Who Are The Highest-Paid College Football Coaches?
Editor & Writer
Editor & Writer
Coach Nick Saben from the University of Alabama was the highest-paid college football coach in the 2022-2023 contract season.
Collectively, the five highest-paid college football coaches made over $51 million this year.Note Reference 
On average, the top five highest-paid NCAA college football coaches each make $10.22 million per year.Note Reference 
Kirby Smart, head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, collected the highest bonus of the highest-paid coaches, bringing in an extra $850,000 in incentives this year.Note Reference 
Teams led by the highest-paid coaches in college football brought in nearly $545 million this year.
The first college football game of the 2023-2024 season kicks off on August 26 — but who's counting? Teams will start their journeys toward conference titles, bowl game wins, and the ultimate prize: a College Football Playoff (CFP) national championship.
While the players take the field, coaches lead from the sidelines, bringing home some of the biggest paychecks in college athletics.
Each year, USA Today Sports requests head coach compensation forms from all 131 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision.Note Reference  Find out just how much each of the top five highest-paid coaches in college football earns and why success on the field can dictate a coach's salary.
Highest-Paying Coach Salaries
Nick Saban, The University of Alabama
Compensation: $10.98 million
Nick Saban has spent the last 16 seasons in Tuscaloosa, leading the Crimson Tide to eight Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championships and six CFP national championships.
Under Saban's leadership, Alabama has been ranked no. 1 in the Associated Press Poll for at least one week for the past 14 seasons. He has also coached four Heisman trophy winners — tied for first for the most in college football history — and is the only person in history to coach Heisman trophy winners who played in three different positions.
With an 88% win percentage at Alabama, a 33-year head coaching tenure, and nine national coach of the year honors, it's no wonder Saban brings home the biggest paycheck in college football.
Dabo Swinney, Clemson University
Compensation: $10.54 million
The Tigers welcomed Dabo Swinney to Death Valley as a wide receiver coach back in 2003, and they haven't looked back since. Since 2009, Swinney has served as Clemson's head coach, leading the Tigers to eight Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) championships and two CFP national titles.
In 17 out of his 20 seasons coaching at Clemson, a Tiger wide receiver earned All-ACC status. Swinney has taken home national coach of the year honors from at least one organization in five of the past nine years.
Kirby Smart, The University of Georgia
Compensation: $10.23 million
The former Georgia defensive back and Alabama defensive coordinator officially settled in Athens in 2015 as the Bulldogs' head coach. Since then, Kirby Smart has collected back-to-back national titles in 2021 and 2022, two SEC championships, five SEC Eastern Division titles, and seven bowl game victories. Out of their last 34 games, the Bulldogs have won 33.
Smart was named SEC Coach of the Year twice in a five-year span and has received several other coach of the year honors.
Brian Kelly, Louisiana State University
Compensation: $9.81 million
Brian Kelly has only been a part of the Tiger family for one season, but his salary speaks to his highly-decorated tenure. Kelly has collected more wins than any other active college football coach (294) in his 32 years as a head coach.
Prior to his first season in Baton Rouge, Kelly served as head coach at Notre Dame for 12 years, where he became the school's winningest coach and led the team to at least 10 wins for seven seasons.
This season, the Tigers were 10-4 and ended the season with a bang in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl, beating out Purdue 63-7.
Mel Tucker, Michigan State University
Compensation: $9.56 million
Michigan State's 25th head coach, Mel Tucker, was hired in February 2020. In his first three seasons at MSU, Coach Tucker has led one of the greatest turnarounds in school history. In 2020, the Spartans won two games. Just a year later, they only lost two games, earned a top-ranking, and won a New Year's Six game.
Tucker received the Big Ten Coach of the Year and College Coach of the Year awards from the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches.
Coach Tucker also led 107 Academic All-Big Ten players in the past three seasons, and coached 19 All-Big Ten honorees in Michigan's historic 2021 season.
College Football Coach Salary vs. Revenue
Even though colleges do not always make money from athletics, high-achieving football programs in large conferences rake in a ton of profit. Revenue combines contributions from alumni, sports camps, state and government support, ticket sales, and signage and other sponsorships.Note Reference 
- Since the 1800s, football has by far been the top-earning college sport.
- On average, a university will bring in more revenue from football than it will from the next 35 most-profitable sports combined.
- The universities with the highest-paid coaches in college football collectively made over $543 million in the 2021-2022 season.Note Reference 
- Even after factoring in team expenses, from equipment to recruitment efforts, coaches are still paid out in a big way.
|Coach||School Pay||Total Team Revenue||Salary as Percent of Revenue|
Coaching Bonuses and Incentives
A college football coach typically has a unique contract that lays out the base salary, supplemental compensation — essentially, the money a coach can make from using their name, image, or likeness for sponsorship deals or apparel contracts — and last but not least, bonuses and incentives.
There are hundreds of different ways a coach can earn bonuses. Coaches can earn extra cash for bowl game appearances and wins, coach of the year recognition, increases in game attendance or season ticket purchases, and even team academic performance.Note Reference 
For example, if Nick Saban, head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, wins the SEC championship, he will make an additional $125,000. If Brian Kelly's LSU Tigers score a high enough Academic Progress Rate (APR), he can cash in an additional $50,000. And if Mel Tucker's team brought home the national championship trophy, he would rake in an extra $500,000.
But even the highest-paid college football coaches are only actually making a fraction of their potential bonuses.
Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, earned the highest bonus of any college football coach this season at $2.25 million. Kirby Smart ranked third, and Nick Saban ranked fourth for highest bonuses.Note Reference