Ranking the Most Overpaid Coaches in College Football Today
Winning solves a lot of problems, but some of the highest-paid college football coaches haven't adequately met the challenge. The lack of wins or sustained success can make a coach seem overpaid.
In an effort to decrease a portion of the necessary subjectivity, winning percentage provided a base cutoff line. Any coach above .700—an average of approximately nine wins in a 13-game season—was eliminated from consideration.
However, simple win-loss records don't always tell the complete story. Did a coach just arrive? Did he inherit a successful program or one needing a rebuild? Are the expectations for this school high, or is the team looking for its first taste of national relevancy or is it somewhere in between?
Comparable coaches based on salary and conference affiliation, current tenure, recent seasons, predecessor success (if recent) and career record factored into the list. Conference and national championships were also considered.
All salaries are from the USA Today database unless otherwise noted.
In the 2017 offseason, 21 programs hired a new coach. It's not fair to judge their contracts with a fresh winning percentage of 0.000.
- AAC: Luke Fickell (Cincinnati), Randy Edsall (Connecticut), Major Applewhite (Houston), Charlie Strong (South Florida), Geoff Collins (Temple)
- Big Ten: Tom Allen (Indiana), P.J. Fleck (Minnesota), Jeff Brohm (Purdue)
- Big 12: Matt Rhule (Baylor), Tom Herman (Texas)
- C-USA: Lane Kiffin (Florida Atlantic), Butch Davis (Florida International), Mike Sanford (Western Kentucky)
- MAC: Tim Lester (Western Michigan)
- Mountain West: Jeff Tedford (Fresno State), Jay Norvell (Nevada), Brent Brennan (San Jose State)
- Pac-12: Justin Wilcox (Cal), Willie Taggart (Oregon)
- SEC: Ed Orgeron (LSU)
- Sun Belt: Shawn Elliott (Georgia State)
Additionally, 27 more coaches only have one year of experience. They are also excluded from the conversation because the adjustment period is typically a multi-year process.
- AAC: Scott Frost (UCF), Scottie Montgomery (East Carolina), Mike Norvell (Memphis), Willie Fritz (Tulane)
- ACC: Mark Richt (Miami), Dino Babers (Syracuse), Bronco Mendenhall (Virginia), Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech)
- Big Ten: Lovie Smith (Illinois), D.J. Durkin (Maryland), Chris Ash (Rutgers)
- Big 12: Matt Campbell (Iowa State)
- C-USA: Seth Littrell (North Texas), Jay Hopson (Southern Miss), Frank Wilson (UTSA)
- Independent: Kalani Satake (BYU)
- MAC: Mike Neu (Ball State), Mike Jinks (Bowling Green), Jason Candle (Toledo)
- Mountain West: Nick Rolovich (Hawaii)
- Pac-12: Clay Helton (USC)
- SEC: Kirby Smart (Georgia), Barry Odom (Missouri), Will Muschamp (South Carolina)
- Sun Belt: Tyson Summers (Georgia Southern), Matt Viator (Louisiana-Monroe), Everett Withers (Texas State)
Potential Trouble in 2017
Rich Rodriguez (Arizona): Rich Rodriguez began his Arizona tenure with consecutive eight-win campaigns and a 10-win season. Since then, though, the Wildcats have dipped to 10-15. Rodriguez's $2.5 million salary is 41st nationally.
Todd Graham (Arizona State): While Todd Graham's .600 winning percentage looks decent, the Sun Devils have mustered just an 11-14 mark over the last two seasons. Since Graham—who earned $4.1 million last year—has the fifth-highest salary among returning Pac-12 coaches, the university won't be pleased if the record falls again.
Mike Riley (Nebraska): Call it the Bo Pelini rule. He reached nine wins during all seven seasons at the helm of Nebraska, but that wasn't good enough. Mike Riley might not receive much patience, either, since his $2.8 million salary is seventh-most in the Big Ten.
Joey Jones (South Alabama): Joey Jones deserves a ton of credit for leading South Alabama's transition into the Football Bowl Subdivision. But at some point, the Jaguars need to assemble a breakout year. They've won either five or six games in each of the last four seasons for a 25-38 five-year mark. Meanwhile, Jones' $525,000 salary ranks in the top half of the Sun Belt.
6. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
By the numbers: $4.5 million salary (T-10th nationally, T-3rd of 14 in Big Ten)
The rest of the story: Kirk Ferentz has built a quality mid-tier program, but he's only topped 10 wins five times throughout his 17 years at Iowa and just twice in the last decade.
Why he's here: Of the 18 returning coaches who earned $4 million or more in 2016, Ferentz's .600 five-year winning percentage ranks 16th. Iowa is a perennial threat to pull an upset—and accomplished exactly that against Michigan in 2016—but that's not the glory Hawkeyes fans desire, right?
The $4.5 million is awfully steep for a coach that hasn't led the program to a share of the Big Ten championship since 2004.
5. Steve Addazio, Boston College
By the numbers: $2.33 million salary (48th nationally, 7th of 11 listed ACC schools); .471 winning percentage
The rest of the story: Frank Spaziani mustered a 21-29 record from 2009-2012 before Boston College moved on to Steve Addazio. His four-year mark is 24-27. Seven-win seasons are respectable, but the program has already proved it's capable of more in the ACC.
Why he's here: Although the Eagles have three bowl appearances under Addazio and a consistently strong defense, the primary issue is a complete lack of development on offense.
Boston College ranked among the five worst teams nationally in yards per play in 2015 and 2016. The struggles would be understandable if they happened immediately following his arrival, but those were his third and fourth years—in other words, mostly Addazio's recruits.
4. Butch Jones, Tennessee
By the numbers: $4.1 million salary (18th nationally, 9th of 14 in SEC)
The rest of the story: Butch Jones has come close to silencing a portion of the critics. However, Tennessee hasn't quite been champions of anything except for life under him. Late-game collapses have plagued the Vols throughout his tenure.
Why he's here: Jones' .588 winning percentage in Knoxville ranks 23rd among the 25 highest-paid coaches returning for 2017.
Tennessee is slowly trending upward, but patience will be running thin if the Vols continue to fall short in the SEC East. As Jim McElwain builds the Florida program and Kirby Smart makes Georgia an even bigger threat, Jones better keep up.
3. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
By the numbers: $3.5 million (26th nationally, 11th of 14 in SEC)
The rest of the story: Progress is important. Since Mark Stoops took over, Kentucky has raised its win total from two to five (in consecutive years) to seven. But of the 19 total victories under Stoops, just eight have occurred in SEC play.
Why he's here: Without question, Stoops has a challenging job. The program has only recorded two eight-win seasons in the last 30 years, and he approached the mark last season. At $3.5 million per season and rising, though, expectations won't drop.
Of the top 40 returning coaches, the only winning percentage lower than Stoops at .388 is from Virginia's Bronco Mendenhall, who just arrived in Charlottesville last year.
2. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
By the numbers: $3.3 million salary (30th nationally, 5th of 10 in Big 12)
The rest of the story: Excitement followed Kliff Kingsbury's hiring at his alma mater. But the Red Raiders have only regressed since his 8-5 debut, mustering 16 wins over the last three years.
Why he's here: Texas Tech's offense was exciting with Patrick Mahomes II slinging the football. Unfortunately for him, the Red Raiders often wasted his massive production.
The last three defenses ranked 125th, 127th and 128th nationally, respectively, out of 128 teams. Considering that, it's not surprising Texas Tech hasn't achieved consistent success. If that doesn't change soon, Kingsbury may go from overpaid to briefly unemployed.
1. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
By the numbers: $4.1 million salary (17th nationally, 8th of 14 in SEC)
The rest of the story: Bret Bielema bolted Wisconsin for Arkansas, which was caught in a weird spot after Bobby Petrino's departure and a poor season from John L. Smith. Bielema has steadied the program, but that's come at a major financial cost.
Why he's here: For good reason, the SEC West has earned the reputation of being college football's toughest place to win. Bielema hasn't navigated the division with much success, posting a 7-17 record against the West and 10-22 overall in the SEC.
Bielema's .490 winning percentage is the worst among the 18 returning coaches who collected at least a $4 million salary last year.
Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.