Who are the highest paid college football head coach? Seems like a simple, harmless question. But in these turbulent times for college football, the simplest clue as to what someone involved in the sport gets paid for their services or not can escalate into a explosive tirade. But who are the highest paid NCAA football coaches?
Don’t worry, no darts are thrown here. There are no recruitment skeletons in our closet. Glass must not be broken in our homes. After a popcorn-worthy exchange this week, both Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher are in the top 10 highest-paid head coaches in college football. However, neither of them has a dollar to dueling the man at the top of the list.
Note: This list is based on Average Annual Value (AAV), or how much a coach will make per season – not their total contract value.
1) Lincoln Riley, USC | $10,000,000+ (AAV)
While college football veterans argue about whether a player gets paid to advertise his local dealership and whether that might affect his decision on which college he might eventually play for, Lincoln Riley is probably sitting there laughing at his $17.2 million Los Angeles mansion as the highest-paid head coach in college football.
The full details of Riley’s incentivized contract are not widely known due to USC’s status as a private university. However, it is expected that he will net more than $10 million per year. That’s over $2.5 million for every USC win in 2021. Of course, Riley is being paid so well to turn the Trojans’ fortunes this fall. With the spring building up an offensive super team, maybe money can really bring happiness.
2) Nick Saban, Alabama | $9,753,221
While Nick Saban is the most successful head coach in NCAA history in terms of national championship wins, Riley’s contract with USC means he is “only” the second highest-paid college football coach. While his base salary is under $9 million per year, the level of incentives included in his contract means he’s pocketing more than $9.75 million for 2021.
It seems like good business to include incentives in your contract when all but achieving the national championship in a given season is a failure. Since the start of the CFB Playoffs, Saban has guided his team to seven of eight possible appearances in the last four. The last time his contract was worth more than $1 million per win was in 2007, the first year of his tenure with the Crimson Tide.
3) Brian Kelly, LSU | $9,500,000
While Brian Kelly ranks third in this list of the highest-paid college football head coaches by base salary alone, his total, including bonuses, has the potential to make him the top earner in the NCAA. The $9.5 million per year is based on his 10-year, $95 million contract. However, it’s not that simple.
The former Notre Dame head coach will rake in big bucks if he restores success to the bayou. Kelly can add up to $1.35M PER YEAR to his contract, from bowling to a return to national championship glory. Putting on a ridiculously fake accent and pulling off awkward dad dance moves on a rotating platform is probably a lot tastier when you’re checking your bank account.
4) Mel Tucker, Michigan State | $9,500,000
In 2021, Mel Tucker delivered the best season the Michigan State Spartans had seen since 2015. His reward? A contract that makes him one of the highest-paid coaches in college football. Tucker’s 10-year, $95 million contract averages $9.5 million per year. While “only” $5.9 million of that comes from base salary, the Michigan State head coach earns another $3.6 million through media appearances, apparel and a $400,000 bonus.
Tucker has almost ridiculous job security as part of his recent deal. Unless he is fired for a felony, NCAA violation, or moral good cause, the State of Michigan is liable for his entire salary. He also has the potential to top up his $9.5 million through bonuses. These range from $25,000 for winning Big Ten Coach of the Year to $500,000 if the Spartans bring home a national championship during his tenure.
5) Ryan Day, Ohio State | $9,500,000
While Saban and Fisher were secretly shooting at each other for buying recruits, Ohio State was preparing to secure a contract extension that will place Ryan Day in the top 5 highest-paid head coaches in college football. Before his renewal, Day was barely short of a dime, averaging $7.6 million a year. However, he is now in illustrious company.
Extending Day to 2028 increases its earnings to $9.5 million per year. If an example of the differences between sports in the NCAA was ever needed, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann received a $500,000 annual salary increase that same day, bringing his annual salary to $3.5 million US dollar increased. Since becoming the Buckeyes’ head coach in December 2018, Day has amassed a 34-4 record and won the Big Ten championship twice.
6) David Shaw, Stanford | $8,925,000
7) Dabo Swinney, Clemson | $8,370,775
8th) Mario Cristobal, Miami (FL) | $8,000,000
9) Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M | $7,500,000
10) Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss | $7,250,000