The 10 Highest Paid Coaches in College Sports

February 28th, 2011

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Major college athletics has become a high dollar arms race between the richest, most recognizable programs. Athletic departments don't hesitate to shell out millions upon millions of dollars to bring in qualified coaches in football and basketball, the two high-revenue sports. It has evolved to the point where college coaches' salaries are now eclipsing professional coaches' salaries, which indicates just how big college athletics has become. Have universities misplaced their values? Are the results the following highest paid coaches produce — the fun campus sporting events, the school pride, the money they bring in to their universities — worth the ample sums of money they receive? Do the ends justify the means? Peruse the 2010 figures below and decide for yourself. (Note: Some salaries are exact and some are rounded depending on the source. Totals are from after the most recently completed seasons — 2009-10 in basketball and 2010 in football.)

  1. Nick Saban, Alabama — $6,087,349: Nobody takes their football more seriously than Alabamans, as evidenced by the dollar amounts tossed around during the last several months involving Auburn, its coaching staff, Cam Newton, and Saban. Amid his rival's controversial national championship run, Saban quietly became the first coach in college sports to receive a yearly salary in excess $6 million, making him the fourth highest paid football coach on any level — behind the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick, Washington Redskins' Mike Shanahan and Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll. The only other coach outside of football who definitely earns more than Saban is Phil Jackson of the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, who has won more championships, 11, than any other coach in professional sports history.
  2. Mack Brown, Texas — $5,161,500: The second highest paid coach in college football guided his team to 5-7 record in 2010, an abysmal result for a program with an abundance of inherent advantages. Brown isn't considered a masterful gameday tactician like Saban, and his salary is more of a reflection of his contributions to the University of Texas. For example, when he inked his latest deal in 2009, UT President William Powers Jr. defended it by claiming that the athletic program Brown has provided $6.6 million for the university's academic programs. His presence has also helped bring forth the creation of the Longhorn Network, which will be developed and operated by ESPN and pay UT $300 million over 20 years. Brown is truly a "CEO coach."
  3. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma — $4,767,500: After winning the Fiesta Bowl and finishing in the top 10, Stoops received a nice incentive-based $192,500 raise to go along with his automatic raise of $200,000 that took effect on the first of the year. The University of Oklahoma athletic department, which claims to be completely self-sustaining, defended the contract by highlighting the publicity and fundraising dollars he has added during his time as the head coach. The immense revenue that comes from football has enabled the athletic department to contribute to the school's academic programs.
  4. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke — $4,095,909: Coach K is a living legend who certainly deserves to be the highest paid coach in college basketball. In 2010, he won his 12th ACC championship, appeared in his 11th Final Four and won his fourth national championship. Even though his teams were viewed as underperforming during the few seasons prior to last, his salary has almost tripled in the time period. Duke, a private university ranked among the nation's best, views Krzyzewski as not only the face of its basketball program, but a main spokesperson for the university.
  5. Rick Pitino, Louisville — $4,073,093: Prior to signing a contract extension through the 2016-17 season in 2010, rumors were swirling that Pitino was planning to leave the program. As was the case during his stints as the head coach at Providence and Kentucky, multiple NBA teams were soliciting his services. Pitino was also embroiled in a scandal in which he was accused of rape by a woman with whom he had an affair. Supported by the University of Louisville, he issued an apology for the affair, and the woman was eventually found guilty of extortion. With the overtures and drama mostly gone, he has resettled into his position and the Cards are preparing to enter their eighth NCAA tournament appearance in 10 seasons under Pitino.
  6. John Calipari, Kentucky — $3,960,000: Coach Cal was lured away from Memphis in 2009 when he was given a Saban-like offer he couldn't refuse. In addition to the $31.65 million he's receiving over eight years that doesn't include incentives (he can shoot up this list after a great season), he was given a $2.5 million signing bonus. According to Forbes, Calipari earns roughly 10 percent of the $35 million to $40 million generated by the University of Kentucky basketball program. That's a ton of money for a coach who has never won a national title and left his previous two college jobs — Memphis and Massachusetts — when they were being scrutinized by the NCAA. His best season at Memphis, in 2008 when the Tigers tallied a national-best 38-2 record and lost the national championship game in overtime, was vacated due to the ineligibility of star guard Derrick Rose. Despite his faults, Calipari is regarded as an expert recruiter, and talent itself produces more wins in basketball than any other sport.
  7. Les Miles, LSU — $3,905,000: Miles, too, has been a beneficiary of his own recruiting prowess. Like Mack Brown, he's considered a "CEO coach" who stockpiles talent and, for the most part, allows his coordinators to coach it as they see fit. Depending on who you talk to, he's seen as either an idiot or genius — during the middle of the 2010 season, half of LSU's fanbase swore he was the former. In the case of Bill Martin and Dave Brandon, Michigan's previous and current athletic directors respectively, they seemed to believe he's closer to the latter. Martin unsuccessfully pursued Miles in 2007 during LSU's national championship run and Brandon struck out in January after the firing of Rich Rodriguez. Accordingly, Miles was given a contract extension from LSU that included additional performance-based bonuses. Perceptions aside, his 62-17 record (.785 winning percentage) with the Tigers speaks for itself.
  8. Jim Tressel, Ohio State — $3,888,389: During Tressel's successful decade-long run at Ohio State, his contract has been amended on numerous occasions, reflecting his ever-increasing collection of accomplishments. Bob Stoops is the only active coach to have as many conference championships, seven, as Tressel. The Vest has also coached the Buckeyes to three national championships games, the first of which they won. Such feats have earned all kinds of perks, including 20 hours of private jet use per year, membership at a fine golf course in the Columbus area, and upon his retirement from the position of head coach, a $150,000 per year position as the associate athletics director. It's safe to say that Tressel has life outside of football covered.
  9. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa — $3,781,000: When comparing Ferentz's resume to those of other so-called elite college football coaches, you may notice that it's not quite as eye-popping. He hasn't benefited from the inherent advantage enjoyed by coaches at programs such as Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma and LSU, yet he has led Iowa to two Big 10 titles and two BCS bowl appearances, one of which the Hawkeyes won. Because of his ability to get the most out of his talent, numerous NFL teams have shown interest in Ferentz over the years, driving up his value. His stock in 2010, however, depreciated slightly after a disappointing season in which Iowa finished 8-5, the athletic department's drug testing procedures came under scrutiny, and 13 players were hospitalized after strenuous offseason workouts — issues that indicate Ferentz needs to reassert control over the program in order to rightly earn his salary.
  10. Bill Self, Kansas — $3,675,656: A 10-year, $30 million contract was Self's reward for guiding the Jayhawks to their first national championship in 20 years in 2008. Of course, the pursuit of him by his alma mater, Oklahoma State, helped Kansas realize his true value, and caused KU's administration to take measures to ensure Self remains in Lawrence long-term. In the seasons since he agreed to the new deal, his performance hasn't tapered off — he's overseen 27-and 33-win seasons, and in 2011, the Jayhawks are again one of the favorites to win the national title. His overall record at Kansas is an impressive 227-45 (.835 winning percentage) , easily on par with KU greats such as Phog Allen and Roy Williams.

Salary information provided, in part, by the USA Today football and basketball coaches salary databases, which combine both guaranteed and non-guaranteed incomes.

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