Wednesday saw the release of USA Today’s tabulation of all 128 FBS coaches’ salaries for 2016 and the not-so-surprising revelation that Jim Harbaugh earns a little over $2 million more than Nick Saban, last year’s national championship winning coach.
According to the report, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze is the ninth-highest paid coach in the land, and he stands set to rake in $4,703,500 this year, which includes a $300,000 bonus presumably as compensation for the Rebs’ stellar performance in the Sugar Bowl back in January. That figure does not include whatever other money Freeze receives from the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, however. From the report’s "methodology" notes on Ole Miss:
School pay includes base salary from Freeze’s publicly available state contract, plus compensation from contract with the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, a private non-profit organization that declined to release the agreement. University provided summary of current contract-year pay, bonuses available and bonuses paid under that agreement.
To the extent that lucrative contracts with deep-coffered athletics programs can translate into on-field success, the coaches salary ranking provides an interesting exercise in performance review. The table below lays the top 25 highest paid coaches of 2016 against their teams' final top 25 ranking of 2015 as well as their rankings through nine weeks of the 2016 season.
|RANK||HIGHEST PAID COACHES||2015 FINAL RANK (RECORD)||2016 WEEK 9 RANK (RECORD)|
|1||Jim Harbaugh - Michigan||12 (10-3)||2 (7-0)|
|2||Nick Saban - Alabama||1 (14-1)||1 (8-0)|
|3||Urban Meyer - Ohio State||4 (12-1)||6 (6-1)|
|4||Bob Stoops - Oklahoma||5 (11-2)||16 (5-2)|
|5||Jimbo Fisher - FSU||14 (10-3)||12 (5-2)|
|6||Charlie Strong - Texas||NR (5-7)||NR (3-4)|
|7||Kevin Sumlin - Texas A&M||NR (8-5)||9 (6-1)|
|8||Gus Malzahn - Auburn||NR (7-6)||15 (5-2)|
|9||Hugh Freeze - Ole Miss||10 (10-3)||NR (3-4)|
|10||Kirk Ferentz - Iowa||9 (12-2)||NR (5-3)|
|11||James Franklin - Penn State||NR (7-6)||24 (5-2)|
|12||Dabo Swinney - Clemson||2 (14-1)||3 (7-0)|
|13||16 (9-3)||19 (5-2)|
|14||Mark Dantonio - Michigan State||6 (12-2)||NR (2-5)|
|15||Jim McElwain - Florida||25 (10-4)||14 (5-1)|
|16||Dan Mullen - Mississippi State||NR (9-4)||NR (2-5)|
|17||Bret Bielema - Arkansas||NR (8-5)||NR (5-3)|
|18||Butch Jones - Tennessee||22 (9-4)||18 (5-2)|
|19||David Shaw - Stanford||3 (12-2)||NR (4-3)|
|20||Gary Patterson - TCU||7 (11-2)||NR (4-3)|
|21||Bobby Petrino - Louisville||NR (8-5)||5 (6-1)|
|22||Mike Gundy - Oklahoma State||20 (10-3)||NR (5-2)|
|23||Kirby Smart - Georgia||N/A||NR (4-3)|
|24||Kyle Whittingham - Utah||17 (10-3)||17 (7-1)|
|25||Chris Petersen - Washington||NR (7-6)||4 (7-0)|
Given a $2 million raise, Jim Harbaugh has certainly returned the favor to Michigan athletics in kind. If the Wolverines stay on schedule and win out, Harbaugh will be a case in point for how best to invest in a CFP berth. Chris Petersen, Dabo Swinney and Bobby Petrino are among this year's bargain steals.
Charlie Strong's failed crusade in Austin represents the most glaring discrepancy in salary/team performance. And how about a shoutout for Dan Mullen, who's paid more than the coaches of five schools that finished in the top 25 last year and four in the top 25 this year. That's no Charlie Strong-like performance, but it's impressive in its own right.
As for Hugh Freeze, he's faring somewhat worse than coaches of a similar salary, though not by much. Given the upside and relative success that Swinney, Petrino, Petersen, David Shaw (Stanford) and Kyle Whittingham (Utah) have demonstrated over the last two seasons, Freeze sits somewhat out of place in the top 10 earners this year, notwithstanding the raises he and his staff received in the run-up to last season's Sugar Bowl. Building on win totals in consecutive seasons four years in a row should certainly earn you a raise, but watching the team regress as the ninth-highest paid coach while most of those ahead of you maintain pace can lead one to wonder what all that money represents: reward for past success, or incentive for even higher achievement in the future?