Being a college coach > Being a governor

May 20, 2013

If you had any doubt about who the most important person -- if salary is an indicator of importance (and it is) -- is in most states in the country, the map below put together by the good folks at Deadspin should dispel it.


Map courtesy of Deadspin/Reuben Fischer-Baum

In 40 of the 50 states, the highest paid public employee is either a football, basketball or hockey coach at a public university. (It's fitting that the hockey coach comes from New Hampshire.) In 0 out of the 50 states is the highest paid employee a politician.

So, what does the map tell us?

First and foremost that the true power in many most of these states rests not with the politicians but rather with the coaches. Quick: Name the governor of Alabama. Now name the football coach at the University of Alabama.  Everyone knows Nick Saban is the answer to the latter question; not many people (outside of political dorks like us) know that Robert Bentley is the governor. (Saban makes nearly $5 million a year; Bentley doesn't make a dime since he pledged not to accept a salary until the state's unemployment rate went under five percent, but if he did accept compensation it would be $121,000.)

That reality means that if/when coaches ever want to get into politics, they immediately benefit from an incredibly high profile.  There are, of course, limits.  Former Nebraska Cornhuskers football coach Tom Osborne was easily elected -- he won 82 percent of the vote -- to a U.S House seat in 2000 but when he challenged sitting governor Dave Heineman in a Republican primary in 2006, Osborne lost.

Of course, Osborne landed just fine -- as the athletic director at the University of Nebraska. He made $277,000 in that gig from which he retired in January.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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