It’s a little hazy when doing the research, trying to pinpoint the first head coach in college football history to draw an annual salary of $1 million.
According to the Morris News Service, Florida State’s Bobby Bowden, Notre Dame’s Lou Holtz and Florida’s Steve Spurrier each earned base salaries of $975,000 in 1996 (how’s that for collusion?). There’s a presumption that Spurrier, factoring in the Gators’ 1996 national championship, became the first to join the Million-Dollar Club thanks to a bonus clause.
The World Wide Web, fancifully dubbed The Information Superhighway, was in its infant stages in the mid-90s, which might explain the salary-threshold murkiness of coaching icons at the time.
Fast forward 20 years: Today’s sports fans have lightning-fast Web access on their phones (thank you, technology gods), and college athletic programs have more revenue streams than ever.
And yet, things remain hazy when attempting to handicap who will be the college football’s first head coach to command a salary north of $10 million.
The easy first guess is Alabama’s Nick Saban, who has claimed five national titles since 2003 (one with LSU, four with the Crimson Tide). If memory serves, Saban has a clause in his ‘Bama contract (similar to the LSU days), mandating him to be the highest-paid coach by at least one dollar.
It’s actually surprising Saban (100-18 record at Alabama, four SEC titles) hasn’t already joined the Ten-Mil Club. Remember when some deep-pocketed boosters at Texas — just a few months into head coach Charlie Strong’s topsy-turvy tenure — made waves in college football circles, speculating they’d gladly double Saban’s salary (approximately $6 million at the time) to lure the results-oriented coach to Austin?
Yes, Saban (via superagent Jimmy Sexton) used that one-way dalliance with UT, along with national title in 2012, as a means of securing another pay raise from Alabama in 2013. However, if you read the Forbes piece from writer Monte Burke — who also penned a Saban unauthorized biography in 2015 — school officials willingly acknowledged how Saban, as college football’s highest-paid coach, was still earning below-market wages.
Around that time (2013/14), emeritus trustee Angus Cooper II told Burke, “I think Nick is actually way underpaid,” shortly after Saban’s base salary jumped to a reported $6.9 million. Throw in an approximate bonus of $155,000, and Saban’s total-pay output of $7.09 million for 2015 — as reported by USA TODAY — eventually topped Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s pay structure by $82,000 (and change).
But will Saban, 64, make it to $10 million per year? Of equal importance, does he even care?
Whatever the meticulously prepared, maniacally driven coach (in a good way) decides to do after Alabama — College Gameday set, lucrative speaking tours, late-night infomercials for Little Debbie snack cakes — he’ll be just fine on the earnings front.
Just don’t expect to see him as a contestant on CBS’s Survvior — a la Jimmy Johnson.
Alabama fans care about the above questions.
The Crimson Tide, with nine Associated Press national championships under Saban and Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, might have the greatest football tradition in college history (cue the hate mail from Notre Dame, Michigan, Texas, Ohio State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Harvard, Yale and even Division III powerhouse Mount Union — 12 national titles). But they also remember the state of Alabama’s program before Saban’s arrival.
Saban’s ballyhooed hiring in 2007, on a national front, was deemed an act of pseudo-desperation for the Crimson Tide (one SEC title from 1993-2006), whose run of head coaches after Gene Stallings (national championship in 1992) included Dennis Franchione and The Middling Mikes — Mike Dubose, Mike Shula and, for a few weeks in 2003, Mike Price.
(Rich Rodriguez also turned down Alabama’s head-coaching offer in December 2006 less than three weeks before Saban signed on the dotted line.)
Alabama students also care about the above questions.
Citing Saban’s decorated time in Tuscaloosa, the university has incurred sizable increases with out-of-state enrollment — particularly in the affluent suburbs of Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Nashville, as reported by Burke — general alumni/supporter donations and capital improvements to on-campus facilities.
And don’t forget about Saban’s commendable, far-reaching work with Habitat For Humanity, in response to the devastating tornado that hit Tuscaloosa in April 2011.
In essence, Saban (eight consecutive 10-win seasons) has uniquely developed into two mythical personas within the sporting realm:
**King Midas, as in everything he touches turns to gold. And rest assured, Saban’s presence had plenty to do with the SEC’s record-breaking fiscal 2015, reportedly raking in revenues of $527.4 million.
**The pied piper of intercollegiate athletics, whose household-name status resonates far beyond the playing field, the unprecedented success on the recruiting trail (Alabama has collected the nation’s No. 1 class for six straight seasons) or whatever press-conference sound bite goes viral, thus re-introducing a modern-day, mass-consumption audience to versatile Civil War-era terms.
Like … tin horn.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.