Coaching salaries: Who's getting the most bang for their buck?
USA Today released its annual college football head coach salary database earlier this week and, unsurprisingly, Alabama’s Nick Saban was at the top of the list, with an annual compensation of $8.3 million per season. While there’s no doubt Saban is worth every penny, what about the rest of the list?
Today, we break down the 10 highest-paid coaches and take a look back at their average finish in the AP Top 25 over the last five years as well as their average finish in the Rivals.com team rankings to see which programs are getting the most bang for their buck.
Note: Average numbers include the current AP rankings and all salary figures are according to USA Today.
Nick Saban – Alabama, $8.3 million
Average AP Ranking: 1
Average Rivals.com Team Rankings Finish: 2
Current Rivals.com Team Ranking: 1
Saban will go down as one of the best college football coaches of all-time, so it’s not a surprise to see him at the top of this list once again. The only knock on him since this list was published last year was his average recruiting class slipped from No. 1 overall to No. 2, largely in part to a No. 7 finish in the class of 2018. But the Tide are back on top, both in the polls and the Rivals.com team rankings and this year’s team looks like it could be one of the best he’s ever had.
Saban’s level of sustained success is one of the most impressive runs by a head coach in college football history and with the way Alabama is playing this season, it’s unlikely to end anytime soon.
2. Urban Meyer – Ohio State, $7.6 million
Average AP Ranking: 4
Average Rivals.com Team Rankings Finish: 4
Current Rivals.com Team Ranking: 17
Meyer moved up two spots from last year’s list and is still considered one of the game’s best, both as a coach and as a recruiter. Obviously, things have changed regarding his national perception after he was suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season, but he recently returned to the sidelines and the Buckeyes haven’t skipped a beat.
One oddity is the school’s current spot in the recruiting rankings, where it currently sits at No. 17 overall. But one could expect the Buckeyes finish inside the top 10 and near their five-year average of No. 4.
3. Jim Harbaugh – Michigan, $7.5 million
Average AP Ranking (2015-18): 18
Average Rivals.com Team Rankings Finish (2015-18): 20
Current Rivals.com Team Ranking: 8
Harbaugh continues to take heat from the national media, mainly because the Wolverines have yet to break through and win a conference championship. There’s still not much of a question about job security for him, though, and the strides he has made in recruiting continue to pay dividends in terms of overall talent on the roster. Obviously, the Wolverines are hoping that turns into more wins, and the team still controls its own destiny in the Big Ten this season.
4. Jimbo Fisher – Texas A&M, $7.5 million
Average AP Ranking (At Florida State 2014-17): 18
Average Rivals.com Team Rankings Finish (at Florida State 2014-17, Texas A&M 2018): 6
Current Rivals.com Team Ranking: 2
Much was made about just how much Fisher was paid to leave Florida State, and most Aggies fans would say it is money well spent so far. The Aggies are just 3-2 on the season, but the two losses came against two of the top three teams in the nation in Clemson and Alabama.
After a strong close to the 2018 recruiting class, Fisher and his staff are off to a blazing start in the 2019 class and look like they will easily finish in the Top 5. If the team remains competitive in the tough SEC West while loading up on elite talent, Fisher’s contract should be worth the money.
5. Gus Malzahn – Auburn, $6.7 million
Average AP Ranking: 20
Average Rivals.com Team Rankings Finish: 10
Current Rivals.com Team Ranking: 15
Despite occasional frustration among Auburn fans, Malzahn has been consistent during his time with the Tigers, both on the field and on the recruiting trail. After some people thought he was on the hot seat last season, Malzahn beat both Georgia and Alabama and ended the year by signing an extension, which moved him from outside the Top 10 last year to No. 5 this year.
The 2019 class has a chance to be a special one for the Tigers, with three five-star prospects currently committed and at least two more seriously considering the school. If the Tigers can finish inside the Top 10 both on the field and in the recruiting rankings, the Mazahn extension will only look smarter.
6. Kirby Smart – Georgia, $6.6 million
Average AP Ranking (2016-18): 15
Average Rivals.com Team Rankings Finish (2016-18): 4
Current Rivals.com Team Ranking: 7
After leading Georgia to within one play of winning the national championship and then finishing up with the highest-ranked recruiting class in the school’s history, it could be argued that Smart is too low on this list. Nevertheless, he was outside the Top 10 last year and received a nice bump to come in at No. 6 this year. Smart once again has Georgia inside the Top Five in the on-field rankings, and the Dawgs are likely to finish inside the Top 10 in recruiting as well. There were some questions when Smart returned to his alma mater, but so far it’s looking like it was the right move for Georgia.
7. Dabo Swinney – Clemson, $6.4 million
Average AP Ranking: 6
Average Rivals.com Team Rankings Finish: 11
Current Rivals.com Team Ranking: 4
Swinney has made the College Football Playoff in each of the past three seasons and has a Top Five recruiting class committed for the class of 2019. Even with those accomplishments, he slipped from No. 2 on last year’s list to No. 7 this year, so the Tigers are actually getting quite the bargain in Swinney.
As the team has had more success on the field, the school’s recruiting footprint has also expanded and now it’s not a shock to see the Tigers pull elite talent from coast to coast. With former No. 1 overall player Trevor Lawrence at the helm, the Tigers are expected to be in the conversation for the playoff for years to come.
8. Dan Mullen – Florida, $6 million
Average AP Ranking (At Mississippi State 2014-17): 24
Average Rivals.com Team Rankings Finish (at Mississippi State 2014-17, Florida 2018): 26
Current Rivals.com Team Ranking: 22
Mullen was hired away from Mississippi State this past offseason and earned a nice raise in the process. Mentioned as a candidate for jobs seemingly every year, he’s now settled in and has the Gators back in the Top 25 five weeks into the season. It’s going to be a process to get the Gators back where the fans and administration expect, but the Mullen era is off to a nice start.
So far, Mullen is sticking to his average when it comes to the Gators' recruiting class, but as one of the country’s highest-paid coaches he will need to turn it up a notch down the stretch and finish in the Top 15 to maintain the school’s level of talent.
9. Tom Herman – Texas, $5.5 million
Average AP Ranking (at Houston 2015-16): 25
Average Rivals.com Team Rankings Finish (At Houston 2015-16, Texas 2017-18): 41
Current Rivals.com Team Ranking: 9
After the Longhorns fell to Maryland to open the season, some began to question whether Herman was the guy to turn things around in Austin. But headed into this week’s showdown with Oklahoma, the Horns are back inside the Top 25 and control their own destiny in the Big 12. Herman and his staff are also doing a nice job of adding talent to the roster, with several young players making a big impact this season. Texas isn’t quite back yet, but Herman is off to a good start in his second year at the helm.
10. Scott Frost – Nebraska, $5 million
Average AP Ranking (at UCF 2016-17): Unranked
Average Rivals.com Team Rankings Finish (at UCF 2016-17, Nebraska 2018): 44
Current Rivals.com Team Ranking: 21
The Frost era hasn’t gotten off to a great start, from a canceled game to a winless start. It’s clear by the way things have started in Frost’s homecoming that he’s going to need to get his own players in the program to turn things around, and that started with a Top 25 class last year. The Huskers are on pace to do it again in this year’s class and will surely need to close strong in order to help right the ship. Frost was in high demand, so the Huskers had to pony up to get him back home, but he still ranks higher on the salary list than more established coaches such as Gary Patterson and James Franklin, as well as another young up-and-comer, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley.