Big Wins Translate to CEO-Level Pay for College Football Coaches

  • Coaches can rank among state’s 10 top-paid public company CEOs
  • Alabama’s Saban could earn $7.7 million with an NCAA victory

Winning isn’t everything: It’s the only thing that gets college football coaches the biggest paychecks. Now we know just how big.

Success on and off the field means windfalls comparable to those earned by chief executives of multinational companies, according to a Bloomberg analysis of employment contracts provided by the schools.

“Top football coaches run big enterprises,” said Jed Hughes, a vice chairman at executive recruiter and leadership advisory firm Korn/Ferry International and a former coach for teams including the Michigan Wolverines and Pittsburgh Steelers. “Coaches and CEOs alike must be able to engage and inspire, and create a climate in which people are motivated to do their best.”

To see how coaches at the top-ranked public programs in the U.S. stack up against chief executives in their states, we calculated how much they’d earn if their teams won conference and national championships and excelled academically. We then compared those figures with the 2015 reported compensation for CEOs of publicly traded companies.

Here are the results among universities at the top of the Associated Press pre-season poll.*

Nick Saban
Nick Saban
Photographer: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Nick Saban, University of Alabama

AP Poll rank: 1
Potential payout: $7.7 million
A repeat of last year’s victories in the BCS and SEC title games for the Crimson Tide would put Saban’s take-home pay just below what HealthSouth Corp. chief Jay Grinney received last year. The provider of post-acute health care services has a $3.61 billion market value and employs about 34,700 people. Saban’s contract includes a $6 million life insurance policy and a $23.3 million golden parachute if he’s let go after this season.

Dabo Swinney, Clemson University

AP Poll rank: 2
Potential payout: $5.9 million
If the Tigers claim the national championship, Swinney could surpass all but a handful of bosses at South Carolina’s biggest public companies. Kevin Marsh, CEO of energy business Scana Corp., which delivers electricity to about 700,000 customers, was the fourth highest-paid chief executive last year in the state with $5.7 million in reported compensation. Clemson pays $800,000 annually for the right to use Swinney’s name and picture on football paraphernalia.

Bob Stoops, University of Oklahoma

AP Poll rank: 3
Potential payout: $6.7 million (2014 contract)
A national title would be the Sooners’s first in 16 years and the second under Stoops. While his new contract hasn’t been made public, his previous agreement entitled him to a maximum take-home of about $6.7 million. That tops Randy Foutch, chief of oil and gas explorer Laredo Petroleum Inc., who was the state’s ninth best-paid public company boss last year with $6.3 million. Stoops gets $600,000 annually for appearing at fundraising and promotional events unrelated to athletics.

Jimbo Fisher
Jimbo Fisher
Photographer: Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State University

AP Poll rank: 4
Potential payout: $6.6 million
FSU claimed the 2014 national title after a win against Auburn. Fisher could earn $6.6 million if the team repeats that feat this season, with more than $1 million directly tied to the players’ on-field performance, grade point average and graduation rate. The payout matches the 2015 compensation of George Zoley, head of Boca Raton-based GEO Group Inc., an operator of more than 100 prisons and detention centers.

Les Miles, Louisiana State University

AP Poll rank: 5
Potential payout: $5 million
Miles, who has led the LSU Tigers since 2005, would be better-paid than all but a handful of chief executives at public companies based in Louisiana if he earns his full compensation. Albemarle Corp.’s CEO Luke Kissam was third in the state last year with $5.3 million. The specialty-chemical maker has a $9.1 billion market cap. Miles receives about $500,000 a year for his work with the Tiger Athletic Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the school’s student athletes.

Urban Meyer
Urban Meyer
Photographer: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Urban Meyer, Ohio State University

AP Poll rank: 6
Potential payout: $6.4 million
The Buckeyes winning their second national title under Meyer would earn the coach almost as much as Richard Kyle, chief of Timken Co., was awarded last year. He was paid $6.6 million. The Canton-based manufacturer of ball bearings had $2.9 billion in revenue last year. Meyer’s contract entitles him to $480,000 toward a defined contribution plan each year.

Jim Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh
Photographer: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Jim Harbaugh, University of Michigan

AP Poll rank: 7
Potential payout: $6.3 million
Harbaugh, a former Wolverine quarterback, would almost be on par with Penske Automotive Group Inc.’s chief executive Roger Penske. The auto dealership is the second-biggest in the U.S. with $19.3 billion in revenue last year. Harbaugh’s contract includes a $4,000 annual apparel allowance. Michigan last year signed a $169 million contract with Nike Inc.

Butch Jones, University of Tennessee

AP Poll rank: 9
Potential payout: $5.1 million
SEC and BCS titles for the Volunteers would yield the coach almost as much as Bill Rhodes, the top executive of AutoZone Inc., a car parts retailer with a market value of $21.8 billion and more than 5,000 stores. Jones’s deal gives him use of two university-provided vehicles or a $1,600 monthly car allowance.

Hugh Freeze, University of Mississippi

AP Poll rank: 11
Potential payout: $4.7 million (excluding incentives)
Freeze’s take-home pay if the Ole Miss Rebels win the BCS would likely put him past almost all public company chief executives in the state. Joe Sanderson, chief executive of poultry business Sanderson Farms Inc., which produced more than 450 million chickens in 2015, received a bigger reported pay package last year at $6 million.

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State University

AP Poll rank: 12
Potential payout: $4.3 million (excludes incentives)
A second consecutive Big Ten title and first national crown for the Spartans under Dantonio would put his pay at the level of Kurt Darrow, CEO of La-Z-Boy Inc. The Monroe-based company manufactures recliners -- a product essential to countless football fans. Regardless of the team’s results, Dantonio gets $50,000 in guaranteed performance incentives and $100,000 from an agreement with Nike.

Top football coaches typically receive most of their pay for off-the-field duties such as talking to news media, representing the university at events and wearing apparel from sponsors. They also receive bonuses for post-season achievements and perks including cars and country club memberships. Public company top executives are usually compensated primarily with equity awards that vest over several years and are often contingent on performance. Reported pay includes the value of such awards on the grant date.

*Stanford University and Notre Dame, ranked eighth and 10th, respectively, in the AP poll were excluded since they’re private schools that don’t disclose employment contracts.

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