Cost Per Win for College Football Coaches
The money it takes to compete at the highest level of Division I college football is like the GDP of a small country. And that all starts at the top.
The head football coach at a Power Five program is often the highest-paid university employee, and sometimes, they are the highest-paid person in the state, regardless of profession.
But every fall, what is a victory worth? This is how much the highest-paid coaches in Division I are paid per win.
30. Mike Gundy — $520,000 Per Win
Note: The numbers are from USA Today and based on 2020 coach salaries.
School: Oklahoma State
Salary in 2020: $4,158,000
Record in 2020: 8-3
Bottom line: How many scandals can one coach endure? Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy has had more than his fair share, but seems to always shake off controversy with winning seasons.
Gundy went into 2020 under fire after showing support on multiple occasions for far-right news network OAN, leading to a revolt from his players and Gundy agreeing to take a $1 million pay cut in 2020.
That makes Gundy's $520,000 per win a great deal for Oklahoma State, which went 8-3 and won in the Cheez-It Bowl.
29. Lincoln Riley — $689,000 Per Win
Salary in 2020: $6,202,726
Record in 2020: 9-2
Bottom line: We all understand Lincoln Riley will eventually need to win a national championship to cement his name among the all-time great college football coaches. Good thing he's 37 years old and entering his fifth season as Oklahoma's head coach.
Riley made it to the College Football Playoff semifinals — but no further — in each of his first three seasons.
With star quarterback Spencer Rattler returning in 2021, this could be the year he breaks through.
28. Nick Saban — $715,000 Per Win
Salary in 2020: $9,300,000
Record in 2020: 13-0
Bottom line: Talk about getting bang for your buck. Nick Saban's salary looks like the deal of the century every time he leads Alabama to a national championship.
Saban, who took over the program in 2007, led Alabama to a record seventh national title in his tenure in the 2020 season, and the program is estimated to generate $100 million per season over the last decade.
Saban is the highest-paid head coach in all of college sports at approximately $9.3 million per season.
27. Pat Fitzgerald — $755,000 Per Win
Salary in 2020: $5,218,658
Record in 2020: 7-2
Bottom line: Pat Fitzgerald was only 31 years old when he was hired as Northwestern's head coach in 2006 after spending five seasons as an assistant for the Wildcats.
Fitzgerald swept the Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Awards each of his last two seasons as a linebacker at Northwestern in the 1990s and is now the longest-tenured coach in school history.
Northwestern knows what a gem it has in Fitzgerald as its head coach and pays him accordingly. He's won two Big Ten West Division titles in the last three seasons.
26. Dan Mullen — $759,000 Per Win
Salary in 2020: $6,070,000
Record in 2020: 8-4
Bottom line: Forget Dan Mullen's record at Florida in 2020 — a full three-game drop after going 11-2 in 2019. What really defined Mullen's third season in Gainesville was his mouth.
First, Mullen implored fans to "pack" the stadium despite a statewide mandate to do exactly the opposite. Then, he was fined after he single-handedly incited a brawl during a home game against Missouri, then almost incited a riot.
Lastly, after Florida's 55-20 blowout loss to Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, Mullen said his team "played their last game 11 days ago" in the SEC championship game, which they also lost, and they used "scout team players."
25. Kirk Ferentz — $778,000 Per Win
Salary in 2020: $4,670,750
Record in 2020: 6-2
Bottom line: Like some other veteran head coaches, Kirk Ferentz is an absolute bargain for the University of Iowa when it comes to money per win.
Ferentz, who has been the head coach at Iowa since 1999, has only had three losing seasons in 21 years — his first two seasons in 1999 and 2000, and again in 2012.
Ferentz weathered probably the worst scandal of his career before the 2020 season when he was accused of creating an environment hostile to Black players and fired strength coach Chris Doyle after 21 seasons.
24. Eli Drinkwitz — $785,000 Per Win
Salary in 2020: $3,925,000
Record in 2020: 5-5
Bottom line: Eli Drinkwitz went 12-1 in his one season at Appalachian State in 2018 and cashed in big with an SEC job at Missouri, where he began to turn things around right away in his first season.
Under Drinkwitz, Missouri went 5-5 in 2020, scored a win over defending national champion LSU and earned a spot in the Music City Bowl, which was canceled.
At under $800,000 per win, the powers that be at Missouri have to be looking at the Drinkwitz hire like a solid win for the budget-strapped school and program.
23. Ryan Day — $807,000 Per Win
School: Ohio State
Salary in 2020: $5,651,694
Record in 2020: 7-1
Bottom line: The most impressive single-game coaching job of the 2020 season, hands down, had to be Ryan Day leading Ohio State to a College Football Playoff semifinal upset of Clemson.
The Buckeyes weren't really a match for Alabama in the national championship game, but Day's money is going to be long at Ohio State, and he received a two-year contract extension in February 2021 that bumps his salary to $6.5 million in 2022 and a whopping $7.6 million in 2023.
It seems like we'll continue to see Day and the Buckeyes in the hunt for national titles for the foreseeable future.
22. Pat Narduzzi — $815,000 Per Win
Salary in 2020: $4,075,994
Record in 2020: 6-5
Bottom line: Pat Narduzzi has done a pretty average job in six seasons at Pittsburgh, including going 6-5 and finishing sixth in the ACC Coastal Division in 2020.
Narduzzi isn't quite in the $1 million per win club yet, but he's definitely sniffing that rarefied air — the one highlight from his time at Pittsburgh is winning the ACC Coastal in 2018, albeit with a 7-7 overall record and a loss in the Sun Bowl.
If Narduzzi isn't on the hot seat, he might be if they don't deliver in 2021.
21. Dabo Swinney — $832,000 Per Win
Salary in 2020: $8,319,775
Record in 2020: 10-2
Bottom line: Dabo Swinney's homespun success at Clemson has propelled him to among the highest-paid coaches in not just college football, but all of sports.
Swinney, who has won two national titles at Clemson, had the Tigers back in the College Football Playoff once again following the 2020 season but suffered a surprise loss to Ohio State in the semifinals.
Even with that, his marker of $832,000 per win is a steal by any standards — especially when you see what some of these schools around the country are paying dudes to lose games by the boatload.
20. Jimbo Fisher — $833,000 Per Win
School: Texas A&M
Salary in 2020: $7,500,000
Record in 2020: 9-1
Bottom line: Texas A&M should be happy with its investment in Jimbo Fisher after he went 9-1 and won the Orange Bowl in 2020 — just the third season of a 10-year, $75 million contract.
Few coaches in college football history have been as good in bowl games as Fisher, who is 3-0 in bowls at Texas A&M and 8-2 in 11 seasons as a head coach in bowls.
Can Fisher ultimately deliver on his initial promise to win a national championship at A&M? He's done it before, at Florida State in 2013, so we're not going to doubt him.
19. Tom Herman — $833,000 Per Win
Salary in 2020: $5,827,197
Record in 2020: 7-3
Bottom line: Tom Herman knew what the expectations were at Texas when he signed a five-year, $25 million contract in 2016.
Herman started off his tenure with two solid seasons and set expectations sky-high after the Longhorns went 10-4, played in the Big 12 Championship Game and won the Sugar Bowl in 2018.
That would be the high point of Herman's time in Austin. Texas went 7-5 in 2019 and was fired after going 7-3 in 2020 and replaced with Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
18. Justin Fuente — $850,000 Per Win
School: Virginia Tech
Salary in 2020: $4,250,000
Record in 2020: 5-6
Bottom line: Virginia Tech doesn't seem like a program that cuts bait with its head coaches after a few bad seasons, but fans of the Hokies have to be wondering what's going on with the program and head coach Justin Fuente.
After two great seasons to open his tenure in Blacksburg, Fuente has posted losing records in two of the last three seasons, including a sixth-place finish in the ACC Coastal Division in 2020.
When you're making almost $1 million per win, the school probably has to start questioning your true worth.
17. Kirby Smart — $867,000 Per Win
Salary in 2020: $6,933,600
Record in 2020: 8-2
Bottom line: Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs came heartbreakingly close to winning a national championship in 2018.
Alabama's second-half comeback in the CFP championship game went down in the record books as one of the greatest college football games of all time and leaves Bulldogs fans wondering if they'll ever get that good of a chance to win it all again.
Don't count them out under Smart, who really is one of the best coaches in the game today. Georgia has gone 12-2 and 9-2 the last two seasons and capped off both years with bowl wins.
16. Clay Helton — $914,000 Per Win
Salary in 2020: $4,569,507
Record in 2020: 5-1
Bottom line: Did Clay Helton turn things around at USC in 2020?
We're holding out judgment on whether things are going to get better with the Trojans on a long-term basis, but we have to give props to Helton and his team for putting together a 5-1 record in 2020 despite constant headlines stating Urban Meyer would be the team's head coach sooner than later.
No one needed a good year more than Helton, who was coming off a 5-6 record in 2018 and 8-5 mark in 2019.
15. Paul Chryst — $996,000 Per Win
Salary in 2020: $3,983,750
Record in 2020: 4-3
Bottom line: Paul Chryst has been phenomenal for Wisconsin since he was hired in 2015. In six seasons under Chryst, the Badgers have three Big Ten titles and finished as runner-up two more times.
Wisconsin may have gone 4-3 in 2020, but that seems like an anomaly in the pandemic-shortened season as far as records go. Approaching $1 million per win is dangerous territory, but finishing third in the Big Ten isn't terrible.
Chryst has a potential Heisman Trophy candidate returning with Graham Mertz in 2021, so the sky's the limit.
14. Mark Stoops — $1 Million Per Win
Salary in 2020: $5,013,600
Record in 2020: 5-6
Bottom line: Let's all just take a moment to appreciate the fact Mark Stoops is getting paid $5 million per year to coach football — at Kentucky.
All jokes aside, Stoops has been a lot more successful than people give him credit for. After three consecutive losing seasons to begin his tenure, Stoops reeled off four straight winning seasons before falling back under .500 in 2020.
It would be a big setback for Kentucky to have another losing season in 2021, but it most likely wouldn't cost Stoops his job.
13. Gary Patterson — $1.02 Million Per Win
Salary in 2020: $6,130,937
Record in 2020: 6-4
Bottom line: Gary Patterson just cruised past the two-decade mark as TCU's head coach. He was hired in 2000 after three years as the Horned Frogs' defensive coordinator.
Patterson is the winningest coach in TCU history at this point and has led the program to six conference championships in three different conferences.
Patterson, who played linebacker at Kansas State in the early 1980s, is the second-longest-tenured coach at a single FBS school behind only Iowa's Kirk Ferentz.
12. Gus Malzahn — $1.15 Million Per Win
Salary in 2020: $6,927,589
Record in 2020: 6-5
Bottom line: When Auburn decided to fire head coach Gus Malzahan on Dec. 13, 2020, they triggered one of the most expensive separations in college football history.
Malzahn was in the third year of a seven-year, $49 million contract, meaning Auburn still owed him a $21.45 million buyout. Half of that money, around $10.2 million, was due to Malzahn within 30 days of the firing.
The other half will be paid in annual installments of $2.68 million over the next four years, so Malzahn's five-year, $11.5 million contract to be UCF's new coach starting in 2021 is just icing on the cake.
11. David Shaw — $1.2 Million Per Win
Salary in 2020: $4,812,197
Record in 2020: 4-2
Bottom line: Stanford head coach David Shaw has surrounded himself with some of the greatest coaches in the game for the last 30 years — and now he's getting paid like the best.
Shaw played for Dennis Green and Bill Walsh at Stanford before becoming the school's offensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh. Shaw has been the head coach on the Farm since 2011 and won three Pac-12 North titles in that time.
Stanford lost the Big Game against Cal for the first time under Shaw in 2019, but bounced back with a 24-23 win in 2020 to up Shaw's record in the rivalry game to 9-1.
10. Mike Leach — $1.25 Million Per Win
School: Mississippi State
Salary in 2020: $5,000,000
Record in 2020: 4-7
Bottom line: It's not much of a leap to think Mississippi State might have a little bit of buyer's remorse after luring Mike Leach away from Washington State with a four-year, $20 million contract before the 2020 season.
Leach couldn't keep his foot out of his mouth for a single preseason, posting a meme of a noose that led to widespread player revolt and transfer before his first season even started.
Leach capped all of that off by going 4-7 in his first season, finishing in sixth place in the SEC West.
9. Jeremy Pruitt — $1.28 Million Per Win
Salary in 2020: $3,846,000
Record in 2020: 3-7
Bottom line: Jeremy Pruitt got the heave-ho from Tennessee on Jan. 18 after going 16-19 in three seasons, but it wasn't his record that ultimately got him fired.
What led to Pruitt's firing was a massive internal investigation that revealed "possible recruiting violations" within the program and also led to the resignation of athletic director Philip Fulmer, who handpicked Pruitt.
Pruitt was hired as a defensive assistant by the New York Giants, and Tennessee hired UCF coach Josh Heupel to replace Pruitt.
8. P.J. Fleck — $1.427 Million Per Win
Salary in 2020: $4,281,680
Record in 2020: 3-4
Bottom line: No program in the country was hurt more by the shortened 2020 season than Minnesota.
Coming off an 11-2 record and share of the Big Ten title — one of the greatest seasons in school history — fourth-year head coach P.J. Fleck saw his team stumble to a 3-4 mark in 2020.
The Gophers finished 2019 ranked No. 10 in the Top 25, then had a 1-3 start in 2020, including an embarrassing, 45-44 overtime loss to Maryland. That's how Fleck's win-per-game number ballooned to over $1.4 million.
7. Chip Kelly — $1.43 Million Per Win
Salary in 2020: $4,300,000
Record in 2020: 3-4
Bottom line: Remember when people used to think Chip Kelly was a really good football coach?
We sure do, because it wasn't that long ago that he was guiding the University of Oregon to the BCS championship game before he flamed out in the NFL.
Turns out that most of Kelly's success in college came through cheating. He received an 18-month show-cause penalty from the NCAA in 2013. He's been horrible since his return to college football in 2018, and he's guided UCLA to three consecutive losing seasons.
6. Kyle Whittingham — $1.544 Million Per Win
Salary in 2020: $4,634,178
Record in 2020: 3-2
Bottom line: If you know football, you know Kyle Whittingham is a pretty amazing coach. And you can easily see that his $1.544 million mark per win in 2020 is an anomaly because Utah only played five games.
Whittingham, who has been Utah's head coach since taking over for Urban Meyer in 2004, has won three Pac-12 titles in the last six seasons and is 11-4 overall in bowl games.
It will be interesting to see how Whittingham and the Utes bounce back in 2021. But it's hard not to see them as one of the best teams in the Pac-12 moving forward.
5. Scott Frost — $1.6 Million Per Win
Salary in 2020: $4,833,333
Record in 2020: 3-5
Bottom line: It seemed like the stars had finally realigned for Nebraska football in 2017 when native son and former Husker quarterback Scott Frost led UCF to a 13-0 record, then immediately left to become head coach at his alma mater.
Nebraska threw the bank at Frost, who won a national championship as a player in 1997, signing him to a seven-year, $35 million contract.
It's been a disaster. Frost has posted losing records in each of his first three seasons and famously passed on Joe Burrow when he wanted to transfer from Ohio State to Nebraska before the 2018 season.
4. Ed Orgeron — $1.78 Million Per Win
Salary in 2020: $8,918,500
Record in 2020: 5-5
Bottom line: Ed Orgeron's massive salary was a reward for going undefeated and winning a national title in 2019, and he landed an incentive-laden, six-year, $42 million contract with LSU.
You can be assured that the money men at LSU didn't think they were going to be coughing up almost $2 million per win to Oregron in 2020 and beyond.
It's looking like Orgeron cashed out at the exact right time. LSU looked pretty terrible on the field for most of 2020 and a massive scandal involving the program and the cover-up of sexual assaults by its players still threatens to engulf the Tigers.
3. Will Muschamp — $2.185 Million Per Win
School: South Carolina
Salary in 2020: $4,370,000
Record in 2020: 2-8
Bottom line: When you see your per-win number go past $1 million, you're next stop is the hot seat. When it soars past $2 million, you're about to be fired (unless you're the head coach at Michigan).
Will Muschamp was fired by South Carolina on Nov. 16, 2020, after the Gamecocks gave up 48 points or more in three consecutive losses.
It was six years to the day after he was fired as the head coach at Florida on Nov. 16, 2014.
2. Mel Tucker — $2.53 Million Per Win
School: Michigan State
Salary in 2020: $5,057,250
Record in 2020: 2-5
Bottom line: Paying someone the amount of money Michigan State pays Mel Tucker to win two games — even in a shortened season — is hard to swallow.
But the Spartans are getting their just desserts for signing Tucker to a six-year, $33 million contract after just one season at Colorado in 2019 when he went 5-7.
To recap, Michigan State decided to double Tucker's salary and pay him $1 million more per year than their previous coach, Mark Dantonio (who won 114 games and had a .667 winning percentage at MSU), after Tucker had a losing record in his only season as a head coach.
1. Jim Harbaugh — $4.01 Million Per Win
Salary in 2020: $8,036,179
Record in 2020: 2-4
Bottom line: There's something obscene about Jim Harbaugh getting paid a shade over $4 million for each of Michigan's wins in 2020. The Wolverines went 2-4 and became the first team in program history to not win a home game as well.
Even though it was Harbaugh's first losing season at Michigan, it seems like he's been perpetually on the hot seat since he went 8-5 in 2017.
That perception has largely come from people outside the program, as evidenced by Harbaugh's four-year contract extension he signed in January 2021.