College football's coaching carousel was one for the ages as the 2021 season wound down.
Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma for USC as the Sooners were on the cusp of joining the SEC. Brian Kelly ditched Notre Dame to take over the LSU Tigers. Florida fired Dan Mullen and hired up-and-comer Billy Napier from Louisiana. Mario Cristobal said goodbye to Oregon for the chance to coach Miami, his alma mater. (Remember when Jimbo Fisher leaving Florida State for Texas A&M was a big deal?)
On top of blue bloods trading coaches, the year's carousel set a new standard for how much the top leaders in the sport are worth, and it all started in East Lansing, Michigan.
Michigan State's Mel Tucker turned the Spartans into a Big Ten player in only his second season. He scoured the transfer portal and found 20 new faces to contribute. It paid off handsomely with guys such as running back Kenneth Walker III, who's a Maxwell and Doak Walker Award finalist. Tucker placed himself (perhaps unknowingly) firmly in the rumor mill surrounding the USC and LSU openings throughout the season.
Michigan State wasn't having any of it — They offered Tucker a cool 10-year contract worth $95 million
LSU followed suit and offered Kelly a similar deal, plus a ton of lucrative incentives, to lure him to Baton Rouge. USC doesn't have to disclose Riley's salary since it's a private school, but he's rumored to be making $110 million over what can be assumed is the same time span. Penn State followed their Big Ten counterpart and locked up James Franklin to a 10-year deal worth a guaranteed $70 million that could potentially increase to $85 million based on bonuses.
The takeaway from all this is the going rate for the top coaches in the biz is about $9.5 million per year. Let's not forget college football is an amateur sport and anything under $10 million is essentially working for free. In fact, players should be paying their universities for the chance to profit off themselves.
What about coaches in the NFL? You would think the league that earned $12 billion in revenue in 2020, which was a $4 billion decrease from 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic, would pay the leaders of each team a healthy sum compared to those who lead 18 to 22 year olds.
Not so fast, my friend.
The 32 NFL Coaching Salaries
1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, $12.5 million
2. Pete Caroll, Seattle Seahawks, $11 million
3. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints, $9.8 million
4. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens, $9 million
5. Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers, $8.5 million
6. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams, $8.5 million
7. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers, $8 million
8. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs, $8 million
9. Bruce Arians, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, $8 million
10. Ron Rivera, Washington Football Team, $7 million
11. Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals, $5.5 million
12. Robert Saleh, New York Jets, $5 million
13. Joe Judge, New York Giants, $5 million
14. Matt LeFleur, Green Bay Packers, $5 million
15. Vic Fangio, Denver Broncos, $5 million
16. Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts, $4.5 million
17. Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals, $4.5 million
18. Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys, $4 million
19. Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings, $4 million
20. Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns, $3.5 million
21. Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers, $3.5 million
22. Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans, $3 million
23. Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins, $3 million
Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills
Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears
Urban Meyer, Jacksonville Jaguars
David Culley, Houston Texans
Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers
Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions
Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia Eagles
Arthur Smith, Atlanta Falcons
Rick Bisaccia (interim), Las Vegas Raiders
Per NBC Sports Chicago, not all salaries are public, which is the reasoning behind nine missing. However, since most of the coaches we don't have salaries for are in their first year, plus one who's an interim, I'm going to estimate they make $2.5 million. As for Nagy and McDermott, I'll put Nagy at $4 million and McDermott closer to $5 million based on success and tenure length. This brings the average NFL head coach salary to about $5.4 million.
Let's compare that to the 32 highest-paid college football coaches in 2021.
The 32 Highest-Paid College Football Coaches
1. Nick Saban, Alabama Crimson Tide, $9.75 million
2. Ed Orgeron, LSU Tigers, $9 million
3. David Shaw, Stanford Cardinal, $8.9 million
4. Dabo Swinney, Clemson Tigers, $8.3 million
5. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma Sooners, $7.6 million
6. Dan Mullen, Florida, $7.57 million
7. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M Aggies, $7.5 million
8. Kirby Smart, Georgia Bulldogs, $7.1 million
9. Ryan Day, Ohio State Buckeyes, $6.6 million
10. Gary Patterson, TCU Horned Frogs, $6.1 million
11. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern Wildcats, $5.7 million
12. Chip Kelly, UCLA Bruins, $5.6 million
13. Mel Tucker, Michigan State Spartans, $5.6 million
14. Steve Sarkisian, Texas Longhorns, $5.45 million
15. Mark Stoops, Kentucky Wildcats, $5.26 million
16. Kyle Whittingham, Utah Utes, $5.2 million
17. Scott Frost, Nebraska Cornhuskers, $5 million
18. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa Hawkeyes, $5 million
19. Bryan Harsin, Auburn Tigers, $5 million
20. Mike Leach, Mississippi State Bulldogs, $5 million
21. Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss Rebels, $4.84 million
22. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh Panthers, $4.8 million
23. Clay Helton, USC Trojans, $4.8 million
24. Mario Cristobal, Oregon Ducks, $4.6 million
25. P.J. Fleck, Minnesota Golden Gophers, $4.42 million
26. Jeff Brohm, Purdue Boilermakers, $4.4 million
27. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State Cowboys, $4.375 million
28. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech Hokies, $4.25 million
29. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia Cavaliers, $4.25 million
30. Mike Norvell, Florida State Seminoles, $4.25 million
31. Matt Campbell, Iowa State Cyclones, $4 million
32. Dana Holgersen, Houston Cougars, $4 million
Per USA Today and Football Scoop, the average salary comes out to be roughly $5.75 million. Michigan's Jim Harbaugh is mysteriously absent from this year's list after making over $8 million in 2020. Harbaugh restructured his contract in January 2021 that cut his salary in half. Although, he'll be getting a hefty bonus after leading the Wolverines to a Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff berth.
It's no surprise Belichick and Saban are the highest-paid coach in their respective sport; they more than deserve it. It is surprising to see successful NFL guys like Mike Vrabel and Kyle Shanahan make less than Chip Kelly. And you're telling me Matt LaFleur is less valuable than David Shaw?
Of course, FBS coaches receive bonuses for reaching a bowl game, winning a conference title or winning the national championship. The same applies to pro coaches whose team makes the playoffs or wins a Super Bowl.
That being said, pro coaches naturally have a smaller salary because they're coaching professional athletes and the players are worth more. The average NFL salary is $860,000 and even practice squad players take home $252,000 per year, according to ESPN. Meanwhile, college coaches are swimming in cash while their players are only on scholarship and some even have to work side jobs just to get by. Yes, the new NIL rules help, but only the most recognizable guys make substantial profits while only 1.6% of NCAA football players make the pros.
Seeing as the average NIL deal for an NCAA Division I athlete is around $500, the top college coaches make over 10,000-times more than that. And remember, not every athlete gets a deal. Hell, the average salary of the top 32 head coaches is about $400,000 more than the average NFL head coach.
The influx of 10-year, $100 million deals are only the beginning of what appears to be the new standard. College football is sacred, and I would argue more personal than any sport in the country, but are its leaders worth 10,000-times more than its players? The answer is apparently yes.
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