Top 6 Most Lucrative Coaching Contracts in College Football

Morgan MoriartyFeatured Columnist IJanuary 5, 2022

Top 6 Most Lucrative Coaching Contracts in College Football

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    The 2021 college football coaching carousel was one of the wildest ever, as some of the biggest jobs in the sport were filled. We saw Brian Kelly leave Notre Dame for LSU, Lincoln Riley leave Oklahoma for USC and Mario Cristobal take the Miami job, leaving Oregon to do so. 

    As a result of so many big-name hires this year, we saw a multitude of head coaches rewarded for staying put at their respective schools. James Franklin at Penn State and Mel Tucker at Michigan State both received new contracts after their names were linked to some of the job openings. 

    Now that this season's round of deals is official, let's run through college football's most lucrative contracts. Since most coaches work for public universities, their salaries have to be made public. You won't see names like Cristobal or Riley on this list, because they both work for private universities.

6. James Franklin, Penn State: 10 Years, $85 Million

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    In Nov. 2021, Penn State head coach James Franklin agreed to a new 10-year extension with the Nittany Lions that would be in place through the 2031 season. 

    With the new contract, he will make $7.5 million annually through his base salary, supplemental pay from Penn State and an annual retention bonus of $500,000. Penn State will also provide Franklin with an annual $1 million loan for a life insurance policy annually.

    With Franklin's contract incentives and insurance policy, his contract is worth a total $85 million.

    Franklin's contract also includes a number of incentives, including the following:  

    • Big Ten division title without participating in Big Ten Championship Game: $150,000

    • Appearance in Big Ten Championship Game: $ 250,000

    • Win Big Ten Championship Game: $350,000

    • College Football Playoff National Championship Game: $800,000

    • CFP national championship runner-up: $500,000

    • CFP semifinal appearance: $ 400,000

    • Appearance in a New Year's Six Bowl: $300,000

    • Appearance in any other bowl game: $200,000

    Penn State's new agreement with Franklin came following weeks of his name being rumored to the open USC Trojans job. In late October, Franklin hired well-known sports agent Jimmy Sexton. Sexton represents the likes of Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher and Kirby Smart, along with several other college football head coaches. 

    If Franklin leaves before April 2022, he will owe Penn State a buyout of $12 million. That drops to $8 million if he leaves before Dec. 2022, $6 million after 2023 and $2 million following the 2024-25 season. 

5. Nick Saban, Alabama: 8 Years, $84.8 Million

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    Nick Saban received a massive extension as he entered his 15th season at Alabama. In June 2021, Saban and Alabama agreed to a new contract that runs through the 2028 season. For the 2021 season, Saban will make $9.5 million, and with the latest extension, his salary increases by $400,000 each year, according to ESPN's Alex Scarborough. In 2022, he will make $9.9 million—his base salary is guaranteed before any bonuses he's eligible to receive. Here are some of those, per Scarborough: 

    "Among the annual incentives in the deal are $75,000 for appearing in the SEC Championship Game or $125,000 for winning it and $400,000 for appearing in any College Football Playoff semifinal game, $600,000 for participating in the CFP Championship Game or $800,000 for winning the national title."

    Thanks to Alabama having already appeared in and winning the SEC championship and a CFP game along with the Crimson Tide's upcoming appearance in the CFP Championship Game, Saban is set to receive a good chunk of his bonuses already. 

    And that's not all. Scarborough added that Saban will get an extra $800,000 as a completion benefit through 2025 and be paid "at least as much as the average total pay of the top three SEC coaches or top five NCAA coaches, whichever is higher."

    According to USA Today, Saban's buyout as of Oct. 2020 was set at $36.8 million. 

4. Dabo Swinney, Clemson: 10 Years, $93 Million

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    In April 2019, just months following Clemson's national title victory over Alabama, Clemson awarded head coach Dabo Swinney with 10-year deal worth $93 million

    At the time, it made Swinney college football's highest-paid coach, passing Alabama's Nick Saban. With the new deal, Swinney's annual salary was bumped up to $9.3 million per year. At the time, Saban was still making $9.25 million. 

    Speaking of Saban, Clemson included a clause in its contract with Swinney if he were to leave Clemson for the Alabama job. Here's more from 2019, per CBS Sports' Barrett Sallee

    "He would owe Clemson $4 million if he leaves for another head coaching position in each of the next two years, with that number dropping incrementally throughout the contract. If he leaves for Alabama, he would owe Clemson $2 million more in the first two years, with that number decreasing by $500,000 incrementally throughout the deal."

    Swinney's contract also includes a number of bonuses, as well. Swinney receives an extra $250,000 for winning a national title, $200,000 for winning the ACC title and $50,000 for winning a coach of the year award.  

    2021 was one of Clemson's least successful seasons under Swinney and the worst in recent years. The Tigers finished 10-3 but missed out on the ACC Championship Game and played in the Cheez-It Bowl instead of a New Year's Six or semifinals game.

3. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M: 10 Years, $94.95 Million

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    In December 2017, Jimbo Fisher signed what was at the time one of college football's most lucrative contracts when he left Florida State for Texas A&M. His initial deal with the Aggies was worth $75 million over 10 years. The contract he signed was fully guaranteed, meaning if Fisher were to leave TAMU for another job, he wouldn't owe a buyout. 

    But just before the 2021 season began, Fisher was rewarded with a four-year extension that raised his annual salary to above $9 million per year. Here's how his earnings increase annually, according to Zach Barnett of Football Scoop:

    • 2022: $9 million

    • 2023: $9.15 million

    • 2024: $9.25 million

    • 2025: $9.35 million

    • 2026: $9.45 million

    • 2027: $9.55 million

    • 2028: $9.65 million

    • 2029: $9.75 million

    • 2030: $9.85 million

    • 2031: $9.95 million

    The total payout for Fisher, if he remains at Texas A&M, of course, comes out to $94.95 million.

    Per Travis L. Brown of The Eagle, Fisher's original contract contained additional incentives:

    • $100,000 for winning the SEC West

    • $200,000 for winning the SEC championship

    • $100,000 for appearing in a bowl game 

    • $200,000 for appearing in a New Year's Six bowl 

    • $300,000 for making the College Football Playoff

    • $500,000 for advancing to the national title game

    • $1 million if the Aggies win a national title 

    By tacking on another four years to Fisher's fully guaranteed contract, it essentially doubled his buyout.

2. Mel Tucker, Michigan State: 10 Years, $95 Million

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker, in just his second season in East Lansing, became one of college football's highest-paid coaches. In late November, MSU announced Tucker's new 10-year deal that will pay him $9.5 million annually. Here's the breakdown of his salary, according to an official press release from the school

    "Tucker's contract includes non-performance related compensation of $9.5 million per year, including a $5.9 million base, $3.2 million in supplemental compensation for media and personal appearances, plus a $400,000 contingent annual bonus. The contract expires on January 15, 2032."

    According to the Kirkland Crawford and Chris Solari of the Detroit Free Press, Tucker can make even more with certain built-in incentives. Here are some of the bigger ones: 

    • $25,000 for winning Big Ten Coach of the Year

    • $50,000 for winning AFCA National Coach of the Year 

    • $125,000 for a non-College Football Playoff bowl game appearance 

    • $200,000 for winning the Big Ten East 

    • $200,000 for winning the Big Ten title game

    • $250,000 for reaching a New Year's Six bowl that's not a playoff game 

    • $275,000 for reaching the CFP

    • $300,000 for each additional CFP game in the event the playoff is expanded 

    • $500,000 for winning the national championship

    As far as Tucker's buyout, the terms remain the same as when he was hired, per Crawford and Solari. If Tucker were to leave for another job before Jan. 15, 2022, he'd only owe Michigan State $2.5 million. It decreases by half a million each additional year: $2 million before Jan. 15, 2023, $1.5 million before Jan. 15, 2024, and $1 million beyond that.

    Tucker's salary pool for his assistant coaches also increased by $1.5 million to $7.5 million.

1. Brian Kelly, LSU: 10 Years, $100 Million

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Brian Kelly's decision to leave Notre Dame for LSU and replace Ed Orgeron was one of the most shocking moves in college football history. Kelly, who went 113-40 in 12 seasons in South Bend, Indiana, will go from coaching one of the most successful independent programs in college football to competing in the SEC West against the likes of Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher. 

    After the details of Kelly's 10-year, $100 million deal with LSU were made public, it was pretty easy to see why Kelly made the jump to the SEC. Although Kelly's salary in 2022 will be lower than the $9.5 million Mel Tucker is set to make this year, Kelly will ultimately make more the longer he stays in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That's because of a "longevity bonus" worked into his contract; as long as he remains at LSU, Kelly's contract increases by $500,000 at the start of each new contract year. So, his 10-year deal looks like this, per Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated:

    • 2022: $9 million

    • 2023: $9.2 million

    • 2024: $9.2 million

    • 2025: $9.4 million

    • 2026: $9.4 million

    • 2027: $9.6 million

    • 2028: $9.6 million

    • 2029: $9.8 million

    • 2030: $9.8 million

    • 2031: $10 million

    If his increasing salary wasn't lucrative enough, there are also multiple incentives in his deal. Kelly will receive an additional $500,000 anytime LSU reaches a bowl game. The Tigers missed a bowl in 2020 but made one each prior year dating back to 2000.  

    Kelly gets another $100,000 for a New Year's Six bowl appearance, $200,000 for a CFP semifinals appearance, $300,000 if his team plays in the CFP title game and $500,000 for winning the national championship.

    Kelly can earn an additional $75,000 if LSU wins the SEC West and another $150,000 if it wins a conference championship, per Adam Hunsucker of the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. As for Kelly's buyout, it's $4 million in his first season before dropping to $3 million in 2023 and then $2 million for the remainder of the contract.