Is it worth it? In some cases, the answer is a resounding yes. In others, it's harder to say given a school and fanbase's strict definition of success.
Some of the success obviously came before the big contracts for these coaches, but it's still worth examining how a previous track record can lead to massive paydays.
Each year the floor for elite coaches appears to rise and, in the world of college football, that salary figure is now at the $9 million mark. But it's not just the football coaches who are raking in the cash. Bill Self and John Calipari, each with 16 regular season conference titles under their belt, have set the pace for top-end coaching salaries.
Self was in the unenviable position of replacing living legend Roy Williams when he was hired 20 years ago, but despite the pressure and expectations, he has managed to score a pair of national championships while appearing in four Final Fours for the Jayhawks.
John Calipari has stretched the definition of success, keeping Kentucky in the national spotlight each season by dominating the recruiting trail and filling his roster with future NBA lottery picks. Since taking over in Lexington back in 2009, Calipari and Kentucky have been associated with three No. 1 selections, 34 first-rounders, 22 lottery picks and 45 total players in the NBA Draft.
The $9 million mark is where things start to get a little dicey in the world of college football. Brian Kelly and Mel Tucker both make the same salary, yet Kelly has won the Home Depot Coach of the Year Award on three occasions (2009, 2012, 2018) while leading his teams to seven major bowl games since 2009. Mel Tucker is 23-21 with four losing seasons since becoming a head coach in 2019. Michigan State overpaid to keep him after a breakout 11-2 campaign and Peach Bowl victory in 2021, but that may prove to be a very costly mistake in the coming years.
Tucker's salary is particularly shocking when you consider that Big Ten rival Ohio State pays Ryan Day the same amount on an annual basis. Day is 45-6 as Ohio State's head coach with a pair of trips to the College Football Playoff on his resume in his first four seasons.
Matt Rhule is starting at square one out in Lincoln for a Nebraska program in dire need of a makeover. His coaching pedigree, particularly his success at Baylor, makes his gaudy $9.25 million price tag palatable to most college football pundits.
Last but certainly not least is Jimbo Fisher. Texas A&M is currently forking out $9 million per year for his services, and he has yet to live up to that contract. After a breakout 9-1 campaign during the COVID season, A&M is a middling 13-11 with a losing record (6-10) in SEC play in the past two seasons. In the previous era, that would have gotten Fisher booted straight out of the Lone Star state. But his buyout sits at $76.8 million if he is fired before Jan. 1st of next year. Even in the SEC where TV contract money rivals oil money and well-heeled boosters are willing to fork up tens of millions in buyout cash, his price tag will likely keep him in College Station for a few more years.
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