College Football Coaching Market and its Demand to Pay Head Coaches Exorbitant Amounts

The college football season officially kicked off this year on August 27, 2022. In less than fifty (50) days after the beginning of the season, college football has seen five Division One head football coaches lose their jobs. More interestingly, each of these coaches previously coached at Power Five institutions. The purpose of this article is to summarize each of the firings, to describe the total buyouts, and to illustrate the extent institutions are willing to invest in their head football coaches.

Nebraska – BIG TEN

 The first major firing of the 2022 college football season was that of Scott Frost, formerly of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Specifically, on September 11, 2022, Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts announced that the university would be “making a change in leadership of [their] football program, effective immediately”.[1] Thus, after four seasons of leading the Nebraska Cornhuskers to a cumulative 16-31 record, Scott Frost would be left without a job and Nebraska would then begin its search for the next head coach. Id.

Interestingly, the decision to fire Coach Frost came only three weeks into the season, which included a loss to Big-Ten foe Northwestern (in Ireland), a win over North Dakota, and a home loss to Georgia Southern. Id. Ultimately, because Nebraska decided to fire Coach Frost on September 11, 2022, they had to honor his $15 million buyout clause. Id.

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Arizona State University – PAC 12

One week later, Arizona State University decided to part ways with now former head coach Herman Edwards. Id. Coach Edwards began the 2022 season at 1-2, bringing his career record at Arizona state to 26-20, before being relieved of his duties. Id.

Ultimately, reports vary as to the extent of what Arizona State will owe Coach Edwards in his buyout. If Arizona State pays Coach Edwards the remainder of his contract, then he will make $3.4 million in 2022, $3.6 million in 2023 and $3.8 million in 2024.[2]

Georgia Tech – ACC

Shortly after the firings of Coach Frost and Coach Edwards, Georgia Tech fired both its head football coach, Geoff Collins, and its athletic director, Todd Stansbury, on September 26, 2022.[3]

In 2018, Stansbury hired Collins to a seven-year deal that averaged roughly $3.3 million per year with no reduced settlement for a firing (meaning that Coach Collins would receive the entire amount of his original contract). Id. Now, after being fired, Collins will be owed more than $10 million in his buyout. Id.

Wisconsin – BIG TEN

Then, on Sunday, October, 2, 2022, Wisconsin fired now former head football coach Paul Chryst. Id. Coach Chryst’s departure comes after amassing a 67-26 career record, including a 2-3 start to this season. Id. Unlike the moves by Nebraska, Arizona State, and Georgia Tech, Wisconsin experienced much success under Coach Chryst For example, the Badgers won at least 10 games in four of the last five seasons, which included three Big Ten championship game appearances. Id.

According to reports, Chryst agreed to a reduced buyout amount of $11 million – approximately 55% of the $21 million that Chryst had remaining on his multiyear pact that had been revamped after the 2019 season.[4]

Colorado – PAC 12

In college football’s most recent firing, former Colorado head football coach Karl Dorrell was relieved from his duties on October 1, 2022.[5] Coach Dorrell was fired following an 0-5 start to the 2022 season, culminating an 8-15 overall record since being hired to lead the Buffaloes in 2020. Id. According to the terms of Coach Dorrell’s buyout, because Coach Dorrell completed half of his five-year contract, he is now owed a total of $8.7 million to no longer coach the Colorado Buffaloes.[6]

Total

In total, the buyouts referenced above reach over $55 million (if Coach Edwards’ buyout indeed is the remainder of his contract).[7] Five weeks into the college football season and we are seeing institutions willing to pay over $50 million to former employees to no longer perform their jobs. These numbers not only illustrate the affluency of college football, they demonstrate the willingness that Power Five institutions have to invest in their head football coaching position. Although the numbers above are eye-opening, there are several coaches’ contracts across the country that contain even more mind-boggling numbers. Below, please find a summary of the largest buyouts in college football, the top contracts in college football. and contract comparisons between college football coaches and NFL coaches.

College Football’s Top Buyout’s (As of October, 2021)

[1]https://sports.usatoday.com/ncaa/salaries/football/coach

2022 Top Coaching Contracts in College Football and the NFL

Although the average NFL head coach’s salary is around $6.6 million and the average Division I football coach’s salary, across 108 institutions, is just $1.75 million, the top college football coaches’ salaries rival that of NFL football coaches’ salaries.[1]

Below is a list of the highest annual coaches’ salaries across college football and the NFL:

  1. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams: $15-18 million
  2. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots: $12.5 million
  3. Nick Saban, University of Alabama: $11.7 million
  4. Kirby Smart, University of Georgia: $11.25 million
  5. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks: $11 million
  6. Dabo Swinney, Clemson University: $10.5 million
  7. Lincoln Riley, University of Southern California: Estimated at $10 million
  8. Kyle Shannahan, San Francisco 49ers: $9.5 million
  9. Brian Kelly, LSU: $9.5 million
  10. Mel Tucker, Michigan State University: $9.5 million
  11. Ryan Day, Ohio State University: $9.5 million
  12. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens: $9 million Id.

Among the top 12 highest paid coaches in all of football listed above, seven coach college football and five coach in the NFL, with the two highest paid coaches being in the NFL.

Big Picture

The NFL generates over $17 billion per year in revenue[2] and major college football generates about $32 million per school per year.[3] Clearly, both entities are incredibly popular and generate staggering revenue amounts. Moreover, the data above indicates that the salary demand for a major college football coach has crossed into the amounts paid to top NFL coaches. Nevertheless, however, the discrepancy remains with the distribution of funds to its players. For example, average NFL salaries hover around a couple million per year[4] while college athletes remain at a $0 compensation amount. Even more concerning is the fact that institutions are willing to cut ties with college football coaches in just a few seasons despite then being required to pay millions of dollars to someone to no longer do their job.

With college football only set to continue to grow with the expansion of the college football playoffs, re-alignment of conferences, and potential lucrative televisions deals, perhaps institutions will invest financially to retain their players. Compensating players directly will likely incentivize them to remain at their respective institutions for an entire 3-4 years and in turn provide the heavily compensated head coach an opportunity to establish a foundation for sustained success. Business is good in college football; the only thing missing is that of directly compensating its athletes.


[1] https://www.nbcsports.com/chicago/college-football-head-coach-salaries-kirby-smart-2022-new-contract#:~:text=The%20average%20NFL%20head%20coach’s,I%20coaches%20is%20%241.75%20million.

[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/193457/total-league-revenue-of-the-nfl-since-2005/

[3] https://www.yahoo.com/video/college-sports-most-money-130012417.html

[4] https://www.nbcsports.com/philadelphia/eagles/2022-nfl-salaries-how-average-players-pay-compares-stars


[1] https://ublawsportsforum.com/2022/09/26/coaching-carousel-continues-around-and-around-again/

[2] https://247sports.com/college/arizona-state/Article/Arizona-State-Herm-Edwards-contract-buyout–193730119/

[3] https://ublawsportsforum.com/2022/10/03/the-carousel-continues-to-spin/

[4] https://footballscoop.com/news/paul-chryst-wisconsin-agreed-to-vastly-reduced-buyout-of-the-fired-coachs-contract-terms

[5] https://theathletic.com/3638454/2022/10/02/colorado-karl-dorrell-fired/

[6] https://www.on3.com/college/colorado-buffaloes/news/colorado-releases-buyout-details-karl-dorrell-announces-interim-head-coach-mike-sanford/

[7] https://footballscoop.com/news/paul-chryst-wisconsin-agreed-to-vastly-reduced-buyout-of-the-fired-coachs-contract-terms

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President of the Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Law Society. Before law school, I coached college football at the University of Rochester for five seasons. I am excited to take these experiences, along with a legal education to make an impact on the ever-evolving landscape of college athletics. Thanks for reading our posts!

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