Tackling college football coaches’ high pay


University of Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban (REUTERS/Jeff Haynes)

USA Today just released its annual analysis of what college football coaches make, and the numbers are pretty staggering.

The average compensation package for college football coaches at major programs is now $1.81 million per year, up roughly $170,000, or 10 percent, since last season, the newspaper reports. That number has skyrocketed 90 percent since 2006, when it first began its analysis.

Unsurprisingly, Nick Saban, the coach of two-time defending national champion the University of Alabama, is the nation's highest paid coach. He rakes in $5.5 million, according to USA Today's analysis. The top five are rounded out by Mack Brown (Texas), Bret Bielema (Arkansas), Butch Jones (Tennessee) and Bob Stoops (Oklahoma). Each of the top 10 has a total pay package worth more than $3.7 million.

But however much the growth in pay since 2006 may be jaw-dropping, the truly surprising comparison is what these coaches make versus what university presidents make. In the most recent analysis by the Chronicle of Higher Education, median total compensation for presidents of public research universities was $441,392, up 4.7 percent from the year before. While the numbers are not directly comparable, it gives us a sense that football coaches are being paid roughly four times more than university presidents. Such pay discrepancies say plenty about how much schools value their football programs—and believe in the power of one person to make an impact on them.

Yes, football programs may help to finance other collegiate sports, and winning programs help boost a school's reputation with prospective students. But as USA Today notes in its analysis, what do such high pay packages say about institutional priorities when recent studies show that instructional spending hasn't kept pace with spending on athletics? And by paying coaches roughly four times what their bosses make, is it any wonder so much power resides not only in the football program, but specifically in the coach's office?

It's interesting to note, after all, that one of the few schools whose president and football coach both make the top 10 highest paid lists is Ohio State, where former university president E. Gordon Gee retired after making inappropriate comments about Notre Dame and the Southeastern Conference. This is the same president who defended his former coach, Jim Tressel, amid a memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal by saying, "I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”

These incidents illustrate the sway football can have over university leaders. Before announcing his retirement from Ohio State in June, Gee made nearly $2 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year, according to the Chronicle's analysis. And his football coach, Urban Meyer? USA Today reports his pay is nearly double that amount, ringing up at $4.6 million.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

Another pay increase for public university presidents

Gordon Gee's comments and the sway of college sports

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

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Tom Fox · November 6, 2013