Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK
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.
Gary Patterson salary: $6.1 million (TCU) – FIRED
Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
After 22 seasons with the TCU Horned Frogs, Gary Patterson is out as head coach. The long-time Horned Frogs’ head coach and the university agreed to part ways on Oct. 31, 2021. The 61-year-old took over at TCU in 2000, after serving as the team’s defensive coordinator and safeties’ coach beginning in 1998. TCU enjoyed a double-digit win season in 2017, winning the Alamo Bowl. Buf with the Horned Frogs set to miss out on bowl eligibility, it was time to move on.
10. Ryan Day salary: $6.614 million (Ohio State)
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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.
After an early-season loss to Oregon, the Buckeyes are rolling. Heading into Rivalry Week against the Michigan Wolverines, Day is just one win away from punching Ohio State’s ticket to the playoffs. With all the firings this year, Day will definitely be much higher among the highest paid college football coaches in 2022.
9. Kirby Smart salary: $7.133 million (Georgia)
Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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.
College Football Playoff Rankings: Who is in, who is out?
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. In fact, a raise might be in his future and the next deal would 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.
8. Jimbo Fisher salary: $7.5 million (Texas A&M)
Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
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. Will Jimbo leave the Aggies? It’s always possible.
7 Dan Mullen salary: $7.57 million (Florida) – FIRED
Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
One of the highest-paid college football coaches is now fired. A 3-1 start to the season showed signs of promise, but it became evident quickly that Florida was just a mediocre SEC team. They barely escaped with a win over LSU, got steamrolled by Georgia (34-7) and lost to both South Carolina and Missouri. Unsurprisingly, the overtime defeat to Mizzou was the final straw.
6. Lincoln Riley salary: $7,672,710 (Oklahoma)
Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
The term “quarterback whisperer” gets thrown around a lot, but Lincoln Riley earns that label. He produced back-to-back No. 1 overall NFL draft picks in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Riley has had the Sooners atop the Big 12 for four years running and is recruiting better defensive players. That combination is bound to culminate in a national title for Oklahoma at some point.
Thanks to a new contract, making the offense guru one of the highest-paid college football coaches, Riley seems locked into this program for a few years. Besides, he might have another future NFL star on his hands with Caleb Williams.
5. Dabo Swinney salary: $8,370,775 (Clemson)
Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
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.
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.
4. David Shaw salary: $8.925 million
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
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.
3. Ed Orgeron salary: $9,012,917 (LSU) – FIRED
Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Ed Orgeron, one of the highest-paid college football coaches, is on his way out. Two years removed from winning a national championship, the LSU Tigers quickly decided that the program needed a fresh start.
The decision goes beyond on-field results. Multiple reports have detailed how Orgeron’s behavior changed after the title. With his personal life interfering with his coaching duties, oftentimes at the LSU facility, parting ways isn’t a surprise. Of course, it will come at a cost. As part of the separation, the Tigers will pay Orgeron his entire $16.9 million buyout.
It’s a hefty price to pay, but one LSU seems very comfortable making. Expect this to be the top coaching job available, with plenty of marquee names interested in moving to a talent-rich state to compete in the SEC.
2. Mel Tucker salary: $9.5 million (MIchigan State)
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
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.
1. Nick Saban salary: $9,753,221 million (Alabama)
Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports
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.
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.