Highest-Paid Public Employee in Your State Is Probably a Coach

By Dan Fastenberg

In recent years, there's been a simmering debate over whether public employees are overpaid. Periodically, there are stories about principals, bureaucrats or janitors who somehow managed to work the system and get obscene pay. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has produced research that shows federal workers are paid 30 to 40 percent more than they would be in the private sector. But other studies have come to the opposite conclusion.

But it took an online sports website, Deadspin.com, to crunch the data to identify which state employee is the highest paid. And surprisingly, in 41 of the 50 states and Washington D.C., the highest paid employee is a college sports coach. At the top end, a handful of coaches at state universities earn more than $5 million a year, according to newspaper reports.

Sports that pay the most: Of the 41 highly paid state university coaches, the majority -- 27 -- coach football. Thirteen are basketball coaches; and there is just one hockey coach. Only one of the 41 coaches works with a women's sports team. The lone exception? University of Connecticut women's basketball coach, Gino Auriemma.

The highest-paid employees in the other 10 states are working in fields that require advanced degrees. They are university presidents and deans of law and medical schools.

Do coaches deserve 7-figure salaries? A common argument in favor of paying college coaches high salaries is that they bring money into the schools. In analyzing the data, Deadspin attempted to refute that argument. The "coaches don't generate revenue on their own," as Deadspin writer Reuben Fischer-Baum noted. In deciding who deserves the money, "you could make the exact same case for the student athletes who actually play the game and score the points," he wrote.

Who is in the $5 million club? The Deadspin study did not release specifics about names and salaries, but each year USA Today releases a list of the highest-paid college coaches. And topping the list last year was John Calipari, the head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, and Nick Saban, the head football coach at the University of Alabama. (Saban is pictured above.) Their salaries? $5.4 million each. Fair enough, Saban's Crimson Tide did snag this past year's national championship, just like Calapari's Wildcats did in 2012.