10 highest-paid college football coaches (and are they worth it?)

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Highest-paid college football coaches
Jan 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban celebrates after beating the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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 program 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, and there are some names on here who are bound to shock people.

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.

10. Steve Sarkisian salary: $5.2 million (Texas)

Highest-paid college football coaches: Steve Sarkisian, Texas
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Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald made a little over $5.2 million in 2020, but his monster contract extension and the private school’s lack of annual disclosure make his 2021 salary unknown as of now. Thus, Steve Sarkisian kicks off this list.

Many were surprised when Tom Herman got fired as the Longhorns head coach, and not long after that, it was confirmed that Sarkisian would be stepping in to take over at Texas. Sark had an excellent stint as Alabama’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach over the last two years, so he should be well-suited for the job in Austin. Having a top-10 salary out of the gates is nice, too.

  • Will Steve Sarkisian be an upgrade over Tom Herman?

9. Gary Patterson salary: $6.1 million (TCU)

Highest-paid college football coaches: Gary Patterson, TCU
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After losing a bowl game as interim coach during the 2000 season, Gary Patterson took the Horned Frogs’ lead job the next year. He’s led TCU to 11 seasons of 10-plus wins, and has produced numerous NFL players. Patterson isn’t going anywhere despite a few tough years in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs moved conferences in the first place due to how dominant Patterson was in the Mountain West.

  • Can Gary Patterson rally TCU from three straight underwhelming seasons?

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8. Ed Orgeron salary: $6.7 million (LSU)

Highest-paid college football coaches: Ed Orgeron, LSU
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Winning the big one in 2019 with a roster that featured tons of future NFL talent came on the heels of Ed Orgeron signing a contract extension. That seemed like something of a bold move at the time for LSU, but Orgeron is the face of the Tigers program and should have them contending for SEC titles for years to come. He’s since signed another extension, too, but is taking a $300,000 pay cut in 2021.

  • Should Ed Orgeron be on the hot seat if he doesn’t meet expectations again in 2021?

7. Kirby Smart salary: $6.9 million (Georgia)

Highest-paid college football coaches: Kirby Smart, Georgia
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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. It’s only a matter of time before the Bulldogs win a national championship under Smart’s watch.

  • Will Kirby Smart ever fully step out of Nick Saban’s shadow at Georgia?

T6. Jimbo Fisher salary: $7.5 million (Texas A&M)

Highest-paid college football coaches: Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
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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.

  • Will Jimbo Fisher lead Texas A&M to a College Football Playoff berth during his tenure?

T6. Ryan Day salary: $7.5 million (Ohio State)

Highest-paid college football coaches: Ryan Day, Ohio State
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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.

  • Is Ryan Day really the right coach to lead Ohio State into a new era?

5. Dan Mullen salary: $7.6 million (Florida)

Highest-paid college football coaches: Dan Mullen, Florida
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Speaking of Meyer, ever since he left Gainesville, the Gators were on a roller coaster of inconsistency. Dan Mullen took over in 2018, promptly won 10 games and got Florida to seventh in the AP poll. The Gators did one spot better the next year en route to 11 wins, and despite four losses this past year, Mullen has Florida moving in the right direction and earned a raise and extension.

  • Does Dan Mullen really give the Gators a chance at a national championship in the loaded SEC?

4. Lincoln Riley salary: $8 million (Oklahoma)

Highest-paid college football coaches: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
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The term “quarterback whisperer” gets thrown around a lot, but Lincoln Riley earns that label. He produced back-to-back No. 1 overall NFL draft picks in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Riley has had the Sooners atop the Big 12 for four years running and is recruiting better defensive players. That combination is bound to culminate in a national title for Oklahoma at some point, and thanks to a new contract, Riley’s pay is getting a bump in 2021.

  • Is Oklahoma paying Lincoln Riley enough to prevent him from bolting for the NFL?

2. Dabo Swinney salary: $8.3 million (Clemson)

Highest-paid college football coaches: Dabo Swinney, Clemson
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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.

  • Can Dabo Swinney keep Clemson winning at such a prolific rate?

1. Nick Saban salary: $8.4 million (Alabama)

Highest-paid college football coaches: Nick Saban, Alabama
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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.

  • How many more national championships will Nick Saban win before he retires?