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.
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) Dabo Swinney, Clemson | $10.5 million (AAV)
Though Clemson waited until Week 2 of the 2022 season to sign Dabo Swinney to a massive contract extension, the deal set in place officially toppled their rivals and Swinney’s contemporaries for the highest average annual value.
Swinney and Clemson reportedly agreed to an extension through the 2031 season on a deal worth $10.5 million in 2022 and as high as $12.5 million by the end of the deal.
Swinney, who is the sixth-fastest head coach in FBS history to reach 150 career wins, has been dominant since joining the Clemson program. A pinnacle of excellence over his tenure, Clemson has 11 straight seasons of at least 10 wins.
The Tigers know their success is largely thanks to Swinney as they signed him to a previous extension in 2019 that paid him just over $9 million a year. This extension, however, makes him the highest-paid coach in 2022.
2) Nick Saban, Alabama | $10.395 million
While Nick Saban is the most successful head coach in NCAA history in terms of national championship wins, it took him until just prior to the start of the 2022 season to topple his coaching rivals for highest average annual value. However, it wouldn’t last even two weeks of the year before Swinney’s deal bumped him to No. 2.
Signing a new contract in August, Saban’s base salary is $9.595 million per year, which will raise $305,000 per year until 2029, and has a “contract completion” clause written into his deal that nets him another $800,000 every year he finishes a season as Alabama’s head coach each year between 2022 and 2025.
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 College Football Playoff, 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) Kirby Smart, Georgia | $10.25 million
Following a national championship run with a successful season is a feat in and of itself. Yet, it appears that is what Georgia is banking on when they signed head coach Kirby Smart to a massive extension just weeks ahead of the 2022 season.
Smart, who led Georgia to the national championship in 2021-22, signed on for a 10-year, $111 million dollar extension that, at the time, made him the highest-paid coach in the country.
Though he would eventually be toppled by his rival Saban, Smart’s deal could ultimately make him the highest-paid coach in the country yet again as his average salary will rise from $10.25M in 2022 to $12.25M by 2029.
The 2022 season started off with a bang, with Georgia cruising past Oregon. It appears the Smart-led Bulldogs are certainly on their way to national prominence every year Smart is on the sidelines.
4) Lincoln Riley, USC | $10+ million
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.
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.
T-5) Brian Kelly, LSU | $9.5 million
While Brian Kelly sits amongst the top five of the highest-paid college football head coaches on base salary alone, his total amount, including bonuses, has the potential to rise him even higher. 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 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.
T-5) Mel Tucker, Michigan State | $9.5 million
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.
T-5) Ryan Day, Ohio State | $9.5 million
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 December 2018, Day has compiled a 34-4 record and twice won the Big Ten Championship.
Remainder of the Top 10
8) David Shaw, Stanford
9) Mario Cristobal, Miami (FL)
10) Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
11) Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss