A big part of what makes a college football program so good and what convinces high school prospects to go there is the coach - and while the NCAA continues to not pay their student-athletes, a successful head coach can make quite a bit of money. Here are the highest-paid head coaches in college football, with info from USA Today.
1. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Salary: $9.3 million
Earlier this year, Swinney won his second National Championship in three years as Clemson head coach, with two different quarterbacks (current NFL star Deshaun Watson and presumed future NFL prospect Trevor Lawrence). Since taking over as head coach midway through 2008, Swinney has created a powerhouse football program and been rewarded handsomely - most recently in 2019 when he received a 10-year, $93 million contract extension.
2. Nick Saban, Alabama
Salary: $8.9 million
Often seen as one of the all-time great head coaches in the history of college football, Nick Saban has built a program at Alabama that has been, at times, unstoppable. The team made the National Championship Game each year from 2016-19, though they'll be settling for the Citrus Bowl in 2020.
With Alabama, Saban has made 7 National Championship Games and won 5, to go along with one he won as LSU head coach in January 2004. As a result, he has become a multi-millionaire with a net worth some have estimated as high as $45 million.
3. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
Salary: $7.5 million
Remember toward the end of 2014 when Jim Harbaugh's tenure with the San Francisco 49ers ended and he immediately signed a contract to be the Wolverines' head coach? After his astounding NFL success, many thought the deal, though expensive, was what Michigan needed to recapture the success of years past.
It hasn't quite been what many thought it would become, however. Harbaugh's Wolverines teams have made a bowl game in all 5 of his seasons so far (they'll be facing Alabama in the Citrus Bowl), but have never made the National Championship. They've also lost the last 3 bowl games they made prior to this and, perhaps most importantly to fans, still have yet to beat Ohio State in Harbaugh's tenure.
4. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
Salary: $7.5 million
Jimbo Fisher signed a 10-year contract worth $75 million, fully guaranteed, to become the new Aggies head coach in 2018. It's an exorbitant amount of money, but Fisher came to the school with a sterling track record.
A&M is Fisher's second head coaching stint in college football. He became the head coach of Florida State in 2010 and quickly created a title contender. This eventually culminated in an undefeated 2013 where the team, led by then-redshirt freshman and now-Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, defeated Auburn for the National Championship.
5. Kirby Smart, Georgia
Salary: $6.87 million
Kirby Smart learned under the tutelage of Nick Saban, working as a coach at Alabama from 2007-2015. As an architect of some championship Alabama defenses, he was finally given the chance to be a head coach when the University of Georgia signed him starting with the 2016 season.
Smart's Bulldogs made the National Championship Game in his second season and faced his old employer Alabama. Though Georgia got off to a much better start, Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa led a miraculous comeback to win. Still, his teams remain one of the best in the NCAA, and in 2018 he received a 7-year, $49 million contract extension from Georgia.
6. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Salary: $6.83 million
Gus Malzahn coached one season for Arkansas State in 2012 and promptly won them a Sun Belt Conference Championship. He then left for Auburn in 2013, and in his first season with the Tigers took them to the BCS National Championship Game, where they lost to the aforementioned Florida State.
It hasn't been quite as great for Malzahn since his first two seasons as a head coach, making bowl games but failing to once again reach the National Championship Game. Still, Auburn chose to extend his contract in 2017: 7 years, $49 million and promptly lost to Scott Frost's Undefeated UCF Knights at the Peach Bowl setting off the Knights claimed National Championship campaign.
7. Tom Herman, Texas
Salary: $6.75 million
Tom Herman was a top young coaching prospect when he was hired to be Houston's head coach for the 2015 season. In his first year, he proceeded to lead them to a 13-1 season and a win in the Peach Bowl.
After two seasons with Houston, the University of Texas hired him to coach the Longhorns. Texas hadn't been at its best prior to Herman, but the end of his second season saw Texas win 10 games, defeat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and finish in the top 10 of the AP rankings. As a result of this quick success, Texas extended his contract, which would've extended to 2021, to 2023.
8. Jeff Brohm, Purdue
Salary: $6.6 million
Purdue had been seeing some dark days when they hired Jeff Brohm. Brohm, on the other hand, had seen phenomenal success in his three years as the head coach of Western Kentucky, including a 12 win season and a 10 win season.
Brohm took over a Boilermaker program that won 3 games the year before him. In his first year, he took the team to its first bowl game in 5 seasons (a win over Arizona in the 2017 Foster Farms Bowl). After making another bowl game in his second season, Purdue signed him to a 7-year contract extension worth $36.8 million. Purdue fought off Louisville this past offseason to retain their head football coach.
9. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
Salary: $6.38 million
Lincoln Riley has been Oklahoma head coach for 3 years. In his first year, his team won the Big 12 Conference and his quarterback, Baker Mayfield, won the Heisman Trophy and was the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. In his second year, his team won the Big 12 Conference and his quarterback, Kyler Murray, won the Heisman Trophy and was the first overall pick in the NFL Draft.
Unfortunately, in his third season, his quarterback, Jalen Hurts, was merely a Heisman Trophy finalist as opposed to a winner. But Oklahoma once again won the Big 12, and are once again in the college football playoffs with a chance at a National Championship. Pretty good for a first-time coach, and the reason Oklahoma signed him to a contract extension in early 2019.
10. Dan Mullen, Florida
Salary: $6.07 million
From 2009-2017, Mullen was the head coach of Mississippi State, taking the program from a struggling one to a perennial bowl contender, only failing to make a bowl game in his first season.
His success caught the eye of the people who run the Florida Gators, as in late 2017 it was announced that he would be the new Florida head coach, eventually signing a 6 year, $36.6 million contract with them. His Florida teams have won 10 games in each of his first two seasons, winning the Peach Bowl in his first one. His second bowl game, the 2019 Orange Bowl against Virginia, will be played on December 30.
11. James Franklin, Penn State
Salary: $5.65 million
2019 was Franklin's sixth season at Penn State; prior to that, he was coaching Vanderbilt for three years, taking them to three bowl games.
Though Franklin's first two years with the Nittany Lions were a mixed bag, they won the Big 10 and made the Rose Bowl in his third year. This prompted a flashy contract extension in 2017: 6 years, $34.7 million. His Penn State teams have remained highly competitive and will be facing Memphis in the Cotton Bowl later in 2019.
12. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Salary: $5.14 million
Fitzgerald and Northwestern did not have a great 2019 season. Prior to that, though, Fitzgerald had done what no other coach had in the history of the program: make them a consistent contender for bowl games.
Fitzgerald's first year as head coach was rough, but by year 3 they were in the Alamo Bowl. Before this dismal 3-9 season, Fitzgerald got his team to a bowl game in 9 of the previous 11 seasons. That level of success, unprecedented at Northwestern, got him a whopping 10-year contract extension in 2017.
13. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Salary: $5.13 million
Even before becoming the Oklahoma State head coach prior to the 2005 season, most of Gundy's career as an assistant coach had been with them. In his first season, the team went just 4-7 and missed out on a bowl game. In the 14 years that have come since he has yet to miss another bowl game or have another under-.500 season.
In 2017, Oklahoma State handed Gundy a 5-year contract extension. In early 2019, they extended him one more year to keep the head coach around through the 2023 season.
Gundy is still a man, he's now over 50, and he's getting paid well by the Cowboys.
14. Scott Frost, Nebraska
Salary: $5 million
Scott Frost coached the undefeated UCF Knights in 2017, and after was handed a 7 year, $35 million contract by Nebraska before the 2018 season. Frost might be wishing he was going back to Disney World after his start at Nebraska.
Frost's first two years with the Cornhuskers were not ideal, failing to make a bowl game or win more than 5 games either year. But the school put their faith in Frost, adding two years to his contract in 2019 (with the same $5 million annual salary) to keep him through 2026.
15. Willie Taggart, Florida State
Salary: $5 million
Well, this one's a bit embarrassing. Willie Taggart WAS one of the highest-paid coaches in college football in 2019, just as he WAS Florida State's head coach for much of 2019. But Taggart's tenure disappointed at Florida State, and he failed to make it through the entirety of his second season before being fired by the Seminoles.
Though you shouldn't expect Taggart on this list in 2020, he'll still be coaching - as head coach of Florida Atlantic, for $750,000 a year plus incentives.
16. Charlie Strong, South Florida
Salary: $5 million
Another head coach who won't make this list next year! Charlie Strong signed a 5-year contract to coach South Florida in advance of the 2017 season but only made it to his third season before the school fired him.
Strong got off to a strong start in South Florida, winning 10 games (as well as the Birmingham Bowl) in his first season. Unfortunately, Strong could not beat USF's rival UCF, going 0-3 against the Knights in his three seasons. But they won just 7 in his second season, and were a mere 4-8 in 2019. After such a strong regression, South Florida let Strong go.
17. Gary Patterson, TCU
Salary: $4.9 million
Patterson's TCU team also had a serious regression this year, but Patterson remains signed with the team. And Patterson, unlike coaches on this list who didn't survive the year, has been with his team for two decades and through four different conferences.
Gary Patterson's overall tenure with TCU has been a successful one, with the highlight being an undefeated season in 2010 that finished with a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin on New Year's Day 2011. Most recently, Patterson received a contract extension in 2017 for 7 years.
18. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Salary: $4.8 million
Kirk Ferentz has had an even longer tenure at Iowa than Gary Patterson at TCU; Patterson's first season with the Horned Frogs was 2000, while Ferentz has been with Iowa since 1999.
Though Ferentz's heyday with the team was winning 10+ games in 3 straight seasons from 2002-04. he has kept them competitive in recent years as well (they will be facing USC in the Holiday Bowl later this year). In 2016, Iowa gave Ferentz a contract extension that could keep him with the Hawkeyes all the way through the 2025 season.
19. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Salary: $4.76 million
One of several Stoops brothers to have coached at the college level, Mark has been with the Wildcats since the 2013 season. Stoops steadily improved his Kentucky team each year until his first 10-win season in 2018, as well as a Citrus Bowl win over Penn State.
After this successful season, Stoops's contract was restructured to increase his salary throughout the duration of it. Though Kentucky regressed back to 7 wins in 2019, they will still be facing Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl on New Year's Eve.
20. Chris Petersen, Washington
Salary: $4.63 million
Chris Petersen made his name in college football turning Boise State into a powerhouse, with multiple undefeated seasons under his belt as Broncos head coach. In December of 2013, he was hired to do the same for Washington. Now the two teams will meet in the Las Vegas bowl to send off Peterson, who resigned in a surprising move.
If not as successful record-wise as he was at Boise State, Petersen had some great successes with Washington. The 2016 season saw their first Pac-12 title in 16 years, and he did it again in the 2018 season.