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Six years ago, 42 major college football coaches made at least $1 million. Today, 42 make at least $2 million. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is one of them, though he could be making more — a lot more.
Swinney, who makes a shade more than $2 million, has transferred raises triggered by clauses in his contract to his assistants, adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to another growing class in college football — highly paid assistant coaches.
“Part of my philosophy was, I’ve got this money that was due me, and I don’t need it,” Swinney says. “I make plenty of money. Why can’t I choose to invest some of that money in what we’re trying to do as a program?”
The result: Swinney is the nation’s 39th most highly paid head coach, and his assistants, who carry a cumulative price tag of $4.2 million, appear to be the nation’s most highly paid.
The average annual salary for head coaches at major colleges (not including four schools that moved up to the Football Bowl Subdivision this season) is $1.64 million, up nearly 12% over last season — and more than 70% since 2006, when USA TODAY Sports began tracking coaches’ compensation.
Coaches’ pay has even outpaced the pay of corporate executives, who have drawn the ire of Congress and the public because of their staggering compensation packages. Between 2007 and 2011, CEO pay — including salary, stock option value, bonuses and other pay — rose 23%, according to Equilar, an executive compensation data firm. In that same period, coaches’ pay increased 44%.
INTERACTIVE DATABASE: Salaries for college football coaches
Alabama’s Nick Saban is the highest paid at $5.5 million, and he is one of four Southeastern Conference coaches among the top eight. Texas head coach Mack Brown, of the Big 12, is the second-highest, pulling in $5.4 million.
This rapid and continuing escalation in coaches’ pay comes at a time when instructional spending has declined at many public schools because of shrinking state education budgets. The rise in assistant coaches’ salaries might just open up another front in the education vs. athletics tug of war on campuses across the USA.
Clemson’s Swinney, who turns 43 Tuesday, has enjoyed college football’s windfall, even with his givebacks. His compensation has increased from $800,000 in his first full season in 2009 to just over $2 million, seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference. That’s not a bad payday given that he was working outside football 10 years ago.
That’s when Tommy Bowden, Swinney’s position coach when he played wide receiver at Alabama, offered him a job as wide receivers coach at Clemson. Swinney says he took a pay cut to make that move.
Assistants don’t take pay cuts to come to Clemson these days. The school’s compensation pool for assistants has more than doubled from $1.9 million in 2009 to $4.2 million.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is the nation’s most highly paid assistant at a public school. Morris makes $1.3 million, more than 10 times what he was getting three years ago as a high school coach in Austin.
“I’m not complaining, not hurting at all,” Morris says.
Brent Venables, Clemson’s defensive coordinator, makes $800,000, almost double what he was making a year ago as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator.
“It’s embarrassing to a certain degree,” Venables says.
Add Swinney’s salary to his staff’s, and Clemson pays its football coaches more than $6 million, at or near the top in the ACC. Clemson’s coaching payroll was designed to put it in the nation’s top 15, according to Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips.
“We’ve got a total amount to work with, and this is how Dabo’s elected to carve that turkey,” Phillips says.
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