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SEC football coaches continue to be the highest-paid in the sport

Brett Hudson
The Tuscaloosa News

When Nick Saban touched down in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 4, 2007, he did so with an eight-year, $32 million contract in hand, thus set to average earning $4 million a year for nearly a decade. In doing so, he was resetting the standard of coach compensation in college football.

In Saban’s 14th year at Alabama, 10 of the SEC’s 14 coaches are scheduled to make at least that much. Two of those 10 are making that on their first day on the job, but do so without the prior SEC head-coaching experience that Saban had.

The SEC maintains its position as the most lucrative conference for coaches, as revealed in USA TODAY’s database for coach compensation, updated with 2020 figures on Wednesday. The top two and five of the top seven head coaches in salary are all from the SEC.

Saban tops the list at $9.1 million, with LSU’s Ed Orgeron second at $8,687,500. Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher ($7.5 million), Auburn’s Gus Malzahn ($6.9 million) and Georgia’s Kirby Smart ($6,803,600) are fifth, sixth and seventh in the country, respectively, all of them behind Clemson’s Dabo Swinney in third and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh in fourth.

LSU coach Ed Orgeron, left, and Alabama coach Nick Saban shake hands prior to their teams' game in 2017.

Dan Mullen’s salary of $6.07 million at Florida makes him one of just 11 coaches to make at least $6 million this year; of those 11, six are SEC coaches.

Mike Leach and Eli Drinkwitz, the new coaches at Mississippi State and Missouri, respectively, are both scheduled to make more than $4 million this year in their first season as SEC head coaches. Leach is making $5 million and Drinkwitz is making $4,025,000 after a $100,000 pay cut due to COVID-19. Both are making more than they would have been paid by their previous employers, where Leach was making $3.75 million at Washington State and Drinkwitz was making $750,000 at Appalachian State.

Drinkwitz is also making more than Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt, who will make $3.846 million in his third season leading the Volunteers.

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin is just below Drinkwitz for third among new coaches in the league at $3.9 million, but would be above Drinkwitz if not for his $135,750 pay cut.

Eight SEC coaches will make more this year than the Pac 12’s highest-paid coach: Saban, Orgeron, Fisher, Smart, Malzahn, Mullen, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and Leach all will make more this year than Utah’s Kyle Whittingham at $5 million. Five coaches (Saban, Orgeron, Fisher, Smart and Malzahn) will make more than the Big 12 leader: Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley at $6,507,143, after taking over $300,417 in pay cuts.

Arkansas coach Sam Pittman’s opening salary of $3 million — cut from $3.1 million due to COVID-19 — is below coaches with shaky head-coaching records such as Karl Dorrell (Colorado) and Kevin Sumlin (Arizona), but ahead of more proven head coaches including Mario Cristobal (Oregon) and Chris Klieman (Kansas State).

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson