Are College Coaches Overpaid?

Last Updated on June 14, 2011

Auburn Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn - by Flikr user

Although presented as a yes or no question, I don’t think there’s an actual yes or no answer to whether college coaches are overpaid. I think they have to be paid what the market requires.

I often see commentary about how coaches are overpaid. Aside from the BCS, it’s probably the number one fall-guy for everything that is perceived as being wrong with college athletics. Because coaches are overpaid, athletic departments need subsidies like student fees and taxpayer dollars and can’t afford to pay student-athletes. At least that’s what the dissenters claim.

So what’s the solution? Say you’re the AD at Auburn. Instead of giving Chizik and Malzahn and the rest raises after they lead the Tigers to a National Championship last year, would you announce that there will no longer be raises at Auburn for coaches? Would you say that all future contracts will be for lower salaries as your athletic department attempts to rewind the trend of ever-escalating coaching salaries?

We all know what would happen. Chizik and Malzahn would both depart for other jobs, with Malzahn likely able to get a head coaching job elsewhere. In fact, the entire staff would probably leave. Then you could go out and hire whoever was willing to coach the Tigers for $200,000 or whatever you think is a reasonable amount for a head football coach.

And what would become of the Tigers? What are the odds they would compete for another National Championship? Odds are the football program would begin to decline. Sure, there’s always a diamond in the rough out there you might snag who is a brilliant football coach no one has discovered and is willing to work for your pittance of a salary. Even if you were lucky enough to discover this man, he would surely leave you for a larger paycheck as soon as someone else comes calling.

And what happens when your football program declines? I’ve shown you before what happens when football isn’t enough to support the other sports in an athletic department. The athletic department either makes cuts or has to rely more heavily on institutional support like student fees and taxpayer dollars.

Yes, it’s a vicious circle. That’s why we can’t all be athletic directors. Being a successful athletic director requires the ability to know exactly how much money you can invest in football to get the greatest return possible without overspending. It’s making football profitable enough to support your other sports without having to dip into the pockets of students or taxpayers. Does every AD accomplish this? Of course not, just like every CEO doesn’t make their company the most profitable or the industry leader.

Back to the original question: are college coaches overpaid? Yes, I believe some are paid above their market value. Just like any other industry, some businesses (i.e., athletic departments) within the industry hire the wrong people or overpay their top management. What I want to know from you, however, is whether this is a problem that requires a solution. If it is, what is the solution?

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  • Matt Zemek
    June 14, 2011

    One of the biggest questions to ask on this issue is: “Should major college football (or basketball) coaches be treated or viewed any differently from professional coaches?”

    Should the mandate to win games be applied just as strongly at the collegiate level and enter just as fully into the job description and the attendant set of expectations attached to the job?

    The answer to that question – yes or no – carries profound implications for how this issue should be handled.

    Thanks, Kristi, for all the thoughtful, high-quality work you’re doing! It’s appreciated!

  • Scott
    June 16, 2011

    Joe Paterno at Penn State & Bob Knight at Indiana( basketball) made almost nothing when they were winning National championships compared to the millions they made later on in their careers and not winning National championships. The large contracts keep growing & have not reduced the number of football or basketball programs that I know of . Until that happens It’s hard to call it a problem. Especially if you believe there are only a handful of coaches that can win championships. Seems to me LSU would still have a decent chance of winning even with a $200,000 a year coach. I have not heard of any major programs that have tried to reduce coaching salaries. Have any? Multi-million dollar contracts do not always translate to wins. That’s been tried many times.

  • Alvin Stone
    July 6, 2011


    You do a good job of representing one side of the ledger. That’s ok, because maybe that is who supports you. But to assume these coaches are bringing in the revenue you post takes away from the many people that work tirelessly to bring it in.

    Bob Huggins had a winning record when he came to K-State making the NCAA tourney 14 years in a row with his Cincinnati teams, check those teams, in approx. 123 years of playing basketball, Cincinnati has produced 31 professional basketball players. 11 of those have played during Bob Huggins 16 years. Bob coached 13% of the total years of The bearcats basketball histlry but had use of 35% of their eventual NBA players including Kenyon Martin, Nick van Exel, Kenny Satterfield, Corie Blount and DerMarr Johnson. YOu could do the same thing with John Wooden at UCLa (one of my favorite coaches). Bob was a great recruiter! That is a fact without question. I’m sure he had above average coaching abilities (he and his staff) but those two things only tell part of the story. That and his bravado and winning attitude might have helped but the good folks at K-State had been working for this deal for many years, perhaps the signing of Bob put them over the top but he was a “Jonny come lately” by the time the deal was agreed to.

    If Bob and West Virginia starts to slide in terms of wins and losses, measure his financial impact then….if a consistently losing coach can increase revenue then you can attribute “more” value to their efforts. There are just too many intervening variables to attach a value to the coach himself or herself.

    The football coaches you list all have excellent athletes that have contributed to the winning. Mack Brown is a highly respected coach and Texas consistently lands top 5 recruits at Texas, from Texas mostly. So one season of losing is not enough to shake a fan base )and boosters, TV deals etc.) that has become spoiled with the football success of Texas. Texas has had more than 300 players drafted by the NFL with 43 of those going in the 1st round. During Mack’s tenure, 57 players have been drafted, that doesn’t even count the free agents during his era that have signed contracts. Tha’s exceptional and perhaps Mack (and staff) is also an exceptional recruiter but without these players, mack doesn’t win and Texas doesn’t make as much money.

    Lane Kiffin, on the other hand, does not have the track record but he does have the “mouth” and “Big Talk” that he must have learned at the knee of his father or under Pete Carroll. He will likely leave USC under not so friendly circumstances because I don’t think he’ll continue to get the best athletes from the West and USC will be down for a few years. And if the downward trend continues, USC will start to lose money and we’re back to the “pre-Pete carroll era” at USC.

    No, you’ve got a slanted take on the value of these coaches. Take away their best players and they are just so many nerds with a clip board. Perhaps their “so-called” genius is that they know how to get the best players and they don’t screw it up when they do. Some of these guys i know personally, and their players too…the coach is not worth more than the players when it comes to making money, it takes both…but give me an all-star team and I’ll make you a great coach. Rarely (but it can happen) we can find a coach that can take a medicore team and make them “consistent” champions, I just don’t know of anyone that has done that ….consistently. Maybe the coach at Boise State, Petersen and staff, but then again, they have been winning consistently since 1977. Wasn’t Dan Hawkins successful there…what happened to his winning ways at Colorado?

    Yes, coaches are overpaid! And players are extremely underpaid!!!! Shiny stuff and scholarships not withstanding. They are NCAA football (and basketball for that matter).

    • Kristi Dosh
      July 7, 2011

      Alvin, you begin by giving examples of Huggins’ ability to produce NBA players. That was beyond the scope of my piece. I only discussed what he brought to Kansas State financially. The bottom line is that Huggins had a direct impact on Kansas State’s financials – others from the school acknowledged that. You really think without him Kansas State still gets the Nike deal, more than doubles season ticket sales, gets $3 million more in alumni donations, appears on national tv for the first time in decades and royalties shoot up by 30%? All that happening in his year there is no coincidence.

      As for my piece on college football coaches and their financial impact, I stated in the piece there were many other factors. It was a piece to stir debate. I even ended it with a question asking if readers thought the coaches made an impact or if it was just natural increases in revenue. I never said any of those coaches was the sole reason for the revenue. I just thought it was an interesting study, especially when you look at coaches who were at the same school and saw very different revenue during their tenure.