Friday, October 16, 2020

5 surprising findings from college football coaches salaries report


Steve BerkowitzTom Schad


Published 11:37 a.m. ET Oct 14, 2020 | Updated 9:27 a.m. ET Oct 15, 2020

First-year Michigan State coach Mel Tucker’s pay has more than doubled from a year ago, with his total compensation at $5.06 million this season.


Dozens of head coaches across the Football Bowl Subdivision have taken pay cuts this year as schools deal with the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

But even with those reductions, they're still making more money than ever.

USA TODAY Sports' annual review of coaches' compensation found that the average total pay for FBS head coaches in 2020-21 is $2.7 million, a 1.1% increase from last year's average. Those figures include the pay reductions that some coaches are taking this year.

In the absence of a global pandemic, the 122 FBS coaches for whom USA TODAY Sports could obtain scheduled compensation figures would have made $2.79 million on average, a 4.5% jump from last year. 

Alabama's Nick Saban, who is slated to make $9.3 million, is once again the highest-paid coach in the country, followed by LSU's Ed Orgeron ($8.9 million) and Clemson's Dabo Swinney ($8.3 million). Saban has now been college football's highest-paid coach in seven of the past nine years.

Here are five other findings from the latest coaches' compensation data, which USA TODAY Sports has been compiling and analyzing on an annual basis since 2006.

USA TODAY Sports found some trends in pay cuts being taken by coaches in different conferences. For example, every public-school head coach in both the Big 12 and Big Ten took a voluntary pay reduction in the wake of the pandemic. In the SEC, cuts have been rare, affecting coaches at only four of the 13 public schools: Arkansas, Missouri, Ole Miss and South Carolina.

The Group of Five, meanwhile, had a few interesting outliers. Only one public-school head coach in the Mountain West, Boise State's Bryan Harsin, has taken a voluntary pay cut. And in the MAC, only one coach (Buffalo's Lance Leipold) has not.

It's not surprising that there is a difference in coaching salaries between Power Five schools and Group of Five schools, but the size of the gap is notable. This year, the average Power Five coach is making nearly $4.4 million in total compensation – more than four times the compensation for the average Group of Five coach.

Buyout clauses are still booming. This year, at least five coaches would be owed $30 million or more if they were fired without cause by Dec. 1, led by Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher ($53.1 million). And more than half of Power Five coaches (33) have buyouts of $10 million or more.

Nothing helps a coach's wallet like a national championship run. LSU coach Ed Orgeron accrued more than $1.77 million in bonuses last year, which means he made more in bonus payments alone than at least 50 FBS coaches made in total compensation during the same time period.

It's good to be first-year Michigan State coach Mel Tucker. Tucker's pay has more than doubled from a year ago, when he held the same position at Colorado, and increased six-fold since 2017, when he was an assistant at Georgia. His total compensation for 2020 ($5.06 million) ranks 14th in USA TODAY Sports' database.

Ditto for Ryan Day. Three years ago, Day was making $400,000 as an assistant coach at Ohio State. Now, he's due to make $5.6 million in total compensation in 2020, and his pay will climb to $7.6 million by 2022.

Follow Steve Berkowitz on Twitter @ByBerkowitz. Contact Tom Schad at or on Twitter @Tom_Schad

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