New agreements totaling over $375 million have rocketed salaries for the top head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision into a new stratosphere, led by the first nine-figure contract for a public-school coach in LSU hire Brian Kelly.
Since September, four coaches at public universities — Kelly, Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher and Penn State’s James Franklin — have signed 10-year deals that rank among the largest in college football history in terms of total value, including new deals and contract extensions.
That has knocked one of the biggest names in the sport, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, down the list of college football’s highest-paid coaches — and it has brought another, Alabama’s Nick Saban, much closer to the lead pack. But that may not last for long.
Contracts amended within the past 2 1/2 years include provisions that could require Alabama and Clemson to renegotiate compensation packages to reflect the rapidly changing market and keep Saban and Swinney at or near the top of the highest-paid coaches in the FBS. And those arrangements also may have to work with the wild cards of a top-paying private school (Southern California with Lincoln Riley), one elite-level school still seeking a coach (Oklahoma) and another that soon may renegotiate with its current coach (Georgia).
While schools routinely rework existing contracts to reward successful seasons or to fend off outside coaching opportunities, the difference in this case is that Alabama and Clemson may be contractually required to increase the annual pay given to Saban and Swinney, respectively.
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Saban’s deal, which was redone in August 2021, says that commencing Feb. 1, 2022, and each Feb.1 thereafter, the parties “will meet for so long as necessary to determine the marketplace trends regarding head football coach compensation” in the SEC and FBS.
At that point, if what the contract callsSaban’s “total guaranteed annual compensation” is less than the average of the same figures for the three highest-paid SEC coaches or the five highest-paid FBS coaches, Alabama would have to agree to increase Saban’s guaranteed annual compensation to the higher of those two averages.
The contract’s definition of “total guaranteed annual compensation” is not precise, but says it shall be “as that terminology is generally understood and defined within the industry.”
Alabama did not respond to a request for comment on Saban’s contract language from USA TODAY Sports.
In addition to Kelly’s contract at LSU, this evaluation could be influenced bythe prospect of a new contract for Georgia’s Kirby Smart, who has the Bulldogs in the mix for the program’s first national championship since 1980.
The financial terms of Smart’s current deal were put in place as of January 2018, and are set to run through Dec. 31, 2024. At present, he is scheduled to make $7.2 million for the 2022 season — or, $2 million less than Fisher and $2.3 million less than Tucker and Kelly.
Saban is making $9.5 million during the 2021-22 year, which ends on Feb. 28, with that total increasing across the duration of a deal signed through 2028-29: to $9.9 million in 2022-23, $10.3 million in 2023-24, $10.7 million in 2024-25, $11.1 million in 2025-26, back down to $10.7 million in 2026-27, $11.1 million in 2027-28 and $11.5 million in 2028-29.
Saban’s annual compensation through 2025-26 includes an $800,000 completion bonus payable at the end of each fiscal year.
Swinney’s current contract with Clemson began in 2019 and is set to expire Dec. 31, 2028. It includes a provision that says, starting with the 2022 season, the parties must “complete a good faith review and negotiation of aggregate compensation” of their deal should the Tigers reach the semifinals of the College Football Playoff.
If, after this review, Clemson did not offer to make Swinney’ s average compensation per year over the remainder of the contract no less than third-highest among head coaches at schools eligible for the playoff, Clemson would have to waive the buyout Swinney would owe if he took another college head coaching job.
Swinney is set to make $8.5 million in 2022. His average from 2023 through 2028, is set to be $9.58 million if a $1 million retention payment in 2023 is counted, $9.41 million if it is not.
Either way, Swinney would trail Saban and Kelly, and he would be virtually even with Fisher. And, again, there is the prospect of Smart’s deal being re-done by Georgia.
One unknown factor is former Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley’s contract at Southern California, and whether Alabama or Clemson would have access to that information.
Most private-school coaching contracts include non-disclosure provisions. And because of IRS procedures regarding non-profit organizations’ tax filings, it is likely that little will be known about Riley’s annual pay from USC until May 2024.
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