What Does a College Pay for Its Football Coach? It Depends on How Many It’s Paying

What if a college football team paid not only its own head coach but another one? And another one?

It happens all the time — practically every time a team fires a coach. Thanks to ever-faster turnover, with coaches routinely fired after only a few disappointing seasons, many colleges are paying millions of dollars in “dead money” to former coaches even as they shell out even more for new ones. At least two major programs, in fact, are at this very moment paying for three head coaches.

The reason, of course, is the unceasing pressure to win. As dollars flooded college sports over the past two decades, and coaches began to earn more and more, expectations were ratcheted up. In response, coaches began to demand protection from underperformance in the form of longer contracts, and athletic departments began including buyout provisions that forced coaches — or their new teams — to hand over multimillion-dollar payments if a coach was lured to greener pastures.

The sums involved can be enormous. Just ask Notre Dame and Kansas, which at one point were both paying Charlie Weis as head coach — long after both had sent him packing. The Irish and the Jayhawks had fired Weis without cause (losing games, under labor law, is not “cause”), and owed him buyouts — nearly $20 million over several years in Notre Dame’s case, according to USA Today, even as he went on to coach other teams.

“It was just something that wasn’t put in,” Bob LaMonte, Weis’s agent, said of language that would have mitigated Weis’s Notre Dame buyout with income he earned in a new coaching job. “Now, since this has occurred, it’s become more solid that this is included.”

So while college football’s highest salary, depending on how one defines it, may be the roughly $7 million per year that Michigan pays Jim Harbaugh, some programs are spending more than the Wolverines for their head coaching position.

The analyses below rely on documents made available to The New York Times via public-records laws, and they do not include contractually mandated perks like cars, club memberships or even relocation reimbursements. Head coaching situations at private colleges, which are not required to disclose contracts, were not considered, even though the University of Miami, for example, might still be paying a buyout to Al Golden, fired during the 2015 season, to go along with Mark Richt’s $4 million salary.


Total: $12.45 million


Texas is in effect paying, or at least…

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