Nick Saban Is the Most Underpaid, Highest-Paid Coach in the Country

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterNovember 12, 2013

A man who makes more money in one morning practice than most make in a calendar year is not underpaid, and there’s no arguing that this compensation is insufficient. But when it comes to value, the $5.5 million Nick Saban will receive for coaching Alabama in 2013 is indeed a bargain, as preposterous as that notion might seem.

Saban, a now yearly fixture at or near the top of USA Today's annual assessment of head coaching salaries, topped all other coaches yet again with a 2013 take-home of $5,545,852. Texas head coach Mack Brown wasn’t far behind with his $5,453,750 yearly compensation.

The rest of the top 10 is as follows:

Highest-Paid Coaches in 2013
NameSchoolSalaryMax Bonus
Nick SabanAlabama$5,545,852$700,000
Mack BrownTexas$5,453,750$850,000
Bret BielemaArkansas$5,158,863$700,000
Butch JonesTennessee$4,860,000$1,000,000
Bob StoopsOklahoma$4,773,167$819,500
Urban MeyerOhio State$4,608,000$550,000
Les MilesLSU$4,459,363$700,000
Brady HokeMichigan$4,154,000$550,000
Kirk FerentzIowa$3,985,000$1,750,000
Charlie StrongLouisville$3,738,500$808,333
USA Today

Of course, littered throughout this database are head coaches who are greatly outperforming their current contracts, warranting consideration as the nation’s most underpaid coach.

Fresno State’s Tim DeRuyter offers up tremendous value with a salary of $655,000. This should drastically change following the 2013 season, whether that comes from Fresno or another school interested in his services. The same could be said for fellow BCS-buster hopeful Roderick Carey of Northern Illinois. Carey will take home $376,000 this year.

Vanderbilt’s James Franklin has done wonders to the football program, and his $1,842,771 salary—while notable—will likely receive a substantial bump in the coming months. Oregon’s Mark Helfrich ($1,800,000), Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio ($1,959,744) and Boise State’s Chris Petersen ($2,151,500)—despite experiencing a down year by his enormous standards—provide tremendous bang for their respective university's bucks.

There is value in plenty of places, although it will soon reach fruition in the form of new contracts, or perhaps new jobs altogether. On the mature end of this cycle, there are coaches not living up to their robust annual salaries—the ones that were handed out back when they were deemed worthy.

At the top of the food chain, there is Saban, the one who is now setting the contract curve. He is the baseline for value, and all enormous contracts are judged based off of how they compare to that of the nation's premier coach. Of the coaches listed, only about 20 will make at least half of what Saban will make in 2013.

His salary is enormous, but is it enormous enough?

Since Saban touched down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama has an overall record of 77-13. Six of these losses—and four within the conference—came in his inaugural season. Excluding the getting-to-know-the-surroundings maiden voyage, Alabama is a jaw-dropping 44-6 against the SEC—the premier conference in the country—since 2008 (conference title and bowl games included).

With the overall production have come three BCS national championships—including three in the past four years. It looks so simple on paper, but the historical significance of this run is difficult to comprehend. There’s no ceiling in sight yet. And although this is still an open book, that hasn’t halted Alabama from constructing an enormous bronze Saban statue outside Bryant-Denny Stadium.

While the on-field results are jarring, the financial groundswell that has been generated with Saban on the sideline—a product of his team’s incredible run of dominance—justifies his overall influence and worth.

In 2012-13, Alabama generated $143.4 million in athletic revenue, a 16 percent bump from the previous year, according to Jon Solomon of This latest increase isn’t necessarily a surprise, but rather the latest movement in the rapid ascent.

Alabama's revenue has increased by 43 percent since 2009, when it won the first of three football national championships under Nick Saban. Revenue is up 112 percent since 2006, Alabama's last year with Mike Shula as coach. Alabama has since expanded its football stadium and reaped the benefits of new SEC television deals.

The transformation of the football program is staggering. To steal one of Saban’s favorite terms, the “process” is still evolving. Alabama upgraded its weight room and locker room in the past year, pouring millions back into the program that has become a never-empty ATM.

And yes, these renovations include a waterfall, because of course they do.

The much talked about waterfall in the UA locker room @wvuatv

— Gary L. Harris (@GaryLHarris1) July 10, 2013

These improvements are a product of winning a lot of games—some more meaningful than others. Saban isn’t the sole reason Alabama football is thriving, but he’s the master puppeteer stringing together top recruiting classes year after year and turning these 5-star prospects into 5-star players.

It’s this combination of recruiting and crystal footballs that more than justifies the lofty salary. It is this that also begs the question: Is the nation’s highest-paid coach somehow outperforming an absurd contract that we could only dream of?


As faint whispers of the Texas Longhorns' interest in Saban have grown louder—albeit with blatant denials of mutual interest from the head coach himself—we’re left wondering just what kind of contract Saban could land on the open market if someone were willing to pay.


Few teams have the luxury of handing over a blank check, and few coaches would warrant this kind of treatment. But what if Texas doubled Saban’s monstrous salary in an effort to lure him away? Better yet, what if Alabama matched this offer without thinking twice? It would be an absurd amount of money, but it would be money well spent by both parties.

These rumors, of course, are just that. Saban will not be changing addresses after this season. This brief stretch of manufactured Internet insanity, however, has allowed us the opportunity to assess Saban’s worth to his team, or a team in need of this kind of transformation.

$5.5 million is a number so sizable, it is difficult to process. But for Saban, the small fortune he takes home yearly is at the very least appropriate given his unprecedented success. It's not about the number and the dollar sign next to his name; it's about all the numbers and dollar signs to follow.

This is why his value is unmatched. And at this point, he’s worth every penny and more.


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