Highest-paid college football coaches heading into the 2022 season

With money a topic of much discussion in the NCAA, who are the highest-paid college football coaches ahead of the 2022 CFB season?

Who are the highest-paid college football head coaches? Seems like a simple, innocuous question. Yet, in these turbulent times for college football, the simplest reference to what someone involved in the sport may or may not get paid for their services has the potential to escalate into a volatile tirade. Nevertheless, who are the highest-paid NCAA football coaches?

Highest-paid college football head coaches

Fear not, there are no darts to be thrown here. There are no recruiting skeletons in our cupboard. There is no glass to be broken in our houses. Following a popcorn-worthy exchange this week, both Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher sit within the top 10 of the highest-paid head coaches in college football. However, neither of them has a dollar to duel with the man atop the list.

Note: This list is based on average annual value (AAV), or how much a coach will make per season — not the total value of their contract. 

1) Lincoln Riley, USC | $10,000,000+ (AAV)

While old heads in college football quibble about a player getting money to promote his local car dealership and whether that might tamper with his decision over which college he might eventually play for, Lincoln Riley is probably sitting laughing to himself in his $17.2 million Los Angeles mansion as the highest-paid head coach in college football.

The full details of Riley’s incentive-laden contract aren’t common knowledge due to USC’s standing as a private university. However, it is understood that he’ll net in excess of $10 million per year. That’s over $2.5 million for each of USC’s wins in 2021. Of course, Riley is being paid so handsomely to transform the Trojans’ fortunes this fall. With the construction of an offensive super team over the spring, perhaps money can truly buy 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 deal with USC means he’s “only” the second-highest-paid college football coach. While his base salary is below $9 million per year, the amount of incentives written into his contract means he pocketed more than $9.75 million for 2021.

Having incentives written into your contract seems like good business when anything other than reaching the national championship in any given season constitutes a failure. Since the inception of the CFB Playoffs, Saban has led his team to seven out of a possible eight appearances in the final 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 sits third in this list of the highest-paid college football head coaches on base salary alone, his total amount, 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 isn’t quite as simple as that.

The former Notre Dame head coach will cash in big bucks if he brings success back to the Bayou. Varying from bowl-game eligibility to securing a return to national championship glory, Kelly can add on up to an extra $1.35 million PER YEAR to his contract. Putting on a ludicrous fake accent and pulling off embarrassing Dad dance moves on a rotating platform is presumably a lot more palatable when you check your bank account.

4) Mel Tucker, Michigan State | $9,500,000

In 2021, Mel Tucker delivered the most successful season that 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 out at $9.5 million per year. While “just” $5.9 million of that is in base salary, the Michigan State head coach makes another $3.6 million from media appearances, apparel, and a $400k bonus.

Tucker has an almost ludicrous amount of job security under his most recent deal. Unless he’s fired for a criminal offense, NCAA violation, or moral reasons, Michigan State is liable for his entire salary. He also has the potential to add to his $9.5 million by way of bonuses. Those range from $25k for winning Big Ten Coach of the Year to $500k in the event of the Spartans bringing home a national championship during his tenure.

5) Ryan Day, Ohio State | $9,500,000

While Saban and Fisher were firing underhanded shots at each other about buying recruits, Ohio State was preparing to finalize a contract extension that propels Ryan Day into the top five highest-paid head coaches in college football. Prior to his extension, Day was hardly short of a penny, averaging $7.6 million per year. However, he’s now in illustrious company.

Day’s extension through 2028 bumps up his earnings to $9.5 million per year. If ever an example of the disparity between sports in the NCAA was needed, on the same day, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann received an annual salary increase of $500k, taking his annual pay to $3.5 million. Since becoming the Buckeyes head coach in Dec. 2018, Day has compiled a 34-4 record and twice won the Big Ten Championship.

6) David Shaw, Stanford | $8,925,000
7) Dabo Swinney, Clemson | $8,370,775
8) Mario Cristobal, Miami (FL) | $8,000,000
9) Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M | $7,500,000
10) Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss | $7,250,000

Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and College Football Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter: @ojhodgkinson.


Every day, get free NFL updates sent straight to your inbox!