NCAA Sports

The 25 highest-paid coaches in college sports

ByBrad Crawford Jun 30, 11:31 AM

It pays to win in college athletics. Competing for national championships in revenue-generating sports is a business and retaining the nation’s top coaches can be costly. Contract negotiations are pushed front and center immediately following successful seasons in an effort to reward program leaders while also putting a premium on future prosperity.

Deals are re-written to include handsome performance-based bonuses, not limited to titles. On the heels on his blowout win over Alabama to punctuate the 2018 campaign, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney finalized a record-setting 10-year, $93 million with the Tigers, a contract that includes an “Alabama clause” and makes it quite expensive for another program to swoop in and get him.

Elite college programs yearn for long-lasting success inside the Top 10 and investing in leadership — as Clemson has done — comes at the forefront of ensuring that happens. To put those numbers in perspective, Swinney will make $18 million more than Jimbo Fisher — who inked a head-turning $75 million deal at Texas A&M in Dec. 2017.

Pulling contract details and updated extension figures across major Power 5 programs, here’s a look at salaries the nation’s 25 highest-paid coaches are set to receive for the 2020 season. USA Today publishes salary totals annually and you can view their findings as a guide to last season’s pay:

(Photo: HailState.com, 247Sports)

25. Rick Barnes, Tennessee ($4.7 million)

24. Mark Stoops, Kentucky ($4.75 million)

23. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa ($4.8 million)

22. Gary Patterson, TCU ($4.9 million)

T21. Mike Leach, Mississippi State ($5 million)

Leach’s contract at Mississippi State will pay him five million dollars annually over four years, which is the maximum amount of years allowed under state laws. That salary is a raise of $1 million for Leach, who was set to make $4 million dollars with the Cougars in 2020. That contract figure is the highest for a coach in program history, so it’s obvious the Bulldogs believe in their investment and where Leach can take the program in Starkville.

(Photo: Bruce Thorson, USA TODAY Sports)

T21. Scott Frost, Nebraska ($5 million)

19. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State ($5.12 million)

18. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern ($5.14 million)

Frost has signed a two-year extension to remain as the Huskers head football coach through 2026 in November 2019, in the middle of his second straight losing season. Nebraska released a joint statement on behalf of Chancellor Ronnie Green and Athletic Director Bill Moos that reads, “Two years ago, we had the tremendous opportunity to bring Scott Frost home to Nebraska to lead our football program into the future. We are even more committed to that decision today. Coach Frost has shown tremendous leadership in beginning to rebuild our football program.

“We appreciate that a change of this nature will not happen overnight. We are committed to Scott and the direction he is taking this program. Scott is the right coach at the right time for this program. We are excited for the heights to which he will take Nebraska football and the tremendous impact he will have in the development of our student athletes.”

(Photo: Icon Sportswire, 247Sports)

T16. Mick Cronin, UCLA ($5.5 million; includes $2 million bonus)

T16. Mel Tucker, Michigan State ($5.5 million)

14. James Franklin, Penn State ($5.6 million)

13. Ryan Day, Ohio State ($6 million)

12. Dan Mullen, Florida ($6 million)

Ryan Day’s new deal will keep him with the Buckeyes through the 2026 season and will pay him as much as $7.6 million per year. Day’s original contract paid him $4.5 million per season and he will be making that salary until June 30 of this year. Starting July 1, 2020, his salary will bump up to $6 million, and he will also receive a $1 million contribution to his retirement plan on Dec. 31, 2020. On Feb. 1, 2021, Day’s salary will increase to $6.5 million. In 2022, it will jump to $7.6 million. Any salary increases after that must be approved by the athletic director (currently Gene Smith) and the Board of Trustees.

12. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma ($6.4 million)

(Photo: Collin Kennedy, 247Sports)

Riley’s new five-year, $32 million extension features the highest raise in program history, various off-the-field luxuries and nearly $1 million extra annually depending on Oklahoma’s level of success. Riley’s salary in 2019 marked a $1.2 million bump from his 2018 pay and nearly $1 million more than Bob Stoops’ highest salary in Norman ($5.5 million in 2016). Riley’s contract also includes playing privileges at two local golf courses, access to a private plane for 35 hours annually, a University-sponsored car and 20 tickets for each football game — including friends and family access to a suite. Riley is the Big 12 Conference’s second highest-paid coach and is 36-6 with three league titles and a trio of College Football Playoff appearances since taking over in 2017.

11. Jeff Brohm, Purdue ($6.6 million)

Jeff Brohm (Photo: Jay Biggerstaff, USA TODAY Sports)

The Boilermakers made a statement that caused the ground to shake in the Big Ten when they locked up their head coach with a new seven-year deal worth $36.8 million. It was more than enough to keep Brohm happy in West Lafayette and away from the opening at Louisville, a program many thought he’d return to after consecutive bowl trips with the Boilermakers. Purdue’s 2019 signing was the highest-ranked in program history per the 247Sports Composite and followed a season that included nationally-ranked wins over Ohio State, Boston College and Iowa. It was the perfect time for Brohm and his agent to cash in on early success.

10. Tom Herman, Texas ($6.7 million)

(Photo: Ben Queen, USA TODAY Sports)

Signed through 2023, Herman finalized terms on his two-year extension at the conclusion of the 2018 season after beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. For the first time since the 2009 campaign, Texas won at least 10 games (10-4), finished in the Top 10 of both the Associated Press Top 25 and the Amway Coaches Poll (No. 9 in both polls) and played in the Dr. Pepper Big 12 Football Championship Game. After three seasons in Austin, Herman is 25-15 overall with eight wins over teams ranked in the AP Top 25 (five wins in 2018). Along with the on-field success per Horns247, Texas has also reeled in three consecutive Top 10 recruiting classes (according to 247Sports Composite) under his watch.

9. Kirby Smart, Georgia ($6.8 million)

(Photo: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)

Smart received a new seven-year contract in 2018, pushing his salary just behind Alabama’s Nick Saban and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn in the SEC at the time. Smart’s original deal paid him $3.75 million annually. Smart agreed to the contract extension in May of that year, which paid him $6.7 million in 2019 and increases to $6.8 million in 2020. Smart will make $7 million in 2021, $7.2 million in 2022, $7.3 million in 2023, and $7.4 million in 2024. Under his new bonus structure per Dawgs247, Smart can earn an extra $100,00 if Georgia wins the SEC East. That increases to $225,000 if the Bulldogs win the SEC Championship game. He can only earn the highest of those two bonuses and not both which he did last season when Georgia won its third consecutive division crown.

8. Gus Malzahn, Auburn ($6.9 million)

Gus Malzahn (Photo: Jason Caldwell/Inside The Auburn Tigers/AUTigers.com, USA TODAY Sports)

Malzahn’s seven-year, $49 million extension signed February 2018 started with a pay raise to $6.7 million in 2018, with additional bumps of $100,000 each year during the life of the deal, per AuburnUndercover. Malzahn’s original deal was worth an average of $4.75 million per year through 2020. Under the new terms, Malzahn will be paid $7.3 million in 2024, the final year of the current deal if he survives a brutal annual slate in the SEC West. Contrary to multiple reports, Malzahn said at the end of the 2018 season when his job appeared to be in jeopardy heading into the new year that he was never told to alter his contract or reduce the terms of a hefty buyout with other limitations.

7. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke ($7.2 million)

(Photo: Rob Kinnan, USA TODAY Sports)

Owner of the most wins in college basketball history, Coach K is signed through 2022 in Durham and has reportedly been told he has a lifetime deal in place with the Blue Devils. He once turned down the Los Angeles Lakers to stay at Duke and has led the program more than three decades, winning five NCAA titles, 12 ACC regular season championships and 15 ACC Tournament titles. Coach K has helped the Blue Devils advance to 12 Final Fours during his tenure and only UCLA Hall of Famer John Wooden has more NCAA championships (10) all-time. Coach K has been Duke’s leader since 1980.

6. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M ($7.5 million)

(Photo: Ronald Martinez, Getty)

At the time of signing, Fisher’s deal was the largest single contract in college football history, worth a guaranteed $75 million over 10 years. That’s how confident the Aggies were in landing the Florida State head coach following Kevin Sumlin’s exit and his hefty buyout. Like most Power 5 head coaches, Fisher’s contract has escalators and bonus opportunities. According to GigEm247’s copy of Fisher’s contract, he will receive a $100,000 bonus if A&M wins the SEC West, $200,000 for the winning the SEC outright, $100,000 if the team makes a bowl game, $200,000 for a ‘New Year’s Six’ bowl game, $300,000 for a College Football Playoff semifinal appearance, $500,000 for making it to the championship game of the playoff and $1 million for winning a national title. If Fisher is named SEC Coach of the Year, it is worth $50,000, while National Coach of the Year honors would be worth $100,000.

5. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan ($8 million)

(Photo: Isaiah Hole // WolverinesWire.com, USA TODAY Sports)

Per details of his contract originally signed on Dec. 28, 2014 and lasting three days after the conclusion of Michigan’s 2021 season, Harbaugh saw a 10 percent boost in salary for the upcoming season that kicked in on Jan. 11, per Football Scoop. That sends his pay north of $8 million, making him one of only four coaches nationally to exceed that number. The three guys ahead of him have all won national championships this decade, while Harbaugh hasn’t reached the Big Ten Championship yet. The powers in Ann Arbor are approaching contract extension talks with hesitancy and have chosen to assess his tenure from a distance.

4. John Calipari, Kentucky ($8.1 million)

(Photo: Jay Biggerstaff, USA TODAY Sports)

One national championship. Four trips to the Final Four. Seven appearances in the Elite Eight. And more NCAA Tournament wins than Kentucky coaching legend Adolph Rupp. Still, John Calipari is overpaid and overrated according to many national media members who have deemed his tenure at Kentucky underwhelming based on rings. After Calipari confirmed earlier this year he was staying with the Wildcats after agreeing to a lifetime deal, an onslaught of criticism appeared on social media from those wanting to see more from college basketball’s highest-paid coach. Calipari brought in more than $9.2 million last season (total compensation) and used an offseason offer from UCLA for more leverage in Lexington. Smart business move.

3. Ed Orgeron, LSU ($8.7 million)

(Photo: Andy Altenburger, 247Sports)

Orgeron’s run to a national championship in Baton Rouge paid off greatly at the end of the 2019 season when he signed a six-year, $42 million extension, increasing his $4 million annual pay to nearly $9 million for 2020. Orgeron is 40-9 during his tenure with the Tigers, including 11 wins in his last 12 games against Top 10 opponents. Orgeron has improved LSU’s team every year since taking over for Les Miles and the power brass believes he is the guy to keep it going at the top of the SEC. Orgeron has been a member of LSU’s staff since January 2015, when he was hired as defensive line coach. He was named interim head coach in September 2016 following the university’s decision to fire Miles and the rest is history.

2. Nick Saban, Alabama ($9.1 million)

(Photo: Marvin Gentry, USA TODAY Sports)

Saban, who soon enters his 14th season in Tuscaloosa, Ala., will enjoy a $400,000 salary increase for the 2020 season based on parameters agreed to in July 2018 when he signed a multi-year extension with the Crimson Tide through the 2025 season. Saban’s 11-2 campaign in 2019 was his first two-loss regular season since 2010. Since winning the first of five national championships during his tenure at Alabama in 2009, Saban has led the program to the College Football Playoff four times in five years since inception including four appearances in the title game. His 138 victories since 2009 is the most in college football over that stretch and he has signed more top-ranked recruiting classes (per the 247Sports Composite) than any coach.

1. Dabo Swinney, Clemson ($9.3 million)

(Photo: Getty)

Swinney signed a record-setting contract extension last spring worth $93 million over the next 10 years, figures that stiff-armed the market into another stratosphere for elite-level coaches. 247Sports included Swinney on its list of coaches who deserve lifetime contracts and this agreement represents the university making its best effort to ensure he never leaves the Tigers. Swinney has won two national championships over the past five seasons and nearly won a third in 2015. His eye-popping deal also includes an “Alabama clause” that substantially increases his buyout in case the Crimson Tide come after him once Saban retires down the road. Clemson has finished inside the Associated Press Top 15 every season since 2012 and Swinney has transformed the Tigers into the national powerhouse.

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