Win or lose, football coaches keep cashing in

Like most things these days, the costs of hiring — or firing — a good coach just keeps multiplying.

When Alabama’s Nick Saban — arguably the greatest-ever college football coach — surprisingly retired last week, two things instantly became givens:

top football coach salaries
  • Alabama would immediately throw exorbitant sums to attract an already exorbitantly paid coach from another top school. (It already has, paying Washington’s Kalen DeBoer an estimated $10m+ annually to take over.)
  • The school whose coach just got poached would turn around and do the very same thing. (Washington roped Arizona’s Jedd Fisch with a $7.75m salary.)

This is how business is done in the coaching world, which was described as “a 25-year bull market” last week in The Athletic.

“Bull market” is no bull

Saban, who made $120m+ over his 17-year run at Alabama, topped the NCAA in earnings, but those behind him aren’t hurting: 50+ coaches make $4m+ per year.

There’s good reason: football is the cash cow behind schools’ athletic departments and, for winning programs, business is booming.

  • Perennial football contender Ohio State led the nation in athletic revenue in 2022, generating $251.6m. That was before OSU’s conference struck a new TV deal that’ll add another $80m-$100m to its coffers annually.

Making millions as a coach isn’t a parade, of course; naturally, a high-pressure, win-now role has wretched job security.

  • Of the 133 Division I football programs, only 13 are fronted by coaches who’ve been there 10+ years.

Fired = set for life

A successful coach is “worth his weight in gold,” per The Athletic, selling tickets, upping TV ratings, and attracting booster donations. That means leverage for coaches, which they’ve turned into absurd buyout clauses:

  • Earlier this season, Texas A&M paid Jimbo Fisher a record $77m to not coach.
  • NCAA coaches have a combined $585.5m+ in golden parachutes, led by Georgia’s Kirby Smart, who’d get $92.5m if fired.

Next up: Jim Harbaugh, who just coached Michigan to a national title, is considering a $125m contract extension — or hopping to the NFL, where the paychecks are bigger but job security’s somehow worse.

Two other coaching legends —- Bill Belichick (salary: $25m), and Pete Carroll (salary: $15m) — just lost their jobs. Turns out, being among the NFL’s all-time winningest coaches only gets you so far these days.

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