Who Are The Highest-Paid College Football Coaches?

The highest paid college football coach makes over $11 million a year. Find out which coaches are taking home the biggest salaries.
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Chloe Appleby is an associate writer for BestColleges. She contributes to both the News and Data teams, writing both higher education news stories and data reports for the site. She graduated from Davidson College with a BA in English and communicati...
Updated on October 6, 2023
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Data Summary

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    Coach Nick Saben from the University of Alabama was the highest-paid college football coach in the 2023 contract season.[1]
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    Collectively, the five highest-paid college football coaches made over $53 million this year.Note Reference [1]
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    On average, the top five highest-paid NCAA college football coaches each make $10.66 million per year.Note Reference [1]
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    Kirby Smart, head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, collected the highest bonus of the highest-paid coaches, bringing in an extra $1.35 million in incentives this year.Note Reference [1]
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    Teams led by the highest-paid coaches in college football brought in nearly $545 million this year.[2]

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 [1] 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

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Compensation: $11.41 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

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Compensation: $10.88 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

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Compensation: $10.71 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.


Ryan Day, Ohio State University

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Compensation: $10.27 million

Ryan Day has been in the coaching game for 22 years — seven years with the Buckeyes and five as the team's head coach. With Day at the helm, Ohio State has achieved 23 consecutive wins in Big Ten games. Plus, they were the only program to qualify for the playoffs three times since 2019.

Day has coached 18 first-team All-Americans, five Heisman Trophy finalists, and nine first-round NFL Draft picks, including three Ohio state starting quarterbacks since 2019. In 2019, Day became the first Ohio State coach in 40 years to earn the title of Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year.


Mel Tucker, Michigan State University

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Compensation: $10.02 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 [2]

  • Since the 1800s, football has by far been the top-earning college sport.[3]
  • On average, a university will bring in more revenue from football than it will from the next 35 most-profitable sports combined.[4]
  • The universities with the highest-paid coaches in college football collectively made over $543 million in the 2021-2022 season.Note Reference [2]
  • Even after factoring in team expenses, from equipment to recruitment efforts, coaches are still paid out in a big way.
Salaries of Top Five Highest-Paid College Football Coaches vs. Team Revenue
Coach School Pay Total Team Revenue Salary as Percent of Revenue
Georgia $10.51 $155.95 6.74%
Alabama $11.11 $127.6 8.71%
Ohio State $10.20 $109.18 9.34%
Michigan State $10.02 $95.11 10.54%
Clemson $10.76 $68.91 15.61%
Note: The most recent available data for team revenue is from 2021, while the most recent salary information is from 2023. Pay guaranteed by the university is known as “School Pay.” It is slightly lower than the coaches' “Total Pay,” which factors in funds from outside of the university.
Source: USA Today Sports and U.S. Department of Education

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.[5]

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 [5]

For example, if Nick Saban, head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, wins the SEC championship, he will make an additional $125,000.[6] If Brian Kelly's LSU Tigers score a high enough Academic Progress Rate (APR), he can cash in an additional $50,000.[7] And if Mel Tucker's team brought home the national championship trophy, he would rake in an extra $500,000.[8]

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 $2.2 million. Kirby Smart ranked second, and Utah's Kyle Wittingham ranked third for highest bonuses.Note Reference [1]