College Football Coaching Salaries: Big Ten

Last Updated on January 17, 2024

College football coaching salaries have been on a seemingly nonstop trajectory, with Big Ten coaching salaries typically skewing far above the average college football coach salary. A new generation of top coaching talent has been cited as one of the main reasons behind the league’s improvement over the past decade. While all head coaches in the B1G earn handsome paychecks, some are larger than others. 

In the Big Ten conference, all 14 head football coaches returned. But many revisited their contract situations, leading to changes in their annual values and their standings within the Big Ten.

The Breakdown of College Football Coaches Salaries in the Big Ten

Ryan Day, Ohio State 

Ryan Day has kept Ohio State a national championship contender after making the move from offensive coordinator to head coach. After winning a Big Ten title and advancing to the College Football Playoff semifinals in year one, Day led the Buckeyes to a national championship appearance in 2021, then led a Rose Bowl win in his third year.

In May 2022, Ohio State restructured Day’s contract to keep him at the university until 2028 and tied for the highest salary in the conference. ESPN reported that Day’s yearly earnings will increase from $7.6 million to $9.5 million. In total, the deal runs for seven years and is worth $66.5 million.

James Franklin, Penn State 

James Franklin signed a new 10-year contract in November that keeps him among the conference’s highest-paid coaches.

While not at the level of the new contracts for Ryan Day and Mel Tucker, Franklin is set to earn $7 million annually, with additional guarantees that could make the contract worth up to $85 million. This is Franklin’s fourth contract while at Penn State and aims to keep him around through the 2031 season.

David Braun, Northwestern

Northwestern tabbed first-year defensive coordinator David Braun its interim head football coach in July after Pat Fitzgerald’s dismissal that followed an investigation into hazing allegations in the program. Braun made the decision to retain all of his assistant coaches.

Because Northwestern is a private university, it is not obligated to release information on coaching salaries. 

Jonathan Smith, Michigan State

The Michigan State Spartans signed 44-year-old Jonathan Smith to a seven-year contract to be the football program’s newest head coach in November 2023. Smith previously served as the head coach of the Oregon State Beavers for six seasons.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Smith will receive a base pay of $6 million with $1.25 million in supplemental income that increases by $100,000 each year. The contract also includes several incentives including $150,000 for reaching the College Football Playoff and $400,000 for winning a national championship. Smith can also receive $200,000 for reaching the Big 10 Championship Game and $200,000 for winning the conference championship.

Curt Cignetti, Indiana 

In November 2023, the University of Indiana named Curt Cignetti to a six-year contract worth $25.5 million.

Cignetti, the 30th head coach in IU program history, most recently led the James Madison Dukes to an 11-1 record in 2023.

According to The Herald-Times, the contract has a starting salary of $4 million per year. The contract will also include a retention bonus of $250,000 on November 30 of each year. Plus, each time the Hoosiers reach a bowl game, Cignetti will earn a 1-year contract extension and a $250,000 permanent increase to his annual outside, marketing and promotional income.

Matt Rhule, Nebraska

One of the first head coaching hires of the current cycle, former Baylor and Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule is now tasked with leading the Cornhuskers back to Big Ten West contention.

Rhule is set to make $72 million over eight years, putting him in the top tier of Big Ten coaching salaries. In an interesting contract wrinkle, Nebraska will offset the majority of the $34 million the Panthers owe Rhule in his buyout, according to a report by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Ryan Walters, Purdue 

Five days after Jeff Brohm announced he would be departing West Lafayette for the head coaching gig at Louisville, Purdue announced the signing of former Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters as the program’s 37th head coach. Walters, the fourth-youngest coach in the FBS at 36, agreed to a five-year contract worth $4 million in his first season. His contract increased by $50,000 each season thereafter.

Walters’ contract also includes a Performance Bonus Base of $1.5 million along with $5.5 million to sign ten assistant coaches and a one strength coach.

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Ferentz is in his fourth decade as Iowa’s Head Coach and year-after-year, Iowa seems to contend in the Big Ten with Ferentz at the helm. The Hawkeyes have been an annual contender in the Big Ten West, stealing the division crown in the last weekend of the 2021 season to secure a Big Ten Championship appearance.

Ferentz received a major boost in his annual salary as a result. His yearly earnings will increase from the expected $5.1 million to $7 million thanks to a new extension. In total, the deal will run for eight years and be worth $56 million.

PJ Fleck, Minnesota

The Gophers were college football’s cinderella in 2019, with an 11-2 record and a late season loss to Wisconsin away from their first Big Ten Championship appearance. For their performance, Head Coach PJ Fleck was awarded a 7-year $33,250,000 extension through 2026.

The university gave that number a boost last November with a new contract. His annual salary improves from $4.65 million to $5.1 million, with a significant buyout that decreases in each of the years of the deal.

Bret Bielema, Illinois 

The Illini went in a different direction after a disappointing 2-5 season–hiring Bielema the long-time Wisconsin signal caller from 2006-2012. Bielema will look to replicate the success he had in Madison and is set to earn $4,200,000 annually over six years.

Incentives include a $100,000 bonus if Bielema takes the Illini to their first ever Big Ten Championship game and $200,000 if Illinois wins the Big Ten. In the case that Illinois makes a “New Year’s Six” bowl, Bielema will earn an additional $300,000.

With their last winning season coming in 2011, Bielema will look to elevate the Illini program in the always challenging Big Ten Conference.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan 

Michigan had a Cinderella season in 2021, knocking off Ohio State in the Big House and winning the Big Ten Championship to earn a trip to the College Football Playoff. Coach Jim Harbaugh flirted with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings about becoming their head coach, but ultimately decided to return to Ann Arbor and was rewarded with a new contract to reflect the program’s recent success.

Harbaugh’s updated deal extends his contract by a year to the 2026 season and holds an average annual salary of $7.334 million over the length of the deal. If Harbaugh decides to test NFL waters again, the contract brings a coach-friendly buyout: $2.25 million after 2023, $1.5 million after 2024 and $750,000 in any season afterward.

Luke Fickell, Wisconsin

Wisconsin chose Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell to return the program to Big Ten contention, selecting Fickell over interim head coach Jim Leonhard.

The Badgers lured Fickell out of Group of Five powerhouse Cincinnati with a seven-year contract that will average $7.8 million per year and start at $7.5 million. For comparison, previous coach Paul Chryst earned just over $4.2 million per year in his contract, which was set to run through 2026 before his midseason firing. Fickell’s new deal at Wisconsin is also a considerable raise over his salary at Cincinnati.

Greg Schiano, Rutgers

Greg Schiano built Rutgers from the ground up in the 2000s. With the program fallen back on hard times, it was time to reunite with their patron saint. 

It wasn’t easy to lure him back. Schiano initially turned down an offer that was given to him right after the 2019 regular season. But a little more persistence on the part of RU made Schiano reconsider and soon, an eight-year, $32,000,000 deal was being signed. Up to $975,000 each year will be up for grabs in incentives for Schiano.

Mike Locksley, Maryland 

Mike Locksley arrived just outside of the nation’s capital from arguably college football’s capital over the past decade. The former Alabama offensive coordinator has brought momentum and encouraging recruiting success to College Park and recently agreed to a five-year contract extension in April that brings his annual salary to $4 million per year, between annual base salary and supplemental income.

We’re adding more college football coaching salaries from other conferences here.

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