10 highest-paid college football coaches: Lincoln Riley, Brian Kelly land huge deals
The highest-paid college football coaches have annual salaries that’ll make anyone’s head spin, but that’s why they’re put in charge of numerous young men and tasked with shepherding powerhouse programs to perpetual prominence.
While some coaches on this list at the nation’s premier football schools probably aren’t going to surprise, the order may well be a shock to many, and there are some names on here who are bound to shock people.
Without further ado, here are the 10 highest-paid college football coaches by annual salary as of the most recent season. This group is compiled from USA Today ‘s list, but takes into account coaching changes, compensation information, or lack thereof, and the latest available information.Also Read:
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- Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern – $5.748 million
- Chip Kelly, UCLA Bruins – $5.6 million
- Steve Sarkisian, Texas – $5.45 million
Highest-paid coaches fired in 2021:
- Gary Patterson, TCU – $6.1 million salary
- Dan Mullen, Florida – $7.57 million salary
- Ed Orgeron, LSU – $9.01 million salary
10. Ryan Day salary: $6.614 million (Ohio State)
Stepping in as Urban Meyer’s successor couldn’t have been easy for Ryan Day, but the Buckeyes haven’t missed a beat since he took the reins. In two full seasons as Ohio State’s head coach, Day has earned his helmet stickers so to speak, compiling a 20-2 record, a perfect 14-0 mark in Big Ten play and two College Football Playoff berths. Day’s new contract nets him a raise in pay from 2021 on, but he still trails some of the highest-paid college football coaches by a significant amount.Also Read:
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After an early-season loss to Oregon, the Buckeyes started rolling again and went into “The Game” as the No. 2 team in the country. Day suffered his first loss to Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines, costing Ohio State a shot at the CFB Playoffs. Day will definitely be much higher among the highest-paid college football coaches in 2022 when Ohio State revisits his contract this offseason.
9. James Franklin salary: $7 million (Penn State)
Penn State Nittany Lions head coach is one of the best at using leverage to land an extension. Rumored to be a coaching candidate for the LSU Tigers, Miami Hurricanes and USC Trojans, Franklin turned that into a pay raise and more job security in Happy Valley.
- James Franklin buyout: $12 million before 4/1/22, $8 million until 2023, $6 million (2023), $2 million (2024)
Keep in mind, the Nittany Lions didn’t have a great season. For the second consecutive year, Penn State finished with five losses and ended the regular season outside the top-25 college football rankings . But the new James Franklin contract, a 10-year deal worth $70 million, makes him one of the highest-paid coaches in college football and Penn State seems pleased with the results.
8. Kirby Smart salary: $7.133 million (Georgia)
Following a lengthy tenure as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator at Alabama, Kirby Smart made the leap to head coach at Georgia in 2016. Smart’s maiden year in Athens produced a meager 8-5 record, but he’s been lights-out since then.
The Bulldogs are now ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time since 1982. With the best defense in college football and a quality offense, it looks like everything is coming together for Smart’s program. It’s only a matter of time before he receives a contract extension, which will inevitably put him a lot higher on the rankings for highest-paid college football coaches. Right now, Smart and the Bulldogs seem destined for a national championship.
7. Jimbo Fisher salary: $7.5 million (Texas A&M)
When Jimbo Fisher resigned from Florida State, it was unclear what his coaching future held. Texas A&M turned to him to get its program trending in the right direction, and Fisher has done just that. A 9-1 mark in 2020, including 8-1 in the SEC, saw the Aggies just miss out on the College Football Playoff.
The Aggies were viewed as a disappointment this year, compared to the expectations placed on this team. But beating Alabama, with Smart becoming the first assistant to beat Nick Saban, changes everything. A marquee win like that means raises and a lot more job security. Texas A&M has a shot at a double-digit win season, which is attracting the attention of other Power 5 programs. Even with the LSU and USC jobs off the table, Jimbo could still land an extension.Also Read:
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6. Dabo Swinney salary: $8,370,775 (Clemson)
Dabo Swinney has led Clemson to the College Football Playoff in the past six seasons, claiming two national championships in that span. The Tigers are an absolute juggernaut in the ACC, and Swinney is deservedly among the highest-paid college football coaches.Also Read:
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It’s fair to say Swinney isn’t exactly earning his salary in 2021. Clemson’s offense never showed up in the season-opening loss to Georgia and it barely made an appearance in a 14-8 win over Georgia Tech. But that 27-21 loss to North Carolina State gave this program two losses in September for the first time in years. Maybe it was the generational quarterbacks carrying Clemson and not the coach. At the very least, Clemson is thankful for that $1.25 million payment reduction, which pushed Swinney down the list of highest-paid college football coaches.
5. David Shaw salary: $8.925 million
Stanford Cardinal coach David Shaw has been the subject of NFL rumors for years. Taking over Stanford in 2011, promoted from offensive coordinator, the 49-year-old has done a nice job keeping the program afloat. Following an ugly 4-8 season in 2018, the Cardinal rebounded in 2020 with a 4-2 record. Entering the 2021 season, Shaw was one of the few coaches without a pay reduction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stanford certainly isn’t the college football team it used to be and it’s fair to wonder if Shaw is on the hot seat. The upset against Oregon happened ages ago and it’s been a putrid effort from this team ever since. Losses to Arizona State and Utah are excusable, but getting blown out by Oregon State and Cal might get Shaw fired.
4. Mel Tucker salary: $9.5 million (MIchigan State)
Hired in 2020, Mel Tucker turned a great opportunity into becoming of the highest-paid college football coaches within two years. The Spartans went 2-5 in a COVID-impacted 2020 season, but everything came together this year. On the verge of a double-digit win year, Tucker earned a 10-year extension worth $95 million . While his contract has just a $5.9 million base salary, there is an additional $3.2 million in supplemental compensation and it averages $9.5 million per year.Also Read:
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3. Nick Saban salary: $9,753,221 million (Alabama)
Hardly a surprise that the best coach to ever do it on the NCAA gridiron is also the nation’s most handsomely compensated. Nick Saban’s “process” is the stuff of legend, and it’s led to a 165-23 record at Alabama, along with six national championships.Also Read:
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Saban is nearing age 70, yet is showing no signs of slowing down, which is bad news for his peers as he continues building an epic legacy in Tuscaloosa. Saban’s recent extension actually lowered his base salary , but after he presumably hits all his bonus incentives, he’ll widen the gap as the highest-paid coach in college football. But all the money in the world won’t take away the sting from his unbeaten record against his former staffers coming to an end in 2021.
Even worse, Alabama doesn’t look like it could hold its own against Georgia and losing to two former assistants in one year, that would sting for Saban.
2. Brian Kelly salary: $9.5 million (LSU)
Days after saying he would never leave the Notre Dame Fighting Irish , unless he was offered $250 million, Brian Kelly is the new LSU Tigers head coach. Fourth amongst the active leaders in coaching wins (166), Kelly’s “Irish Exit” from Notre Dame is a repeat of his departure from Cincinnati to join the Fighting Irish.
While he didn’t land $250 million, he easily grabs a spot among the highest-paid college football coaches. Previous reports indicated the deal is worth $100-plus million over 10 years. However, the official terms per LSU are $95 million over 10 years. There are likely reachable incentives that will push the total value well past $100 million.
- Brian Kelly contract: 10 years, $95 million
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LSU’s coaching change is going to be the costliest in college football history. Ed Orgeron received a $17 million buyout and when combined with Kelly’s contract, it’s a staggering total being spent. But the Tigers are confident that a coach who posted a 113-40 record at Notre Dame with five consecutive double-digit win seasons will bring a national championship to Baton Rouge.
1. Lincoln Riley salary (estimated): $10-plus million (USC)
Rumored to be atop LSU’s wish list, head coach Lincoln Riley made it clear he wasn’t taking the job in Louisiana. A few hours later, Riley agreed to a contract with the USC Trojans. The 38-year-old was already one of the highest-paid coaches in college football and his salary is soaring past the $7.672 million salary he made in 2021 with the Oklahoma Sooners.
- Lincoln Riley record: 55-10, 1-2 in bowl games
While there are rumors about the Lincoln Riley contract with USC, exact terms might not be known for a while. Because USC is a private university, it’s not required to list the contract details. But early estimates project the deal worth over $10 million per season in average salary with incentives for Pac 12 Championships, College Football Playoff appearances and national championships. Given his resume, that’s easily worth it if he can turn around the Trojans.Also Read:
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