Nick Saban is as pragmatic and calculating on the field as he is off it. Rumours swirled in recent weeks that the Alabama coach might head for Texas, leaving Tide fans reeling at the thought. However, Alabama managed to sign the four-time National Championship-winning coach to an unbelievable extension that will reportedly see him making more than $7 million a season, up from $5.5 million (plus bonuses) in 2013. That’d make him college football’s top-paid coach.
Trailing Saban is Mack Brown (who recently left Texas), earning over $5.4 million this year, and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, who pocketed more than $5.2 million. What’s no surprise is that coaches from the SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten dominate the top of the list; what may come as a surprise, however, is that when it comes to performance bonuses, these three trail the pack.
In fact, in 2013, Tennessee’s Butch Jones had the potential to earn an extra $1 million on top of his guaranteed $4.8 million, which would have seen him take home nearly as much as Saban. Contracts and paydays for college coaches clearly aren’t as straightforward as they’d seem. So what gives?
Basically, these big-time bonuses are incentives for solid play. Not every college football coach can lock-up back-to-back national titles or have decades of bowl wins under their belt. When you’re the best, you’ll be paid like you’re the best. But for the rest of them, they’ve got to work for it.
This year Ohio State’s Urban Meyer could’ve landed a $100,000 payout had the Buckeyes added a victory over Michigan State to their winning streak (Spartans won 34-24). That loss also cost Meyer a BCS National Championship game and as such, an additional $250,000. However, just by making it to the Orange Bowl, Ohio State’s coach claimed $150,000 this year.
Assistant coaches can get in the action as well. In 2013, thanks to a contract with Nike, the assistant coaches at Florida each got $10,000. At Boise, just improving on the year bumps up the staff salaries. For example, a 5% raise is allotted to everyone should the team win at least eight regular season games.
So who’s got the most on the line in 2014? Check out the top 10 college football coaches with the biggest bonuses at stake.
10 Darrell Hazell - Purdue Boilermakers
Guaranteed: $2.1M Bonus: $1M
Darrell Hazell is new to Purdue in 2013, forfeiting $20,000 in bonuses to leave Kent State. However, that’ll be a small price to pay since he can earn up to $1 million in bonuses with the Boilermakers. Hazell also receives smaller guaranteed bonuses, such as the university paying for his spouse to attend one road game a season. Purdue’s putting their faith – and funds – in Hazell, paying $725,000 for the coach to leave his contract. And while it’s only been a year since Hazell came on board, the Boilermakers are a terrible 1-11. This coach will have to rebuild from the ground up if he wants to pocket any extra next payday.
9 Gus Malzahn – Auburn Tigers
Guaranteed: $2.4M Bonus: $1.25M
For the coach of the Auburn Tigers, no amount of money will make up for that stinging loss in the BCS National Championship on January 6. However, the $625,000 in bonuses he’s already accrued will soften the blow. For making it to the SEC Championship game and winning, Gus Malzahn earned $250,000. Having a near-perfect season (12 wins) got him $125,000. Making it to the BCS National Championship scored the coach $150,000, while the loss in that game cost him $350,000.
8 Mark Stoops - Kentucky Wildcats
Guaranteed: $2M Bonus: $1.47M
In three years under head coach Joker Phillips, University of Kentucky compiled a record of 13-24 – a dismal showing to say the least. Enter Mark Stoops. Stoops was bumped up from a $580,000 pay check with a max bonus of just $37,000 as assistant coach for Florida State, to a $2 million dollar payday with a potential bonus of up to $1.47 million. Despite the big jump, Stoops couldn’t do much for the program, ending 2013 with a 2-10 record that was sure to displease the higher-ups. However, with a few tips from brother “Big Game Bob” Stoops, the Kentucky coach may be able to right the ship and collect some of that bonus in 2014.
7 Mike MacIntyre - Colorado Buffaloes
Guaranteed: $2.4M Bonus: $1.5M
Colorado offers Mike MacIntyre quite a few bonuses, but unfortunately, thanks to the Buffaloes last place finish in the Pac-12 South, he wasn’t able to rack up much this year. MacIntyre could’ve earned $200,000 for making it to a bowl game – whether it’s a blue-chip one or not. The Colorado coach also lost out on $100,000 for not making it to the conference title game, $50,000 for not winning seven regular season games and $25,000 for not being named Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Looks like 2013 was hard on MacIntyre – ouch!
6 Steve Sarkisian - Washington Huskies
Guaranteed: $2.5M Bonus: $1.5M
Long-time Washington coach, Steve Sarkisian, will be joining USC in 2014. Despite padding his pockets with some big bonuses during his five-year stint, Sarkisian will have to give $1.5 million back for leaving prior to the end of the season to join a new team. Lucky for him, although he wouldn’t be coaching Washington in their bowl game, the university will still issue his $150,000 bowl season bonus simply because the team qualified. (That just goes to show you how important language is in contracts!) While with the Huskies, Sarkisian was the highest-paid active Pac-12 coach and second for the year to only USC’s former coach Lane Kiffin.
5 Steve Spurrier - South Carolina
Guaranteed: $3.3M Bonus: $1.5M
The coach of the Gamecocks should be pretty happy after signing a contract extension with the university to remain coach until 2017. The stipulations of his bonus remain the same with one exception: making the Outback Bowl would mean an added $100,000. This season, Steve Spurrier racked up $200,000 for winning 11 games – and no doubt has plans in play for how to improve on that in 2014. He’s a not-too-shabby 66-37 since 2005 at South Carolina.
4 Hugh Freeze - Mississippi Rebels
Guaranteed: $2M Bonus: $1.5M
In only his second year at Mississippi and third year as a coach overall, Hugh Freeze led Mississippi to a lousy 7-6 record. Despite a disappointing year in the tough SEC, Freeze is 37-13 all time. No doubt the Rebels coach is hoping for a better showing in ’14 if he hopes to collect any of that $1.5 million bonus. A bonus on the line is nothing new for Freeze – who could’ve earned $100,000 for each SEC win in 2012, and $100,000 for every win (excluding the first) in 2013 – so we aren’t holding our breath. It appears as though Ole Miss isn’t either; in 2014, Freeze will only receive bonuses based on the SEC Championship, the bowl season and academic results.
3 Tim DeRuyter - Fresno State Bulldogs
Guaranteed: $655K Bonus: $1.6M
Tim DeRuyter’s new to the scene at Frenso State, 2013 being only his second year as coach. But the Bulldogs coach certainly straightened things out since their 4-9 record in 2011 under former coach Pat Hill. Fresno State topped the Mountain West conference this year – earning DeRuyter a piece of $200,000, though not the full amount as Frensco State lost in the Las Vegas Bowl. The good news for DeRuyter is that he’ll snag $225,000 thanks to this year’s 11-2 record and $100,000 for his players' academic success. That sure does make up for his less-than-stellar guaranteed salary!
2 Kirk Ferentz - Iowa Hawkeyes
Guaranteed: $3.9M Bonus: $1.7M
The Hawkeyes coach has collected well over $3 million a year since 2007. But simply put, Iowa just hasn’t performed. Their 8-4 record has been their best since 2009 – the last year they went to a bowl game as well. Unlike in 2009, they lost this year’s bowl game, 21-14 to LSU. Lucky for Kirk Ferentz, he got $100,000 just for making it to the Outback Bowl. Despite improving from a terrible record of 4-8 last season, Ferentz will have to see more consistent and improved play if he hopes to collect any part of the $1.7 million available to him.
1 Todd Graham - Arizona State Sun Devils
Guaranteed: $2.3M Bonus: $3.1M
Topping the list is Arizona’s Todd Graham, who has the potential to pocket nearly twice as much as No. 2 Ferentz. And this year it’s working out in Graham’s favor. The Sun Devils have had a solid season, improving to 10-4. Graham locked up almost $800,000 before the season’s end, but thanks to a loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 Conference Championship, Graham missed out on adding another $1.2 million. Luckily there’s still close to $1 million up for grabs in coaching and team awards yet to come.