Are College Football Coaches’ Salaries Out of Control?

Chris Ault giving his team a strategy to win the game against Cal Berkley
Chris Ault giving his team a strategy to win the game against Cal Berkley (Photo taken by Leonel Beas)

RENO, Nev. — Some children grow up dreaming about becoming a doctor, firefighter, professional athlete or their own boss because it seems enjoyable and the salary would be appealing. But becoming a college football coach may be just as enticing.

Coaches’ pay has outpaced the pay of corporate executives, which has drawn the ire of Congress and the public because of their staggering compensation packages, according to USA TODAY. Between 2007 and 2011, CEO pay — including salary, stock, options, bonuses and other pay — rose 23%, according to Equilar, an executive compensation data firm. In that same period, coaches’ pay increased 44%.

Chris Ault the only active coach to have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, is making a salary of $493,093 with a max bonus of $30,000 at the University of Nevada, Reno, according to USA TODAY.

To the average working American, Ault’s salary may seem like a pot of gold but when comparing his salary to the Mountain West Conference— he is the least paid.

Ault has taken Nevada to seven bowl games in the past seven years and will coach in his eighth this year. He has an overall record of 233-108-1 during his 28-year tenure at Nevada. But it raises the question to why other head coaches in his conference make more money and don’t have the same track record of success.

Bobby Hauck, head coach of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has a salary of $500,000 with a max bonus of $140,000, according to USA TODAY. Hauck has an overall record of 6-31 during his first three seasons.

Dave Christensen, head coach of the University of Wyoming, has a salary of $1.2 million with a max bonus of $25,000, according to USA TODAY. He has an overall record of 22-27 the past four seasons.

Clearly, Hauck and Christensen’s production has not been close to Ault’s but their pockets are larger. It made Ault chuckle and responded very sprightly.

“Wonderful— I don’t know if that’s a compliment or stupidity,” Ault said. “If I wanted to get paid more I would’ve left a long time ago.”

The highest paid head coach in the MWC is Boise State’s Chris Peterson at $1.96 million with a max bonus of $290,000, according to USA TODAY. But his track record is extraordinary leading the Broncos to 82-8 and claiming four Western Athletic Conference titles.

UNR Athletic Director Cary Groth was very emotional when speaking about coaches enormous salaries throughout the country.

“The coaches’ salaries around the country are out of hand, they are out of hand,” Groth said. “So the market place as we know it is exploding, coaches are getting millions of dollars to coach football.”

The top conferences such as the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference have assistant coaches being paid much more than Ault.

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is the nation’s most highly paid assistant at a public school. Morris makes $1.3 million and Brent Venables, Clemson’s defensive coordinator, makes $800,000, according to USA TODAY.

“It’s embarrassing to a certain degree,” Venables told USA TODAY.

Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault and quarterback Colin Kaepernick celebrate in the moments following Nevada's improbable 34-31 overtime victory over third-ranked Boise State on Nov. 26.photo taken by unr.edu
Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault and quarterback Colin Kaepernick celebrate in the moments following Nevada’s improbable 34-31 overtime victory over third-ranked Boise State on Nov. 26.
(Photo taken by John Trent @unr.edu)

The athletic department at UNR took a $2.1 million cut this year, so it raises the question to how UNR can pay $493,093 to Ault and $277,000 to Groth when many professors are losing their jobs.

“Do I believe salaries are out of whack—Yes!” said Bob Felten a professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism. “But I don’t think that’s a Nevada problem… I think it’s a societal problem.”

On average, the typical household in Reno-Sparks area makes $50,768 a year, according to departmentofnumbers.com in 2011. Local citizen Valentine Robles talked about how fortunate coaches are to be in that position.

“I barely make enough to feed my family and I work 60 hours a week and these coaches are making too much money,” Robles said. “If he is underpaid what does that make me?”

But the market of the football world is set up that way. Even athletic directors get a nice amount of money.

UNLV’s Jim Livengood makes $350,000 per year, with the potential for $221,000 in bonuses. Boise State and San Jose State both hired athletic directors within the past year, at around $325,000 per year, according to the RGJ.com.

“Coach Saban alone makes more than my entire staff,” said Dabo Swinney head coach of Clemson University in USA TODAY. “It’s all relative. It’s just the market. If you’re a surgeon, and you have this expertise and talent, there’s a market for what you get paid. Coaches do not set the market. It’s set by what someone is willing to pay, I guess.”

The fact of the matter is, college football is a mainstream sport in the United States that generates lots of money in different ways and at the end of the day —money talks.

Just a couple weeks ago, Arkansas offered a five-year, $27.5 million contract to LSU’s Les Miles, which would have made him the wealthiest head coach in college football. He declined it not because of the money but for other reasons, according to ESPN.com.

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 paid coach, pulling in $5.4 million, according to USA TODAY.

This rapid and continuing escalation in coaches’ pay comes at a time when the American economy isn’t doing so well and many universities around the country are suffering budget cuts. But who or what can change this situation where the money can benefit the entire university.

UNR student Zach Bolinger, who shares membership in Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity with Ault, said if he was the president of UNR, he would have the solution to finding ways to generate money for the entire school.

“I would cut a quarter of all the athletic department employee’s salaries and invest that money in a group of public relation experts that would bring brighter ideas to generate more money in ticket sales and stadium expenses,” Bolinger said. “I strongly believe the reason why our revenue as a whole is bad is because of the lack of creativity from the people in charge making the calls.”

Ault’s salary to some may be a lot but to others he is underpaid. That is the beauty of the opinion.

“Let’s be honest, half a million dollars is a pretty good salary,” Groth said. “But in this market place in football, it’s not much at all but there is a lot of people that would love to make half a million dollars.”

Leo Beas can be reached on Twitter @beasleo
Leo Beas can be reached on Twitter @beasleo
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