USA Today on Wednesday published its annual database of head coaches’ salaries for all 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, and in it were some interesting nuggets.
First and foremost, it pays to win national championships. Alabama’s Nick Saban, who has won four national titles with the Crimson Tide and one at LSU, sits atop the salary mountain at $11.13 million per season. Dabo Swinney of reigning national champion Clemson is No. 2 at $8.53 million. Two other national champion coaches, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer ($6.43M) and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher ($5.7M), rank fourth and sixth, respectively.
Second, it pays to be in the SEC or the Big Ten. While Saban and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin (No. 10 at $5M) were the only two SEC coaches among the top 10 in total pay, the conference has 10 of the top 30. The Big Ten has two in the top five, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh (No. 3 at $7M) and Meyer, plus four others in the top 30. In the SEC, teams are shelling out $58.52 million for head coaches, or an average of $4.18 million. In the Big Ten, it’s $52.61 million, or an average of $3.76 million. Good work, if you can get it.
Where does P.J. Fleck rank? USA Today lists the first-year Minnesota coach as making $3.5 million this season, putting him 29th and sixth in the Big Ten. USA Today also lists school buyout figures as of Dec. 1 this year, and Fleck’s is $9.58 million.
Some buyout figures are eye-popping. Swinney leads the way with a $40 million buyout, followed by Fisher ($39.31M), Washington’s Chris Petersen ($30.67M), Saban ($26.9M) and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz ($22.54M).
So, who’s getting a bargain and who’s getting fleeced?
Big Ten bargains
1. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin: The Badgers coach is making $3.2 million, ninth in the Big Ten, but has his team off to a 7-0 start and ranked No. 5.
2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State: Is $6.43 million a bargain? It is if you’re winning national titles and contending for the College Football Playoff every year.
3. James Franklin, Penn State: He’s third in the Big Ten and 12th nationally at $4.6 million, and the Nittany Lions are a national power again.
Big Ten fleecings
1. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan: He’s making $7 million a year and has a $20.56 million buyout, which is a lot for someone who’s 25-8 since taking over in Ann Abor, the same mark his predecessor, Brady Hoke, had in his first 33 games.
2. Lovie Smith, Illinois: In his second year, Smith is making $3 million but has a 5-14 record. A $16.5 million buyout will make it tough to move him.
3. Mike Riley, Nebraska: The salary isn’t high — $2.9 million — but the Huskers weren’t expecting this mess.
Best national bargain
Kirby Smart, Georgia. His Dawgs are ranked No. 3, and he’s making $3.75 million look like a good deal. Runner-up: Dave Doeren is making only $2.2 million (an extension is in the works) and has North Carolina State contending in the ACC.
Top national fleecing
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona. His $6.03 million annual paycheck is awful large for a 41-31 record in Tucson. Runner-up: We won’t pile on 3-4 Butch Jones at Tennessee, but he’s making $4.1 million, with an $8.13 million buyout.
Randy Johnson covers college football for the Star Tribune.