so much talent or just the lucky quirks of the Mad Hatter up to his mischief again.
It can be a thankless job.
But at least Cameron will be well paid for his aggravation.
It was LSU that ushered in the era of the mega-millionaire head coach as a matter of routine.
Now the school apparently is looking to do the same thing for coordinators.
History tells us it will not go unnoticed.
Coordinators throughout the country can rejoice. The financial chains have been broken. The sky is the limit.
The salary yardstick for head coaches got a game-changing boost — one that went well beyond the normal inflationary bump — when LSU hired Nick Saban in 2000.
Keep in mind that, although well respected in football circles, Saban at the time was not the coaching rock star he went on to become.
It doesn’t seem like all that much now, but at the time the $1.2 million per year that LSU agreed to pay him to leave Michigan State sounded like real money.
It was both groundbreaking and eye-opening. Shocking, some would say.
He was not the first coach to crack the million dollar barrier.
But at the time the only other two coaches making a mil a year were two of the true coaching icons of the time — Steve Spurrier at Florida and Bobby Bowden at Florida State.
Saban likes money as much as the next guy, but LSU probably could have landed him for less. He liked Michigan State OK, but had come to realize he might have hit the ceiling with the Spartans always playing second fiddle to Michigan. He liked LSU’s potential.
Mark Emmert, now the NCAA president, was fairly new on the job as LSU’s chancellor, and he wasn’t exactly allergic to headlines.
By overpaying to get Saban, he was announcing that LSU was now a big-time player in college football.
It sent ripples through the game.
It was up to others to keep up, and they surely did, particularly in the SEC where, within a few years, if you weren’t paying a head coach a spare million or two, it meant you weren’t really trying.
The rest of the country was a little slower, but coaches’ agents soon had a negotiating phrase for what they wanted — “SEC money.”
Filthy rich head coaches should say a little prayer for Emmert every night before they go to sleep.
Now it may be career coordinators’ chance to thank LSU.
Cameron’s salary for this year isn’t all that mind boggling, a mere $600,000. But the three-year deal is heavily backloaded — $1.3 million next year and $1.5 large the next.
Average it out and it comes to just about $1.13 million a year, or almost the same as the salary that LSU shocked the world with for a head coach 13 years ago.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis was already making $1 million a year.
For now, LSU will be the first school with both coordinators making more than a million, although others will surely join in soon, mostly out of guilt.
Of course, history also tells us that the Saban deal at LSU, shocking as it seemed at the time, turned out to be the bargain of the century.
If Cameron can get the LSU offense out of its perennial funk, this one might be too.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org