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Highest-paid college football coaches 2022: Jim Harbaugh contract extension provides raise

Want to know just how much money the highest-paid college football coaches make? Click here to find out Nick Saban's salary and the top 10 highest-paid coaches.

Matt Johnson
Highest-paid college football coaches
Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press / USA TODAY NETWORK

The highest-paid college football coaches have annual salaries that’ll make anyone’s head spin, but that’s why they’re put in charge of numerous young men and tasked with shepherding powerhouse programs to perpetual prominence.

While some coaches on this list at the nation’s premier football schools probably aren’t going to surprise, the order may well be a shock to many. One thing to keep in mind, being among the highest-paid college football coaches doesn’t guarantee job security. From our list in 2021, three prominent names were fired.

Without further ado, here are the 10 highest-paid college football coaches by annual salary as of the most recent season. This group is compiled from USA Today‘s list, but takes into account coaching changes, compensation information, or lack thereof, and the latest available information.

Just missed:

  • Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern – $5.748 million
  • Chip Kelly, UCLA Bruins – $5.6 million
  • Steve Sarkisian, Texas – $5.45 million

Highest-paid coaches fired in 2021:

  • Gary Patterson, TCU – $6.1 million salary
  • Dan Mullen, Florida – $7.57 million salary
  • Ed Orgeron, LSU – $9.01 million salary

13. Ryan Day salary: $6.614 million (Ohio State)

Highest-paid college football coaches: Ryan Day, Ohio State
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Stepping in as Urban Meyer’s successor couldn’t have been easy for Ryan Day, but the Buckeyes haven’t missed a beat since he took the reins. In two full seasons as Ohio State’s head coach, Day has earned his helmet stickers so to speak, compiling a 20-2 record, a perfect 14-0 mark in Big Ten play and two College Football Playoff berths. Day’s new contract nets him a raise in pay from 2021 on, but he still trails some of the highest-paid college football coaches by a significant amount.

After an early-season loss to Oregon, the Buckeyes started rolling again and went into “The Game” as the No. 2 team in the country. Day suffered his first loss to Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines, costing Ohio State a shot at the CFB Playoffs. Day will definitely be much higher among the highest-paid college football coaches in 2022 when Ohio State revisits his contract this offseason.

12. James Franklin salary: $7 million (Penn State)

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Penn State
Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State Nittany Lions head coach is one of the best at using leverage to land an extension. Rumored to be a coaching candidate for the LSU Tigers, Miami Hurricanes and USC Trojans, Franklin turned that into a pay raise and more job security in Happy Valley.

Keep in mind, the Nittany Lions didn’t have a great season. For the second consecutive year, Penn State finished with five losses and ended the regular season outside the top-25 college football rankings. But the new James Franklin contract, a 10-year deal worth $70 million, makes him one of the highest-paid coaches in college football and Penn State seems pleased with the results.

11. Jim Harbaugh salary: $7.05 million (Michigan)

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh watched his team warm up before the Orange Bowl against Georgia on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Florida.Capital One Orange Bowl

After flirting with the NFL, Jim Harbaugh landed the contract extension he wanted. The University of Michigan officially announced his new extension, rewarding the head coach for a phenomenal 2021 season. After taking a pay cut to stick around last year, Harbaugh now joins the list of the highest-paid college football coaches.

  • Jim Harbaugh record: 61-24 at Michigan, 1-5 in bowl games

The new deal provides a $7.05 million base salary in 2022, per The Detroit News. Importantly, there is also a clause regarding a buyout. If Harbaugh leaves Michigan next year, he owes the university $3 million. Departing in 2023 would result in a $2.25 million buyout and a $1.5 million buyout to Michigan if he exits in 2024.

10. Kirby Smart salary: $7.133 million +$850,000 bonus (Georgia)

Highest-paid college football coaches: Kirby Smart, Georgia
Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Following a lengthy tenure as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator at Alabama, Kirby Smart made the leap to head coach at Georgia in 2016. Smart’s maiden year in Athens produced a meager 8-5 record, but he’s been lights-out since then.

College Football Playoff Rankings: Who is in, who is out?

The Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time since 1982. With the best defense in college football and a quality offense, it looked like everything was coming together for Smart’s program. But an ugly loss in the SEC Championship Game made everyone wonder if the Dawgs would ever get over the hump against Alabama.

That’s no longer a question. Georgia’s playoff run, culminated with a three-touchdown fourth quarter vs. Alabama in the title game, brings a national title back to Georgia. As everyone celebrates, the Kirby Smart contract incentives kick in. He’ll receive an additional $850,000 in on-field bonuses for the playoff run, including a $200K bonus for the title.

Frankly, it’s a bit surprising that Georgia hasn’t already signed Smart to a contract extension. However, it’s only a matter of time. Coming off a championship, Smart’s next deal will certainly make him one of the highest-paid college football coaches ever.

9. Lane Kiffin salary: $7.25 million (Ole Miss)

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Mississippi Head Coach Lane Kiffin returns to Neyland Stadium before an SEC football game between Tennessee and Ole Miss in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021.Kns Tennessee Ole Miss Football

The Mississippi Rebels hired Lane Kiffin with the hope the polarizing coach could turn their program around within a few years. Following a 5-5 season in 2020, Kiffin’s Rebels became a college football power this season and finished with a 10-2 record.

Unsurprisingly, Kiffin was rewarded. With plenty of bigger programs inquiring, Ole Miss added Kiffin’s name to the growing list of highest-paid coaches in college football. Kiffin received a $3 million raise from his current salary and will pull in an average value of $7.25 million. Of course, the deal carries additional incentives that can make it worth even more.

8. Jimbo Fisher salary: $7.5 million (Texas A&M)

Highest-paid college football coaches: Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

When Jimbo Fisher resigned from Florida State, it was unclear what his coaching future held. Texas A&M turned to him to get its program trending in the right direction, and Fisher has done just that. A 9-1 mark in 2020, including 8-1 in the SEC, saw the Aggies just miss out on the College Football Playoff.

The Aggies were viewed as a disappointment this year, compared to the expectations placed on this team. But beating Alabama, with Smart becoming the first assistant to beat Nick Saban, changes everything. With a more experienced roster, expectations wi;; be even higher for Fisher in 2022.

7. Mario Cristobal salary: $8 million (Miami)

Syndication: The Register Guard
Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal oversees warmups before the game against Oregon State.Eug 111427 Uofb 02

The Miami Hurricanes are finally taking football seriously once again and it leads to a new entrant in our highest-paid coaches in college football rankings. Fresh off a 10-win season with the Oregon Ducks, Mario Cristobal is headed back to Miami.

It doesn’t come as a surprise. Cristobal grew up in Miami and played offensive tackle for the Hurricanes. With a 35-13 record in five seasons at Oregon, he was always considered a potential candidate to leave for another job. But the Hurricanes haven’t spent money like this before and the sudden change is why they landed their top target.

A former 247 Sports’ National Recruiter of the Year, Cristobal lands in one of the most talent-rich regions in the country. It’s going to take some time to build the Hurricanes back up, but the new commitment being shown by administrators and boosters is a sign that “The U” could be back soon.

6. Dabo Swinney salary: $8,370,775 (Clemson)

Highest-paid college football coaches: Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Dabo Swinney has led Clemson to the College Football Playoff in the past six seasons, claiming two national championships in that span. The Tigers are an absolute juggernaut in the ACC, and Swinney is deservedly among the highest-paid college football coaches.

However, it’s fair to say Swinney didn’t entirely earn his salary in 2021. Clemson’s offense never showed up in the season-opening loss to Georgia and it barely made an appearance in a 14-8 win over Georgia Tech. But that 27-21 loss to North Carolina State gave this program two losses in September for the first time in years. Maybe it was the generational quarterbacks carrying Clemson and not the coach. At the very least, Clemson is thankful for that $1.25 million payment reduction, which pushed Swinney down the list of highest-paid college football coaches.

5. David Shaw salary: $8.925 million

NCAA Football: Stanford at Arizona State
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Stanford Cardinal coach David Shaw has been the subject of NFL rumors for years. Taking over Stanford in 2011, promoted from offensive coordinator, the 49-year-old has done a nice job keeping the program afloat. Following an ugly 4-8 season in 2018, the Cardinal rebounded in 2020 with a 4-2 record. Entering the 2021 season, Shaw was one of the few coaches without a pay reduction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stanford certainly isn’t the college football team it used to be and it’s fair to wonder if Shaw is on the hot seat. The upset against Oregon happened ages ago and it’s been a putrid effort from this team ever since. Losses to Arizona State and Utah are excusable, but getting blown out by Oregon State and Cal could have got Shaw fired. He’ll be on the hot seat in 2022.

4. Mel Tucker salary: $9.5 million (MIchigan State)

NCAA Football: Maryland at Michigan State
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Hired in 2020, Mel Tucker turned a great opportunity into becoming of the highest-paid college football coaches within two years. The Spartans went 2-5 in a COVID-impacted 2020 season, but everything came together this year. On the verge of a double-digit win year, Tucker earned a 10-year extension worth $95 million. While his contract has just a $5.9 million base salary, there is an additional $3.2 million in supplemental compensation and it averages $9.5 million per year.

3. Nick Saban salary: $9,753,221 million (Alabama)

Highest-paid college football coaches: Nick Saban, Alabama
Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

Hardly a surprise that the best coach to ever do it on the NCAA gridiron is also the nation’s most handsomely compensated. Nick Saban’s “process” is the stuff of legend, and it’s led to a 165-23 record at Alabama, along with six national championships.

Saban is nearing age 70, yet is showing no signs of slowing down, which is bad news for his peers as he continues building an epic legacy in Tuscaloosa. Saban’s recent extension actually lowered his base salary, but after he presumably hits all his bonus incentives, he’ll widen the gap as the highest-paid coach in college football. But all the money in the world won’t take away the sting from his unbeaten record against his former staffers coming to an end in 2021.

Saban, already one of the highest-paid college football coaches, received a $75,000 bonus for the SEC Championship Game appearance and is due a $150,000 bonus for becoming an SEC champion once more.

After Alabama won the College Football Playoff Semifinal, Saban will now receive a $600,000 bonus for reaching the CFP championship. Combined with the SEC Championship Game, Saban has already earned $1.125 million in contract incentives in December. While he falls short of the championship bonus, it’s safe to say he’ll earn it in the future.

2. Brian Kelly salary: $9.5 million (LSU)

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Stanford
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Days after saying he would never leave the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, unless he was offered $250 million, Brian Kelly is the new LSU Tigers head coach. Fourth amongst the active leaders in coaching wins (166), Kelly’s “Irish Exit” from Notre Dame is a repeat of his departure from Cincinnati to join the Fighting Irish.

While he didn’t land $250 million, he easily grabs a spot among the highest-paid college football coaches. Previous reports indicated the deal is worth $100-plus million over 10 years. However, the official terms per LSU are $95 million over 10 years. There are likely reachable incentives that will push the total value well past $100 million.

  • Brian Kelly contract: 10 years, $95 million

LSU’s coaching change is going to be the costliest in college football history. Ed Orgeron received a $17 million buyout and when combined with Kelly’s contract, it’s a staggering total being spent. But the Tigers are confident that a coach who posted a 113-40 record at Notre Dame with five consecutive double-digit win seasons will bring a national championship to Baton Rouge.

1. Lincoln Riley salary (estimated): $10-plus million (USC)

NCAA Football: Lincoln Riley Press Conference
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Rumored to be atop LSU’s wish list, head coach Lincoln Riley made it clear he wasn’t taking the job in Louisiana. A few hours later, Riley agreed to a contract with the USC Trojans. The 38-year-old was already one of the highest-paid coaches in college football and his salary is soaring past the $7.672 million salary he made in 2021 with the Oklahoma Sooners.

  • Lincoln Riley record: 55-10, 1-2 in bowl games

While there are rumors about the Lincoln Riley contract with USC, exact terms might not be known for a while. Because USC is a private university, it’s not required to list the contract details. But early estimates project the deal worth over $10 million per season in average salary with incentives for Pac 12 Championships, College Football Playoff appearances and national championships. Given his resume, that’s easily worth it if he can turn around the Trojans.

If you’re wondering what one of the highest-paid college football coaches does with his money, we already know. Riley bought a mansion in Los Angeles, worth $17.2 million. Just take a look for yourself, the features and views are absurd.

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