Alabama Football: Nick Saban's Contract the Leading Gauge to Price of Success

Christopher Walsh@@WritingWalshCollege Football National ColumnistJune 6, 2014

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Contrary to popular belief, University of Alabama coach Nick Saban does take vacations.

With his wife Terry urging him to schedule more downtime, the family is getting ready for its annual retreat to Lake Burton, Georgia, which is becoming college football’s version of Camp David. It gets the Crimson Tide’s leader away from the daily grind, but work is never too far away.

But before going, Saban had one last thing he had to do this week, host the eighth annual golf fundraiser for his Nick’s Kids Foundation, which raises and distributes money to those in need and was named in honor of his father.

It’s not something that he has to do, but every year he calls the day they hand out the checks his favorite of the year. Since the Sabans arrived at the Capstone in 2007, the foundation has given out more than $4 million and played a major part in rebuilding 15 homesone for each Alabama football national championship following the devastating 2011 tornado.

In typical Saban fashion, when he arrived at Old Overton Golf Club in Vestavia Hills (just outside of Birmingham), Alabama, on Thursday, he was thinking about ways to improve.

“We went to the Dick Vitale thing this year, Jimmy V [Foundation], it raised over 2 million dollars for pediatric cancer,” said Saban, who made a $50,000 donation at the May gala in Sarasota. “I’ve been pretty satisfied so far with what we’ve been able to do, but after seeing that and seeing the kids, this is something we’d like to do even more in the future.”

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This year the timing of Saban’s golf outing came just a couple days after the compensation committee for Alabama’s Board of Trustees approved the contract extension that will essentially pay him $7 million a year.

Specifically, Saban has a base salary of $245,000, with a “talent fee” of $6.255 million, plus gets an annual $400,000 “completion bonus” at the end of each season.

Numerous bonuses, from $400,000 for winning the national championship (although this year a “playoff” clause was inserted for the first time), to $100,000 if the Crimson Tide’s graduation rate is in the top 25 percent of the Southeastern Conference, remain, and the length of the contract was extended through the end of the 2021-22 season.

2014-15 Alabama Football Coaching Salaries
Nick SabanHead coach$6.9 million
Kirby SmartDefensive coordinator$1.35 million
Kevin SteeleInterior linebackers$700,000
Lane KiffinOffensive coordinator$680,000
Mario CristobalOffensive line$500,000
Bo DavisDefensive line$450,000
Lance ThompsonOutside linebackers$428,000
Bobby WilliamsTight ends/Special teams$428,000
Burton BurnsRunning backs$335,000
Bill NapierWide receivers$325,000
University of Alabama

“Well, you know, we really made a commitment to be here at the University of Alabama for the rest of our career, and we certainly appreciate the fact that the University made such a commitment to us,” Saban said.

"We certainly look forward to trying to create the value that we've been able to create with the program, how it affects the University, how we support the university and make the people of our state and our fans proud of the program that we have. And we're going to continue to try to do that in the future at the same or better standard than what we've tried to do it in the past. 

"There's a lot of competition out there, and we certainly look forward to the challenges that we have. So we appreciate it very much. Thank you.”

Unlike his previous deals, like when agent Jimmy Sexton negotiated the initial eight-year, $32 million contract in 2007 that was actually a significant pay cut from what he made with the Miami Dolphins, this one wasn’t extensively criticized.

It's easy to see what Saban means to the university, and it's not just because of the three national championships over a four-year span. His arrival coincided with Alabama going from an enrollment of roughly 20,000 to 35,000, while simultaneously increasing the school’s academic standards over a decade.

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart might be the highest-paid assistant coach in college football this season.
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart might be the highest-paid assistant coach in college football this season.Dave Martin/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

According to its own financial reports, Alabama's athletic revenue has increased by 43 percent since 2009 and 112 percent since 2006.

For the fiscal year 2013 it spent a whopping $122,542,043of which roughly 10 percent went to the football coaching staff (but that doesn't include strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran, due to earn $395,000 next year or the other support staffers)while making $143,776,550, resulting in a surplus of $21,234,507.

On top of that, a week ago the SEC announced at its annual spring meetings that for 2013-14 it would distribute $309.6 million to its 14 schools, resulting in a record-high average payout of $20.9 million. In August, the league will add its biggest cash cow yet, the SEC Network.

Things have arguably never been better at Alabama, one of the few schools with a financially self-sustaining athletic department, although the number is obviously on the rise. According to USA Today, in association with Indiana University's National Sports Journalism Center, 23 of 228 athletics departments at NCAA Division I public schools generated enough money on their own to cover their expenses in 2012.

Nearly all use government subsidies and student fees to make ends meet and have figured out what CBS announcer Gary Danielson said last year when asked about the SEC’s formula for collecting national championships: “(It) starts with money, I think.”

Thus, the cost of coaching contracts is on the rise. According to the USA Today database, in 2013 Saban ($5.5 million) was one of eight college football coaches to make $4 million or more, the others being Mack Brown, Bret Bielema, Butch Jones, Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, Les Miles and Brady Hoke.

Rounding out the top 10 were Kirk Ferentz and Charlie Strong (then at Louisville). Combined, the other nine made $40.9 million and had won a collective five national championships (adjusted to four titles and just under $40 million with Brown no longer coaching at Texas and No. 11 Mike Gundy added to the mix).

The only two other active coaches who had lifted a crystal football were No. 12 Steve Spurrier and No. 117 Larry Coker at Texas-San Antonio, who made just $350,000 with the startup program.

Meanwhile, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski recently received a big raise to $7.2 million annually, making him the highest-paid coach in collegiate sports. This year he might make the annual list of the 10 highest-paid coaches in American sports that Forbes does, which in 2013 was topped by New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton at $8 million a year.

However, neither Coach K nor Saban will be close to the top 10 coaching salaries in the world, which are all in soccer and averaged $11.3 million last year. Topping that list is Bayern Munich’s Pep Guardiola, who is making $24 million annually, following Guardiola are Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho ($17 million) and Guangzhou Evergrande’s Marcello Lippi ($14 million).

In his first year Guardiola led his team to the Bundesliga title, the UEFA Super Cup (a first for a German team) and the FIFA Club World Cup.

Consequently, Saban can go on break with one less thing to worry about, although no one would be surprised if his contract gets reworked again in the near future. That’s just reality due to the rising price of success in college football.

“Vacation I think is an important time for all of us to sometimes just be able to think, reassess the way we do some things,” he said. “I really enjoy it, because it’s a lot of quiet time for me to be able to even do work on the season without having lots of interruptions.”

Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow @CrimsonWalsh