Recently, USA Today published a list of FBS college football salaries for each head coach. With every profession, but especially those in the public eye, there are those who aren’t worth what they are making. Who are the most overpaid coaches in college football?
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan (overall rank 3)
Yes, Jim Harbaugh is the third highest paid coach in college football. He is making $7,504,000 dollars this year in base salary with $1,325,000 in bonuses that he can earn. The only two coaches on the list ahead of him are Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. Both of those coaches have multiple National Championships, whereas Harbaugh is still searching for his first.
His alma mater isn’t getting much of a discount at all on Harbaugh, even though he does have great experience coaching at Stanford and in the NFL. At Michigan, he has been criticized for not winning big games and failing to beat rivals. Harbaugh however, did lead Michigan to an Orange Bowl in his second season in Ann Arbor. They lost to Florida State in that game, which added to the theory that Harbaugh can’t win the big games.
Harbaugh is no doubt a good coach, but Michigan is expecting, and paying, for more. He needs to get the Wolverines a Big Ten Championship and possibly a College Football Playoff appearance to really be worth his contract. This is Harbaugh’s fourth season at the helm, but Michigan isn’t very patient so he could be on the chopping block despite posting a 33-12 record at the school (as of Oct. 12).
Lovie Smith, Illinois (overall rank 13)
There is no question that Illinois had to give up some money to get a Super Bowl winning coach to come to their university. It is still early in the Smith era, as he is only in his third season, but he hasn’t accomplished enough at the college level yet to be in the top 15 of all FBS coaches. He currently earns $5,000,00 with $1,000,000 in potential bonuses.
This was a long-term play though for Illinois, who was a program in large need of a rebuild. At Illinois so far, Smith has led the Illini to an 8-21 record. The signs of the rebuild are there though, as Illinois already has three wins this season, matching their best total under Smith in his tenure.
Overall, Smith seems to be on the right path with the program. He should not, however, be paid in the top 15 yet, as there is still a lot of work to be done. For reference, more accomplished coaches, like James Franklin of Penn State and Gary Patterson of TCU, are currently paid less.
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech (overall rank 30)
This one is interesting, as Kingsbury is paid the 30th highest among FBS coaches, yet is seemingly always on the hot seat. The 39-year-old is a former quarterback at Texas Tech and is in his sixth year coaching the Red Raiders. He has a salary of $3,703,975 and can earn up to $1,500,000 in bonuses.
Kingsbury has a career winning percentage of .493 (as of Oct. 12), has yet to make a Big 12 Championship game/win the Big 12 and has only two seasons of above .500 football. He is however 4-2 this season so far and can really earn his salary if he stays competitive in the Big 12.
Texas Tech is one of the hardest jobs in the Big 12, as they don’t have the resources or backing of some of the big names like Texas and Oklahoma. Kingsbury has fought admirably, but for someone who has been on the hot seat constantly, he is ranked too high on this list. Dana Holgorsen, Mike Leach and Ed Orgeron are all ranked lower on the list than Kingsbury.
Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia (overall rank 33)
A couple of years ago, many thought that Mendenhall would spend his whole career as the head coach of the BYU Cougars. He made the surprising jump to coach Virginia and was paid for it too. Mendenhall earns a salary of $3,550,000 and a potential for $2,165,000 in bonuses.
Mendenhall has done a great job so far at Virginia and the Cavaliers definitely had to pay to get him there due to his success at BYU, but he has an 11-19 record. This is brought down by his 2-10 record in year one at Virginia. He did well enough to make a bowl game last season and sits at 3-2 this season. The rest of this season will largely determine Mendenhall’s value to the program.
On this list, Mendenhall is also ahead of Leach and Orgeron. If he can make two straight bowl games he will be on the right track, but as it currently stands Mendenhall hasn’t lived up to the deal, albeit with a difficult turnaround he had to work through.
Chris Ash, Rutgers (overall rank 57)
This isn’t much of a newsflash, but Rutgers isn’t good this season. It is Chris Ash’s third season at the helm, after being brought in from Ohio State as an offensive coordinator. Ash has a salary of $2,200,000 and $960,000 in potential bonuses.
Over his time at Rutgers, Ash has posted a 7-23 record. Last year it looked like the Scarlet Knights were on the right trajectory as a program by getting to four wins. Unfortunately, this season hasn’t gone as well. Rutgers is 1-5 with a win over Texas State.
Ash is paid more than Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin, Arizona State’s Herm Edwards and many more that will be listed later in this article. His placement on this list should come as no surprise, as he is currently in danger of being fired.
David Beaty, Kansas (overall rank 68)
Coaching Kansas football isn’t easy. Beaty is in his fourth season as head coach and hasn’t been able to turn things around. He currently makes $1,701,109 as a salary and can make up to $2,000,000 in bonuses.
Up to October 12 of this year, Beaty has a winning percentage of 11.9%. This year though, he has shown signs of improvements as Kansas has forced a lot of turnovers and won two of six games. He is paid almost squarely in the middle of all FBS coaches, yet hasn’t been able to win more than two games in a season yet.
Beaty has the benefit of working for a power five program and gets paid better than some successful coaches who don’t have that luxury. He does make more than Boise State’s Bryan Harsin, UCF’s Josh Heupel and Cal’s Justin Wilcox. Kansas is a tough job but no one can get away with a winning percentage below 12%.
Willie Fritz, Tulane (overall rank 71)
Fritz is the only non-power five coach on the list. He is in his third season at Tulane after coaching Georgia Southern for two seasons. In those two seasons, he went 18-7, which helped him get a $1,629,000 salary at Tulane.
The Green Wave 11-19 under Fritz and have yet to go .500 in a single season. They are 2-4 this season and will have to battle in the AAC to get bowl-eligible. One of their wins was against FCS-level Nicholls, but they did also surprise Memphis, so there is potential.
Compared to coaches lower than him, Fritz is making too much for what he has done so far at Tulane. He is paid more than Wilcox, FAU’s Lane Kiffin, Toledo’s Jason Candle, Wyoming’s Craig Bohl, San Diego State’s Rocky Long and plenty others who consistently make bowl games.
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