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 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.
- P.J. Fleck, Minnesota — $6 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
Highest-paid coaches fired in 2023:
- Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M – $75 million buyout
- Mel Tucker, Michigan State – $9.5 million salary
Let’s dive into the highest paid college football coaches in 2023, based on average salary.
13. James Franklin salary: $7 million (Penn State)
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.
- James Franklin buyout: $12 million before 4/1/22, $8 million until 2023, $6 million (2023), $2 million (2024)
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.
There are some enticing contract incentives for Franklin, including a $250,000 bonus for appearing in the Big Ten Championship Game and a $350,000 bonus for winning it. If Penn State makes a bowl game, Franklin receives $200,000 and that skyrockets to a $400,000 bonus if the Nittany Lions reach the CFB Playoffs.
Considering the Nittany Lions are 0-10 against top 10 teams since 2017 and James Franklin is now 2-14 vs top 10 opponents, we’re not too worried about him earning those incentives.
12. Jim Harbaugh salary: $7.05 million (Michigan)
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: 73-24 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.
Harbaugh now has consecutive victories over Ohio State, wins that put the Wolverines into the College Football Playoff. Quite frankly, how far the Wolverines advance in the playoff doesn’t matter as much now. Harbaugh finally has Michigan back on top of its biggest rivalry and that’s worth every dollar of his salary and more.
Harbaugh has returned for the 2023 college football season, but he will serve a three-game suspension to open the year. Based on his history, this could be Harbaugh’s last season in Ann Arbor.
Related: College Football Defense Rankings
11. Luke Fickell salary: $7.8 million (Wisconsin)
The Wisconsin Badgers knew in order to lure Luke Fickell away from the Cincinnati Bearcats, they needed to make him one of the highest-paid college football coaches in 2023. Considering this was a program that underfunded recruiting, we could be seeing a new commitment to football at Wisconsin.
Fickell will earn a $7.5 million salary in 2023, one of the largest head-coaching salaries in college football. However, the deal comes with escalators each year that raise the average annual value of the contract to nearly $7.9 million.
- Luke Fickell contract: 7 years, $7.8 million per season
With the massive pay raise comes greater support to build the program his way. Fickell turned down multiple other Power 5 jobs in the past, but Wisconsin finally offered the resources he wanted. This could be a massive turning point for the Badgers’ football program.
10. Mario Cristobal salary: $8 million (Miami)
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.
- Mario Cristobal coaching record: 67-66
As of now, though, the Mario Cristobal contract looks bad. Miami already lost to Middle Tennessee State, North Carolina and Texas A&M this year and the offense isn’t meeting expectations. Cristobal isn’t going to approach any of his contract incentives and it’s fair to wonder if one of the highest paid coaches in college football will be shown the door by December 2023.
9. Josh Heupel salary: $9 million (Tennessee)
Coming off a surprising 11-2 performance in just his second season with the Tennessee Volunteers, Heupel has earned that bag. Mere weeks after defeating the Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl, the former Oklahoma quarterback has received an extension through the 2029 season that will pay him $9 million nnually.
Tennessee’s 11-2 finish in 2022 represented their best performance since all the way back in 2001 when the legendary Phillip Fulmer was leading the charge. It’s also the first time Tennessee has won a major bowl game since the program went undefeated to win the title all the way back in 1998.
Related: College Football Coaches Hot Seat
8. Lane Kiffin salary: $9 million (Ole Miss)
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.
- Lane Kiffin salary 2023: $7.35 million
Thanks to the Auburn Tigers, Kiffin received a contract extension for the second consecutive year. According to Ross Dellenger, Ole Miss is signing Kiffin to a six-year contract extension with roll-overs that extend it to eight seasons. Far more importantly, Kiffin’s salary climbs to an average of $9 million per year beginning in 2023. Once an underappreciated coach, Kiffin has now climbed the list of the highest-paid college football coaches in consecutive years.
7. Matt Rhule salary: $9.25 million (Nebraska)
Months after being fired by the Carolina Panthers, Matt Rhule returns to where he always belonged. A top college football coach at both Temple and Baylor, Rhule is taking over as the Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach at a critical time.
The Cornhuskers, once one of the best teams in college football, have plummeted to irrelevancy for the majority of the last decade. Many hoped that alum Scott Frost would turn things around, but the weight of the job and poor decisions led to his termination.
- Matt Rhule salary 2023: $5.5 million
Rhule knows how to build out a coaching staff at the college level and his background in identifying unheralded three-star recruits and helping them develop into impact players is exactly what the Cornhuskers need.
The details of the Matt Rhule contract won’t make him one of the highest-paid college football coaches in 2023, only set to earn a $5.5 million salary. However, it’s a $74 million deal over eight years, averaging at $9.25 AAV. By 2027, Rhule will be earning a $10 million salary and it will top at $12.5 million in 2030.
6. Ryan Day salary: $9.5 million (Ohio State)
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 four seasons as the Ohio State head coach, Day boasts a phenomenal 34-4 record with one College Football National Championship Game appearance (2020).
After earning $6.614 million in 2021, Ohio State finally bumped up the salary for the leader of its program. The new two-year Ryan Day contract extension is worth $9.5 million per season, immediately making him one of the highest-paid college football coaches in 2022.
However, fans will rightfully be wondering whether or not Day is earning his salary right now. Consecutive losses to Michigan and the lingering championship drought have led to plenty of scrutiny towards Day.
5. Brian Kelly salary: $9.5 million (LSU)
Days after saying he would never leave the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, unless he was offered $250 million, Brian Kelly became the 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.
It feels fitting that LSU’s first regular season with Kelly ended with a loss to Texas A&M. The Tigers sat on the doorstep of a playoff berth, just like so many Notre Dame teams in the Kelly era, ending with the same fate as the Fighting Irish in previous years. LSU should’ve known what it was getting when it paid Kelly.
4. Lincoln Riley salary (estimated): $10-plus million (USC)
What is Lincoln Riley’s salary? We don’t really know. The USC Trojans aren’t required to provide financial details on his deal thanks to the program being a private school. Based on the limited information reported, we can pretty safely say Riley is the highest paid college football coach.
- Lincoln Riley record: 65-11
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. We could be on the verge of USC becoming a football factory, too. With NIL deals for quarterback Caleb Williams, top assistants and staffers from around the country joining Riley’s program, USC is going beyond having the most paid college football coach.
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. It might only be a few years in the Big Ten before Riley gets a pay raise, given the revenue those TV rights deals will generate.
After three losses before mid-November in 2023, USC dropped out of the top 25 rankings for the first time since hiring Riley. The disappearance from the CFP rankings also came days after Riley fired defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who he kept around after a disastrous 2022 season. With Caleb Williams headed for the NFL in 2024, Riley faces an uphill battle to get USC back atop the college football world.
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3. Dabo Swinney salary: $10.5 million (Clemson)
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.
But now the Tigers are all-in on their head coach again, giving Swinney a 10-year, $115 million contract extension, locking him in until 2031. It’s the largest college football contract in the history of the sport. Facing questions entering the season about the inexperienced coaching staff, Swinney is stepping up in his “CEO” role when the program needs it.
Without NFL-caliber quarterbacks, Swinney just isn’t winning like he used to. A victory over Notre Dame silenced some more vocal critics, but the results are still worthy of scrutiny. While Clemson has won double-digit games every year from 2011-’22, they won’t meet that market in 2023. More alarmingly, the perennial power of college football has now lost three-plus games in three consecutive seasons.
2. Kirby Smart salary: $11.25 million (Georgia)
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.
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, which 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 received an additional $850,000 in on-field bonuses for the playoff run, including a $200K bonus for the title.
Finally, the Kirby Smart contract extension arrives. According to Chris Low of ESPN, Smart signed a 10-year contract with a total of $112.5 million. With the Bulldogs headed toward another CFP Semifinal.
As for additional Kirby Smart contract details, his salary climbs to $10.5 million in 2023, $10.75 million in 2024 and hits $11 million in 2025. By 2030, Smart will be making $12 million in salary alone. The Bulldogs coach will also receive a $100,000 bonus for the SEC title game appearance, a $300,000 bonus for winning the SEC and a $500,000 bonus for making the CFB Playoff. If Georgia wins the national championship, Smart receives a $1 million bonus.
1. Nick Saban salary: $11.7 million (Alabama)
Who is the highest paid college football coach? It’s hardly a surprise that the best coach to ever do it on the NCAA gridiron is also once again the highest-paid college football coach. Nick Saban’s “process” is the stuff of legend, and it’s led to a 183-25 record at Alabama, along with six national championships.
In August, the Alabama university’s board of trustees approved an extension to his current deal that would take it all the way to February of 2030. However, and more importantly, they also bumped up his pay by $2 million annually. He will now make $11.7 million each year which now makes him the highest-paid coach in all of college football…again.
Unfortunately for Alabama, we could be at the end of an era. The 2022 season for the Crimson Tide was a massive disappointment by their standards, meaning Saban didn’t hit the majority of his contract incentives in 2022.
Highest-paid college football coaches FAQ
Who is the highest paid state employee in Alabama?
Nick Saban is the highest-paid public employee in the state of Alabama at an $11.7 million salary. Saban’s salary averages out to $11.7 million, with a $10.395 million base salary in 2024 but he’ll earn $12 million in 2028 and ’29.
How much does Jim Harbaugh make?
Jim Harbaugh has a $6.535 million base salary in 2023. However, that figure doesn’t include his supplemental salary and reachable incentives that can help him earn more than $7 million this year.
How much does Lincoln Riley make?
Lincoln Riley makes an estimated $10 million per year, under the 10-year contract he signed with the USC Trojans. However, USC is a private university and isn’t required to release contract information for its coaches.
Who are the top 10 highest paid college football coaches?
- Nick Saban, Alabama Crimson Tide – $11.7 million AAV
- Kirby Smart, Georgia Bulldogs – $11.25 million AAV
- Dabo Swinney, Clemson Tigers – $10.5 million AAV
- Lincoln Riley, USC Trojans – $10-plus million AAV
- Brian kelly, LSU Tigers – $9.5 million AAV
- Mel Tucker, Michigan State – $9.5 million AAV
- Ryan Day, Ohio State Buckeyes – $9.5 million AAV
- Matt Rhule, Nebraska Cornhuskers – $9.25 million AAV
- Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss Rebels – $9 million AAV
- Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M – $9 million AAV
What is Deion Sanders salary?
Colorado head coach Deion Sanders makes $5.5 million in 2023. He signed a five-year contract with Colorado worth $29.5 million, not including reachable incentives and bonuses in his contract. By the end of his contract, Sanders will be making more than $6 million per year.
How much money do college football coaches make?
The average salary for college football coaches varies by the level of competition, conference and the state of the team. It was found that the average college football coach’s compensation in 2022 was $1.75 million.
Who is the highest paid assistant coach in college football?
Before becoming the Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator, Todd Monken was the highest-paid assistant coach in college football with a $2.005 million base salary paid by the Georgia Bulldogs. Now, Ohio State Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is the highest paid assistant coach in college football with a $1.96 million salary.
How many college football coaches are the highest paid state employees?
A majority of college football coaches for the top programs in the nation are the highest-paid state employees. Research found that more than 60 percent of the highest-paid coaches in college football are also the highest-paid state employees.
College Football Playoff coaches bonuses
Kirby Smart, Georgia Bulldogs
After winning the national championship a year ago and landing a lucrative contract extension, Georgia Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart is in line for some massive bonuses depending on how far UGA advances.
- SEC Coach of the Year: $50,000 bonus – Earned
- SEC Championship Game appearance: $500,000 bonus – Earned
- SEC Championship Game victory: $300,000 bonus – Earned
- College Football Playoff appearance: $500,000 bonus – Earned
- CFP National Championship win: $1 million bonus
After winning the national championship game, Smart will officially come away with $2.35 million in earned bonuses. He makes a significant portion of his salary through media obligations that he is compensated for, too. In total, Smart earned more than $12 million this season. After winning back-to-back national championships, he might land another contract extension.
Ryan Day, Ohio State Buckeyes
The Ohio State Buckeyes extended head coach Ryan Day in 2022, ensuring he remains one of the highest paid coaches in college football. Here are the contract details regarding his bonuses. Unfortunately for Day, he will miss out on the national title game appearance bonus thanks to the hiring of Jim Knowles.
- College Football Playoff appearance: $250,000 bonus – Earned
- National Championship appearance: $100,000 bonus
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines
Jim Harbaugh is already one of the highest-paid coaches in college football, earning a multi-year extension after flirting with the NFL and earning Michigan its first CFB Playoff appearance. Thanks to the new deal he signed, there’s even more money available now.
- Big Ten Championship Game appearance: $500,000 bonus – Earned
- Big Ten Championship Game victory: $1 million bonus – Earned
- Big Ten Coach of the Year: $50,000 bonus – Earned
- College Football Playoff appearance: $500,000 bonus – Earned
- National Championship Game win: $1 million bonus
Harbaugh has already earned over $2 million in contract bonuses, adding to his $8.05 million base salary in 2022. After losing to the TCU Horned Frogs in the Fiesta Bowl, Harbaugh will finish having earned just over $10 million in 2022.
Importantly, TCU is a private university so there are no contract details for Sonny Dykes.