It Pays To Be The Head Coach: Highest Paid State Employees In The US

Updated: 8413 American Football

It Pays To Be The Head Coach: Highest Paid State Employees In The US
Michael Calabrese US Content Manager

Experienced sports journalist, College sports expert and broadcaster, hailing from Pennsylvania

In the new era of NIL deals and TV contracts valued in the billions, it’s easy to forget that the entire college athletics landscape is built on an outdated notion of amateurism. To be clear, there is nothing amateur about big-time college athletics. It is a business and business is good. 

And like any good business, it takes money to make money. As a result, colleges and universities, and by extension the states that fund those institutions, have made significant financial investments in their on-field success. Stadiums and training facilities valued in the hundreds of millions have sprouted up from Tucson to Tallahassee. But just like the shiny toys purchased by professional leagues like the NBA and NFL, colleges have escalated their spend in one particular category at an alarmingly fast rate in recent years. That category is their budget for head coaches.

OLBG has researched the highest paid state employee in every US state using data from local government sources and can reveal that most of them are college sports coaches. 

In 1995, Florida State’s legendary coach Bobby Bowden signed college football’s first million-dollar deal. His base salary bartered in that deal ($975K) would have the buying power of nearly $1.9 million in today’s dollars. Nick Saban is the highest-paid coach in 2023, raking in  $11.7 million annually. But unlike Bowden, he’s not in a class by himself, not by a longshot. The legendary head coach, with seven national championship rings, is joined by 12 other head coaches who are set to make north of $7 million in 2023 alone

Saban’s success on the field has been a boon for Alabama off the field. Alabama merchandise is consistently one of the top selling across NCAA institutions, and they recently brokered a deal with Fanatics for a first-of-its-kind team store inside of its football stadium that will feature an NIL activation area for Alabama student-athletes and co-branded NIL merchandise from Nike, Fanatics, and Topps. 

Opposing schools are envious of Alabama’s success and are willing to do anything within their financial wherewithal to compete. In some cases, like University of Georgia’s, that meant hiring away one of Saban’s long-time assistants and paying him a king’s ransom ($11.25m). Two national titles later and it appears it was money well spent. But for every Georgia-Smart marriage there are dozens of ill-fated contracts being signed. In some cases its states chasing glory on the gridiron in others on the hardwood. The commonality between them all is they’re shelling out big bucks in the hopes of finding success. 

Among states with at least one major football (FBS/FCS), basketball (Division 1) or hockey (Division 1) program here is the breakdown of which coach made the most money in his respective state.

SportCount% Split
American Football3774%
Basketball1122%
Ice Hockey12%
No Program12%

As you can see, football reigns supreme with 36 of the 50 states paying their football coach the highest salary. Basketball came in a distant second, but some of their head coaches made serious money like Kansas’ Bill Self ($10.18m) and Kentucky’s John Calipari ($8.6m). The lone hockey coach who was his state’s highest-paid coach was North Dakota’s Brady Berry. He collected a little over $450K.  

Where things get really interesting is when you start comparing these salaries to all salaries in a state budget. Nick Saban’s mammoth contract is far and away the highest salaried position in the state of Alabama, but is that the case in every state? 

While examining the other 49 states, you may be shocked to find that over 80% of states believe that making either their football, basketball or hockey coach the top paid state official is a good idea. 


CategoryCount% Split
Sport As Highest Salary4386%
Non-Sport As Highest Salary714%


Seven states have offered a higher salary outside the sporting realm ranging from Chief Medical Examiners to Executive Directors. 

State

Job

Salary

Alaska

Executive Director, Pfc

$379,433

Maine

Clinical Director

$320,869

Montana

President/Chief Executive Officer

$434,720

New Hampshire

Chief Medical Examiner

$255,113

New York

Title Not Disclosed

$975,229

North Dakota

Physician

$589,489

South Dakota

Advanced Professional Work

$728,000


The Clinical Director in Maine and the Chief Medical Examiner in New Hampshire, are earning more than Jordan Stevens (Maine Football HC) and Bill Herrion (New Hampshire Basketball HC) respectively. And while this is rare, it does seem to be relegated to low-population states without major college sports. The exception being New York. The Empire State, unlike many of its northeast neighbors, does not have a flagship state institution with major sports like a Penn State or Rutgers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, respectively. 

The majority of state, 43 in fact, have gone all in college athletics making one of their head coaches the highest paid state official. Here’s a breakdown of the the top 10 salaries of coaches working for state universities across all sports.


State

School

Name

Job

Salary

Alabama

Alabama

Nick Saban

Football Coach

$11,700,00

South Carolina

Clemson

Dabo Swinney

Football Coach

$11,500,000

Georgia

Georgia

Kirby Smart

Football Coach

$11,250,000

Kansas

Kansas

Bill Self

Basketball Coach

$10,180,000

Louisiana

LSU

Brian Kelly

Football Coach

$9,975,000

Michigan

Michigan St

Mel Tucker

Football Coach

$9,500,000

Ohio

Ohio St

Ryan Day

Football Coach

$9,500,000

Nebraska

Nebraska

Matt Rhule

Football Coach

$9,250,000

Texas

Texas A&M

Jumbo Fisher

Football Coach

$9,000,000

Kentucky

Kentucky

John Calipari

Basketball Coach

$8,600,000


Coaches like USC’s Lincoln Riley ($10m) and Duke’s John Scheyer ($9.7m) at private institutions demonstrate that state schools are working within market limits. 

Nick Saban has set the pace, but the three coaches behind him have all won at least one national championship in their respective sports. 

Clemson’s Dabo Swinney tops the list for South Carolina budget at $11.5m per year.  The 53-year-old coach has captured two national titles and eight ACC Conference crowns since he was promoted from interim head coach in late 2008.

Image: clemsonwire

Kirby Smart has Swinney beat at the bank and on the field in recent years. Georgia became the first team in the College Football Playoff era to win back-to-back national championships and he has ridden that success to fabulous riches along the way. 

Because of the success generated by the likes of Swinney, Smart and Saban the three also have massive contract buyouts should their fans and university every turn against them. Swinney for instance, would be owed $64 million if Clemson wanted to part way with him in 2023. That figure drops to $60 million in 2024 and 2025 and then $57 million in 2026. This is par for the course for top-end coaching talent.

Is it worth it? In some cases, the answer is a resounding yes. In others it’s harder to say given a school and fanbase's strict definition of success. Here is a breakdown of national and conference titles for each of those ten coaches listed above 


School

Name

Year Of Employment

Job

Salary

National Championships

Conferences

Alabama

Nick Saban

2007

Football Coach

$11,700,00

7

11

Clemson

Dabo Swinney

2009

Football Coach

$11,500,000

2

8

Georgia

Kirby Smart

2016

Football Coach

$11,250,000

2

2

Kansas

Bill Self

2003

Basketball Coach

$10,180,000

2

16

LSU

Brian Kelly

2022

Football Coach

$9,975,000

2 (D-II)

3

Michigan St

Mel Tucker

2020

Football Coach

$9,500,000

0

0

Ohio

Ryan Day

2019

Football Coach

$9,500,000

0

2

Nebraska

Matt Rhule

2023

Football Coach

$9,250,000

0

0

Texas

Jimbo Fisher

2018

Football Coach

$9,000,000

1

3

Kentucky

John Calipari

2009

Basketball Coach

$8,600,000

1

16


Some of the success obvious came before the big contracts for these coaches, but it’s still worth examining how a previous track record can lead to massive paydays. 

Each year the floor for an elite coaches appears to rise and in the world of college football that salary figure is now the $9 million mark. But it’s not just the football coaches who are raking in the cash. Bill Self and John Calipari, each with sixteen regular season conference titles under their belt, have set the pace for top-end coaching salaries. 

Self was in the unenviable position of replacing living legend Roy Williams when he was hired 20 years ago, but despite the pressure and expectations he has managed to a pair of national championships while appearing in four Final Fours for the Jayhawks. John Calipari has stretched the definition of success, keeping Kentucky in the national spotlight each season by dominating the recruiting trail and filling his roster with future NBA lottery picks. Since taking over in Lexington back in 2009, Calipari and Kentucky have been associated with three No. 1 selections, 34 first-rounders, 22 lottery picks and 45 total players in the NBA Draft.

Image: AP photo

The $9 million mark is where things start to get a little dicey in the world of college football. Brian Kelly and Mel Tucker both make the same salary, yet Kelly has won the Home Depot Coach of the Year Award on three occasions (2009, 2012, 2018) while leading his teams to seven major bowl games since 2009. Mel Tucker is 23-21 with four losing seasons since becoming a head coach in 2019. Michigan State overpaid to keep him after a breakout 11-2 campaign and Peach Bowl victory in 2021, but that may prove to be a very costly mistake in the coming years. 

Tucker’s salary is particularly shocking when you consider that Big Ten rival Ohio State pays Ryan Day the same amount on an annual basis. Day is 45-6 as Ohio State’s head coach with a pair of trips to the College Football Playoff on his resume in first four seasons. 

Matt Rhule is starting at square one out in Lincoln for a Nebraska program in dire need of a makeover. His coaching pedigree, particularly his success at Baylor, makes his gaudy $9.25 million price tag palatable to most college football pundits. 

Last but certainly not least is Jimbo Fisher. Texas A&M is currently forking out $9 million per year for his services, and he has yet to live up to that contract. After a breakout 9-1 campaign during the COVID season, A&M is a middling 13-11 with a losing record (6-10) in SEC play in the past two seasons. In the previous era, that would have gotten Fisher booted straight out of the Lone Star state. But his buyout sits at $76.8 million if he he is fired before Jan. 1st of next year. Even in the SEC where TV contract money rivals oil money and well heeled boosters are willing to fork up tens of millions in buyout cash, his price tag will likely keep him in College Station for a few more years. 

Speaking of TV money, here is what each of the conferences are currently collecting in annual revenue: 

Conference

Annual Value

ACC

$240m

Big 12

$200M

Big East

$40M

Big Ten

$1.15B

Mountain West

$45M

Pac 12

$250M

SEC

$710M


(Source)

One figure that leaps off the page is what the Big Ten has negotiated on the TV front. From 2023 to 2029, the conference will soon be collecting $1 billion a year from the combined likes of FOX, CBS and NBC and this will be great news for coaches like Jim Harbaugh and PJ Fleck at Michigan and Minnesota who may be looking to bolster their existing deals. 

This data also means we can add another layer of context to the top-10 earning table that you saw above. Now we can compare the salary paid to the television deal that the college or university is connected to.



School

Name

Year Of Employment

Job

Salary

Annual TV Deal

Conference

Alabama

Nick Saban

2007

Football Coach

$11,700,00

$710,000,000

SEC

Clemson

Dabo Swinney

2009

Football Coach

$11,500,000

$240,000,000

ACC

Georgia

Kirby Smart

2016

Football Coach

$11,250,000

$710,000,000

SEC

Kansas

Bill Self

2003

Basketball Coach

$10,180,000

$200,000,000

Big 12

LSU

Brian Kelly

2022

Football Coach

$9,975,000

$710,000,000

SEC

Michigan St

Mel Tucker

2020

Football Coach

$9,500,000

$1,000,000,000

Big Ten

Ohio

Ryan Day

2019

Football Coach

$9,500,000

$1,000,000,000

Big Ten

Nebraska

Matt Rhule

2023

Football Coach

$9,250,000

$1,000,000,000

Big Ten

Texas

Jimbo Fisher

2018

Football Coach

$9,000,000

$710,000,000

SEC

Kentucky

John Capliari

2009

Basketball Coach

$8,600,000

$710,000,000

SEC


This data proves that not all investments are created equal. The ACC is in the worst TV situations, hamstrung by their current deal which runs through 2036. Clemson has still made its commitment clear to Swinney by paying him north of $11 million but they don’t have the same safety net should as their Big Ten and SEC opponents should they look to break that contract and pay top dollar for a new coach.  

Speaking of their competition, the Big Ten and its institutions have truly hit the jackpot with the conference earning a staggering $1 billion a year through the sale of televised games and content. It has a direct correlation to the likes of Ohio State and Nebraska digging a little deeper when it comes to their coaching offers. 

The SEC is currently running in second place at $710 million per season, but that’s about to change in a big way. Unlike the ACC, they’re in a power position with a contract that is set to expire and a bidding war that is sure to unfold. Given the new standard set by the Big Ten, the SEC will be joining the billion-dollar club very soon. 

This means if Kirby Smart and Nick Saban are still in charge of Georgia and Crimson Tide, then they may be in line for yet another pay raise. If either can win a national championship in 2023, such a request would be granted without much negotiating. 

While the overriding question in all of this is whether or not the states that actually afford the salaries that they pay to coaches and the best way to measure this is by looking at whether they have a surplus or a deficit.

If we look at the five states that currently have the biggest surplus, we can also measure the success of each of the coaches (seven states that do not pay a coach the biggest salary have been removed). 


State

Coach

Sport

Salary

Surplus Or Deficit %

National Championships

Conferences

Nevada

Ken Wilson

Football

$950,000

27.65%

0

0

Hawaii

Timmy Chang

Football

$600,000

21.42%

0

0

Idaho

Andy Avalos

Football

$1,400,000

18.61%

0

0

North Carolina

Mack Brown

Football

$3,400,000

17.66%

1

2

Missouri

Eli Drinkwitz

Football

$6,000,000

15.47%

0

0


Here we can see that a large state surplus does not necessarily convert to a big salary – that is unless you are Eli Drinkwitz and the $6 million he is currently earning per year from the University of Missouri. 

Of the five states that have the biggest surplus, only Mack Brown has been successful in North Carolina. While he won his conference titles and national championship at Texas, he has been a success in his two stints on UNC (‘88-’97, ‘19-present). 

Both Ken Wilson and Timmy Chang and of Nevada and Hawaii will be speaking to their agents if they can turn around their respective programs. They only earn $950k and $600k, both Nevada and Hawaii are running at over a 20% financial surplus at present.

At the other end of the spectrum, we can look at the five states that are currently running at the biggest deficit

State

Coach

Sport

Salary

Surplus Or Deficit %

National Championships

Conferences

Pennsylvania

James Franklin

Football

$7,000,000

-0.63%

0

1

Alabama

Nick Saban

Football

$10,957,000

-1.25%

7

11

Vermont

John Becker

Basketball

$334,000

-1.79%

0

4

Kentucky

John Capliari

Basketball

$9,300,000

-7.50%

1

16

Wyoming

Craig Bohl

Football

$1,675,000

-20.93%

3 (FCS)

3


Here we can see a huge correlation between running at a deficit and delivering athletic success. With Wyoming running at a -20.93% deficit, they are the only one of the five states that have not seen their current coach deliver either a national championship or conference title to their school. Although their coach Craig Bohl has enough FCS success (3 national titles) to make the Hall of Fame. 

The highest-earning college football and college basketball coaches in this table, both Alabama and Kentucky seemingly value athletic success quite a bit. 

To the point where they are prepared to run at 1.25% and 7.50% deficits and when you consider that is worth a combined seven national championships (six Alabama and one Kentucky) then it hardly seems to matter.

Both Penn State’s Nick Franklin and Vermont’s John Becker should not be overlooked. Pennsylvania is paying the former $7 million a year but have cashed in one Big Ten conference title – something that makes the 0.63% deficit worthwhile.

The same can also be said for Becker’s effort at Vermont, the state may be running at a 1.79% deficit, but it is not stopped the coach from delivering four America East Conference titles since his appointment in 2011 and at a reasonable salary of just $334,000.

By looking at the two tables we can see that there is a correlation between successful states and running a deficit and states that seem to hoard finances and subsequently fall short from an athletic perspective. 

Ultimately, this both debunks and demystifies the concept that you cannot put a price on success. While there isn’t a foolproof way to find success in college sports, the most successful programs, time and time again have invested heavily in their head coaches as a starting point. 

Article Authors

We are fortunate to have NFL expertise on either side of the Atlantic, where Luke Bradshaw-Lee is a keen UK-based NFL fan attending London games and burning the midnight oil to catch all the weekend action, Whilst in the US, Michael Calabrese [@EastBreese] is an Action Network correspondent and College sports podcaster with the deepest football knowledge we have ever come across. They combine to create the best football content on OLBG US

Michael Calabrese

Michael Calabrese

Us content manager

Michael Calabrese has covered college and professional sports in the US since 2007. He has been featured in print for publications including Fox Sports, The Action Network, Yardbarker, MSN, Saturday Down South, NumberFire, and JetMag.com. He also regularly appears on ESPN Radio, Fox Sports Radio, and VSIN
Luke Bradshaw Lee

Luke Bradshaw Lee

Commercial content manager

🏈 Luke is a more than keen follower of the NFL taking in as many games as he can over the weekend and always trying to attend the London NFL games each year. American football remains his main personal betting focus and he creates and contributes to our NFL Articles

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