By Adam Andrzejewski
The four head coaches from football powerhouses Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Notre Dame collectively earned $25.9 million this year.
Alabama’s Nick Saban pulled in $9.3 million. In the NCAA College Football Playoff on New Year’s Day, his Crimson Tide will take on Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, who made $1.9 million. In the other bracket, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinny made $8.3 million while his rival, Ohio State coach Ryan Day, made $5.4 million plus a $1 million contribution to his retirement.
But for the paltry $1.9 million earned by Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, the collective compensation of the four coaches could have topped $30 million.
College football coaches are some of the most highly compensated public employees in the country. So, while the action on the field is sure to be interesting, taxpayers should be paying attention to what is happening on the sidelines.
#1 Alabama, Coach Nick Saban: Saban’s $9.3 million in cash
compensation last year was 23 times larger than the salary of any U.S. president. In our database of 23 million public employee salary and pension records, Saban out-earned them all. Adding up his cash compensation since 2010, Saban’s received $90.8 million.
#2 Clemson, Coach Dabo Swinney: With an $8.3 million in cash
compensation, Swinney was the second most highly compensated public employee in the country last year. However, even assistant coaches at Clemson make millions of dollars. Brent Venables, the defensive coordinator, is a $2-million dollar man and the second highest paid assistant coach in the country (behind an assistant at LSU).
#3 Ohio State, Coach Ryan Day: Day’s $5.4 million in cash compensation was augmented by a $1 million lump sum retirement
contribution. His contract makes him a top eight most highly compensated head coach in the country. In 2019, Day took over from Urban Meyer. However, according to our Freedom of Information Act request, Meyer didn’t leave the university. Today, Ohio State pays Meyer $102,000 for duties as an “assistant director - athletics.”
#4 Notre Dame, Coach Brian Kelly: Kelly’s $1.9 million salary pales in comparison to his colleagues in the Playoff, according to the school’s IRS 990 filing (FY2019). As a private institution, Golden Dome salaries are not subsidized by taxpayers and the school is under no obligation to disclose its payroll. However, we dug into Notre Dame’s IRS filings and found Kelly’s cash compensation. Interestingly, Kelly in 2019 made less than the $2.1 million that he made in 2017.
Consider this: While snow still covers the stadium that Rockne built in South Bend during the first eleven weeks of the year, Nick Saban at Alabama out-earns the annual wages of Brian Kelly.
Administrators and die-hard fans at these elite football schools argue that their coaches are worth the money… as long as they keep winning. After all, their football programs generate a positive income from operations.
Yet, a 2017 Bloomberg investigation found that Alabama football is built on a crippling debt and owes $225 million over the next 28 years. Clemson tripled its athletic debt over the past decade.
In fact, a 2019 Bloomberg expose on Clemson revealed that the football program only made $7.7 million in 2018 even though it made the college football playoff.
The Dabo Swinney’s and Nick Saban’s of the world better keep winning.
$93 million. That’s how much money Dabo Swinney will earn on his 10-year contract at Clemson. According to our audit, Nick Saban made $90.8 million since 2010 (11-years).
“Well, you know, we really made a commitment to be here at the University of Alabama for the rest of our career, and we certainly appreciate the fact that the University made such a commitment to us,” Saban said in 2014.
"I am grateful and humbled by the incredible commitment Clemson has made to me, my family and our football program," Swinney said in 2019 after inking his massive $93 million contract. "For more than a decade, we have given our all to provide this world-class university and our incredible fans the championship football program they deserve – to live up to ‘Best is the Standard.’”
“Financial contraction seems inevitable. That idea is particularly magnified when you consider the way coaching salaries have boomed over the last decade,” wrote Chris Hummer at 24/7 Sports in March 2020.