Husker Coaches Hit the Recruiting Trail
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: Coaches and the Money They Make

October 27, 2016

USA Today did sports writers a great service yesterday and released its 2016 salary database for college football coaches. If you noticed a sharp uptick in salary-based stories on Wednesday, that’s why.

We won’t spent a lot of time stomping ground that has already been well covered, but as most Husker fans probably knew (or sensed in at least a general sense), Mike Riley remains something of a bargain at approximately $2.8 million this season.

That ranks 42nd nationally and sixth in the Big Ten. Some might say that’s not a bargain, it’s just right for a coach who hasn’t won a conference title and is just 1.5 seasons into a new job. I would agree with that to an extent, but it still feels like Nebraska is sort of resisting the overall trend here:

For example, Georgia Tech, Cal, Washington State, South Carolina, Arizona, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Kentucky, West Virginia — I could keep going — all pay their head coaches more than Nebraska does.

To put it another way, the USA Today database has reported salary figures for 12 of the 15 winningest programs of all time. USC and Miami aren’t required to report and Notre Dame has reported Brian Kelly’s base salary, but he’s eligible to receive outside compensation and I guarantee there’s no way he is only getting $1.6 million (the reported number) so I’m throwing that number out. Of the 12 remaining salaries, Nebraska’s is the lowest of those blue-blood programs, $1 million behind Georgia’s first-year head coach Kirby Smart, the next lowest school on that list.

Now, some of that is results based. Bo Pelini’s quick build to nine wins followed by five years of staying there never really merited a Kirk Ferentz-like raise. Riley hasn’t done it yet.

But when you start placing Nebraska in the context of its closest contemporaries, it feels like only a matter of time before the Huskers have to get a little more competitive.

And none of this is bad for Nebraska. If it has a coach it wants at this salary, that’s great. If it feels like it has to start paying more that’s probably because the program is back competing at a top-10 or top-15 level. That’s not a bad problem to have either.


A supplementary piece from USA Today accompanying the release of the salary database dealt exclusively with buyouts, and that was perhaps as interesting as anything else.

It’s a really, really good time to be a coach. Not only are salaries rising, but buyouts are reaching unprecedented levels, too. Why?

The buyout boom isn’t just caused by the rising pay market, experts say. In some cases, schools appear to be getting out-leveraged in contract negotiations by coaches and their agents, perhaps because multi-year contract signings are usually sunshiny occasions. With so much optimism in the air at the time, schools might not be considering the dark possibility that the honeymoon might not last.

“There’s such tremendous pressure to generate revenues and win that basically these universities are sort of bending over contractually to get these coaches in the door,” said Martin Greenberg, a Milwaukee-based sports attorney who has represented several coaches in contract negotiations. “Euphoria sometimes overtakes objectivity and intelligence.”

For example, Matt Campbell is an up-and-comer in his first year at Iowa State and he makes $2 million a year. Right now, the remaining value of his contract (i.e. his buyout) is north of $11 million and it’s guaranteed if Iowa State ever chooses to make a change. That’s a big bet, but sort of the cost of doing business today.

Nebraska is in reasonably safe territory here as well. Riley’s buyout is $6.6 million at this stage. Three Big Ten schools have buyouts north of $25 million: Michigan (makes sense), Ohio State (makes sense) and Iowa (makes less sense).



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