The USA Today has done its annual update to its coaches salary database. This year’s edition contained a notable change at the top.
Nick Saban is no longer the highest-paid head coach in the country. Thanks to an unusual arrangement involving a life insurance policy, Jim Harbaugh’s annual compensation of approximately $7 million tops Saban’s $6.9 million. Michigan directly pays its coach $5 million annually, but it will also pay $2 million per year in premiums towards this policy. Because the deal for Harbaugh included an initial payment on top of the scheduled annual payment, he shows up in the database as getting $9 million in 2016. Going forward, that’ll drop to around $7 million each year.
Even though someone else finally eclipsed the SEC’s top-paid coach, the conference is still well ahead of its Power Five competitors in publicly known head coaching salaries.
Saban’s deal is the second-largest in the country. Even so, he’s the only SEC coach ahead of Jimbo Fisher and Bob Stoops, the highest earners in the ACC and Big 12, respectively.
The Pac-12 is lagging in the high-end salary department. David Shaw’s $4.06 million annual compensation is the highest out West, and though USC’s compensation for Clay Helton isn’t available, it’s unlikely to be above that level. Nine SEC head coaches make more than Shaw does, between all seven SEC West guys and Jim McElwain and Butch Jones in the East.
The fact that nine SEC head coaches make more than Shaw means that the median SEC salary is over $4 million per year. That amount is $4.15 million, the midpoint between Dan Mullen’s $4.2 million and Bret Bielema’s $4.1 million.
The next-highest median salary for a Power Five conference is Kliff Kingsbury’s $3.3 million, nearly a full million dollars per year lower. Though the Pac-12 wasn’t competitive at the top, it is here: Its median salary is Todd Graham’s $3.1 million. Paul Johnson is in the middle of the ACC at $2.9 million, while the Big Ten brings up the rear. Its median is $2.75 million, the midpoint between Mike Riley’s $2.8 million and Paul Chryst’s $2.7 million.
The lowest-paid SEC head coach is Barry Odom, which makes sense since he’s a rookie head coach at a school in the bottom third of the conference in revenue. He doesn’t coach for peanuts, though. He still makes $2.35 million, easily the most for the last-place Power Five coaches.
Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre is the only other one confirmed to be making at least $2 million, though that figures to go up after guiding the Buffaloes to bowl eligibility before the end of October. The lowest for the ACC is UNC’s Larry Fedora at $1.9 million, which doesn’t seem right. USA Today notes some caveats that go with that, including a new contract after last year that hasn’t kicked in and a lack of response from the school to open records requests.
Tracy Claeys at Minnesota brings up the rear for the Big Ten at $1.4 million, but he’s well ahead of the Big 12’s lowest-paid guy. In fact, he comes up about $200,000 short of doubling David Beaty’s salary at Kansas, who makes a comparatively meager $801,109. Harbaugh will make more than ten times that amount this year.
Assigning a rank to the SEC’s place in the top, median, and lowest salary slots yields an average of 1.3. It wouldn’t surprise me to see it come out to an even 1.0 next year, because Jimmy Sexton can probably find a way to get Saban back above Harbaugh this winter.
The ACC has the lowest average rank at 3.7, while the remaining three Power Five conferences all average out to 3.3. In other words, there is the compensation level the SEC pays out, and then there is everyone else behind it.
Whether the SEC’s largesse is a point of pride or not is subjective. Beginning last year, and at least through this year, someone in the SEC West gets paid $4 million to finish in seventh place. Then again, the five SEC East programs paying below $4 million per year to their coaches aren’t getting tremendous returns in the win column.
Either way, no one pays more to head coaches from top to bottom than the SEC.