CLEMSON, S.C. -- Six years ago, 42 major college football coaches
made at least $1 million. Today, 42 make at least $2 million. Clemson
coach Dabo Swinney is one of them, though he could be making more - a
Swinney, who makes a shade more than $2 million, has
transferred raises triggered by clauses in his contract to his
assistants, adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to another growing
class in college football - highly paid assistant coaches.
of my philosophy was, I've got this money that was due me, and I don't
need it," Swinney says. "I make plenty of money. Why can't I choose to
invest some of that money in what we're trying to do as a program?"
result: Swinney is the nation's 39th most highly paid head coach, and
his assistants, who carry a cumulative price tag of $4.2 million, appear
to be the nation's most highly paid.
The average annual salary
for head coaches at major colleges (not including four schools that
moved up to the Football Bowl Subdivision this season) is $1.64 million,
up nearly 12% over last season - and more than 70% since 2006, when USA
TODAY Sports began tracking coaches' compensation.
has even outpaced the pay of corporate executives, who have drawn the
ire of Congress and the public because of their staggering compensation
packages. Between 2007 and 2011, CEO pay - including salary, stock
option value, bonuses and other pay - rose 23%, according to Equilar, an
executive compensation data firm. In that same period, coaches' pay
Alabama's Nick Saban is the highest paid at $5.5
million, and he is one of four Southeastern Conference coaches among the
top eight. Texas head coach Mack Brown, of the Big 12, is the
second-highest, pulling in $5.4 million.
This rapid and continuing
escalation in coaches' pay comes at a time when instructional spending
has declined at many public schools because of shrinking state education
budgets. The rise in assistant coaches' salaries might just open up
another front in the education vs. athletics tug of war on campuses
across the USA.
Clemson's Swinney, who turns 43 Tuesday, has
enjoyed college football's windfall, even with his givebacks. His
compensation has increased from $800,000 in his first full season in
2009 to just over $2 million, seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
That's not a bad payday given that he was working outside football 10
That's when Tommy Bowden, Swinney's position
coach when he played wide receiver at Alabama, offered him a job as wide
receivers coach at Clemson. Swinney says he took a pay cut to make that
Assistants don't take pay cuts to come to Clemson these
days. The school's compensation pool for assistants has more than
doubled from $1.9 million in 2009 to $4.2 million.
offensive coordinator Chad Morris is the nation's most highly paid
assistant at a public school. Morris makes $1.3 million, more than 10
times what he was getting three years ago as a high school coach in
"I'm not complaining, not hurting at all," Morris says.
Venables, Clemson's defensive coordinator, makes $800,000, almost
double what he was making a year ago as Oklahoma's defensive
"It's embarrassing to a certain degree," Venables says.
Swinney's salary to his staff's, and Clemson pays its football coaches
more than $6 million, at or near the top in the ACC. Clemson's coaching
payroll was designed to put it in the nation's top 15, according to
Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips.
"We've got a total amount to work with, and this is how Dabo's elected to carve that turkey," Phillips says.
'It's just the market'
makes about one-third of Clemson's payroll for head coach and nine
assistants. Saban and Brown make 58% of the $9 million-plus coaching
payrolls at Alabama and Texas, but they've won national championships.
Jimbo Fisher gets about half of Florida State's total, and Steve
Sarkisian pulls in 46% of Washington's, though neither coach has even
won a conference championship, let alone a national title.
Saban alone makes more than my entire staff," Swinney says. "It's all
relative. It's just the market. If you're a surgeon, and you have this
expertise and talent, there's a market for what you get paid. The market
is not set by coaches. It's set by what someone is willing to pay, I
Swinney grew up poor in Alabama, and it influences the way
he looks at money. Perhaps because he had never really had much, he
doesn't think he needs as much.
"Trust me," he says. "I understand the value of a buck."
was the surprise pick for head coach - he had never even been a
coordinator - when Tommy Bowden (making more than $1.7 million) was
fired midway through the 2008 season.
"I just signed for whatever
they gave me," Swinney says. "They wrote all kinds of incentives in
there and it so happens we've met just about every one of them except
winning the national championship. Because of that, I didn't have to go
renegotiate. Hitting those incentives (made it) automatic."
has shifted $844,000 over three years from his contracts to the
compensation pool for his assistants by taking less in contractually
triggered bonuses - for playing in the ACC title game in 2009 and
winning it last year - and by trimming back a longevity bonus he gets a
year from now. (Some of that is offset by a new clause that pays Swinney
$75,000 in expenses to run his summer camp.)
Those figures come
from Phillips and Swinney's attorney, Mike Brown, who says he knows NFL
coaches who are impressed by the amount of Swinney's discount.
"They say, 'He gave up how much? That's a guy I want to go work for,'" Brown says.
who'll be retiring as Clemson's athletics director at the end of the
month, recalls he made $8,000 in his first job as an assistant coach at
Virginia Tech some 40 years ago. That's roughly $44,000 in today's
dollars. Phillips says he never imagined the ka-ching that was coming.
"No, never, not in the foggiest," he says, "or I'd have stayed in coaching."
Spurrier stays put, cashes in
Spurrier coaches South Carolina, the state's other FBS school, and he
makes nearly $3.6 million, including a raise of $750,000 since last
season. How'd he get that raise? He asked for it.
bother with an agent - he used to have one but changed his mind after
paying a commission one year - because he figures there's no real need
"I'm not going to go anywhere," Spurrier explains,
and "if you're negotiating, that means you've got somebody else bidding
on you. But our university president here is such a wonderful guy. He
just wants to do what's fair and what's right. ... I just sort of penciled
myself in about No. 6 out of 12 coaches in the SEC and he said, 'That
looks fair to me.'"
Spurrier is actually the third-highest paid in the Southeastern Conference, behind Alabama's Nick Saban and LSU's Les Miles.
South Carolina President Harris Pastides declined comment through a spokesman.
figures Spurrier is worth every penny: "He's paid his dues. Coach
Spurrier's been a winner a long time. He's won a national championship
and he's one of the best coaches out there. I hope 25 years from now,
I'm still coaching."
Spurrier says South Carolina offered him $1.5
million when he came in 2005, but, "I said, 'Let me take $1.25
(million) and let me spend 250 grand on assistant coaches ... So I'm one
of the few coaches that took less than was offered."
assistants make a little more than $2.4 million cumulatively, far below
Clemson's. First-year defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward is the highest
paid at $550,000. He replaced Ellis Johnson, who made $700,000 last
"I actually call the plays and pretty much am the
offensive coordinator here, although I've got a couple of
co-coordinators," Spurrier says. "So, you might say, 'Well, he's the
head coach and the offensive coordinator. What's that worth?'" He
"We're way below Clemson. But you know what? We're fine.
And our assistant coaches are fine. I've got a first-year defensive
coordinator doing a super job, and he didn't expect to get paid like
those guys," meaning the coordinators at Clemson.
Swinney's humble path
father left his family when Swinney was in seventh grade, and his
mother and two brothers lost their home and never knew where they'd
sleep next - cheap motel, rented town home, Grandma's tiny apartment,
months on a friend's floor.
"At first, you try to hide all the
things in your personal life and pretend everything is great," Swinney
says. "My father was an alcoholic, and you'd try to act like it wasn't
that way. But when I was in high school, you reach a point where you
just don't care anymore. You get over that embarrassment, just trying to
Swinney devoted his time to odd jobs, homework - and
football. He attended Alabama on Pell grants and loans and walked onto
the football team as a wide receiver. He earned a scholarship for his
last three seasons and played on the 1992 national championship team.
play Saturdays and spend Sundays cleaning gutters, making as much as
$200 from a clientele he'd built since age 14. His mother roomed with
him during three of his years at Alabama. She'd leave at 5:30 a.m. for
her job at a department store in Birmingham, the city where she spent
much of her polio-stricken youth in a crippled children's hospital,
breathing on an iron lung.
"She's a survivor," Swinney says. "That's where I get my toughness and drive."
began dating Kathleen Bassett, now his wife of 19 years, in sixth
grade: "She knew me when my life was kind of normal and when my life was
completely dysfunctional. She never cared. We always had to use her
car. Never knew where I was going to be staying. I'm sure her family
must have questioned her sanity somewhere along the way: 'Are you sure
this is the guy?' But I guess I had potential."
from Alabama and stayed on as a graduate assistant, earning a master's
degree in business administration. Then-coach Gene Stallings hired him
as receivers coach.
"I got $38,000 and a car and thought I was
rich," Swinney says. "And we were rich. My wife was making $28,000
teaching school, both doing what we loved. We didn't lack for anything.
We were blessed. And now, we are beyond blessed."
coach Mike DuBose and his staff after the 2000 season, and Swinney got
out of coaching, working in commercial real estate for two years, until
Bowden asked him to come to Clemson to coach receivers in 2003.
took a big pay cut to come to Clemson," Swinney says. "I think I got
$105,000. I was making a good bit more than that in real estate ... But
coaching, for me, has never been about the money."
his current six-year deal guarantees him a pay increase no less than the
average total compensation for the three most highly paid ACC coaches
if Clemson wins the ACC championship, among other salary-boosting
Seeking faculty raises, too
offensive coordinator, has an escalator clause in his contract that
requires he be paid the average of the nation's two highest-paid
offensive coordinators when the Tigers finish in the top five of total
offense - or the average pay of the top three for finishing in the top
10. (Clemson is sixth in total offense at 536 yards a game.)
kind of inflationary clause - where achievement is tied to the pay of
others - is uncommon for head coaches and even more atypical for
"The incentives that are built into our contracts are a
much better way of managing salaries rather than just raising salaries
and hoping," Clemson President James F. Barker says.
faculty senate raised concerns last year about the high cost of coaching
salaries, and Phillips, the athletics director, was among those who
offered a senate presentation explaining that salaries are driven by the
market and that athletics department funds come largely from IPTAY,
Clemson's athletic foundation.
Faculty members generally accepted
the rationale, says Jeremy King, faculty senate president and associate
professor in the department of physics and astronomy.
that is a good illustration of how our faculty tries to look at things
comprehensively and understand markets," Barker says. "And then use
those markets to their advantage."
Barker points out that Clemson is in the second year of a five-year plan to increase salaries for faculty and staff.
told the faculty that coaching pay was part of a strategy for getting
Clemson football into the Top 20 of national rankings. Barker says he
has the same goal for the school as a whole. Clemson is ranked No. 25
among public universities by U.S. News & World Report.
have been in the Top 25 now for five years," Barker says. "We were
nowhere near that (years ago), so we're really trying to march forward
together" with athletics.
Still, athletics department spending is going up at a faster rate than spending on construction, according to NCAA figures.
I'm sure that's true," Barker says. "And that creates an environment
that makes that communication (between athletics and academics) even