College football reached a new milestone in 2018. The sport became the first US professional or collegiate sport to generate $14 billion, surpassing Major League Baseball and basketball. For 2019, there’s more than ever on the horizon for college football as well as questions about how it will fare against other entertainment industries that have grown exponentially over the last decade like film and esports…
The “college football coaching carousel predictions” is a new way to predict which college football head coach will be hired next. The website tracks the number of days that each team has been without a head coach, and uses this data to make predictions on what teams are most likely to hire a new head coach in the near future.
One of the most important NFL stories in recent months had nothing to do with the league.
The latest escalation in the never-ending cycle of college football coaching changes has accomplished more than just removing a potential pro coach off the NFL’s radar for the foreseeable future. The lucrative contracts being offered to college football’s most sought-after coaches will almost certainly compel the NFL to react or risk being left behind.
The notion that an NFL head coaching position is the apex of the coaching profession may no longer be true, and what happens next may have a significant impact on how clubs create their organizations and plan their futures.
Let’s get the facts out of the way first. First, Lincoln Riley agreed to depart Oklahoma for USC on an undisclosed deal. Brian Kelly then departed Notre Dame for LSU, where he signed a 10-year, $95 million contract with extra incentives that may push the total value of the agreement well into the nine figures. Mario Cristobal eventually opted to leave Oregon and go to Miami, where he would earn at least $8 million per year.
Add in former Jaguars assistant Mel Tucker’s 10-year, $95 million deal with Michigan State and James Franklin’s 10-year, $85 million agreement with Penn State in November, and you have a changed picture at the top of the college football market. Sure, it would be one thing if Nick Saban or Dabo Swinney had contracts in that area, but in the last few months, we’ve seen five enormous contracts given out to coaches who haven’t won a national championship. Deals in this range are increasingly the standard for high-profile college hires.
Oklahoma has pursued Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury as a potential successor shortly after Riley departed for USC, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Brent Venables, the defensive coordinator from Clemson, was hired by the Sooners, but consider what that means. Oklahoma believed it had a good chance of getting the coach of the NFL team with the best record (9-2 at the time) and a realistic possibility of reaching the Super Bowl. When was the last time this happened to you?
There would have been no conceivable likelihood of a great team’s coach going for a collegiate position twenty years ago. Now, with these new contracts in place, a strong college opening may be enough to keep an NFL owner up at night.
Let’s see how a top-tier college opportunity compares to the variety of NFL coaching positions in a few important criteria, as well as how the current college contract boom may affect the pro ranks:
Will huge deals level the playing field?
While we know how much public university coaches are paid, and compensation data for private university coaches are sometimes leaked, NFL coaching wages aren’t made public. Individual stories abound, and polling enough individuals around the league indicates a general agreement on what various levels of coaches earn, but just about every pro coaching pay should be viewed with caution.
The bottom end of such pay seems to be in the $4 million to $5 million per season bracket. Coaches with a limited track record of success or leverage will undoubtedly face this. The average yearly wage for new agreements being given out to Cristobal and Kelly is roughly in line with the middle rung of NFL coaches, with salaries ranging from $8 million to $10 million each season.
One thing that everyone can agree on is that Bill Belichick is the highest-paid coach in sports, which is unsurprising. While a third-tier coach’s salary is expected to be in the $10 million to $15 million range, the Patriots’ longstanding coach is expected to earn more than $15 million each year, maybe as much as $25 million. Deals might potentially involve incentives and compensation for other responsibilities inside the company, but we can get a basic notion of what’s going on. The most sought-after college coaches are catching up to the finest NFL coaches. College positions are ready to pay as much as or even more than an NFL job for the rest of the league’s coaches.
As a consequence, it seems that NFL pay will climb in the next years, maybe considerably. I wrote in 2012 that the trade value of coaches like Bill Belichick and Jon Gruden suggested that they were valued about the same as franchise quarterbacks. At the time, I estimated Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers to be worth $15 million per year in an NFL with a $9.5 billion annual revenue. If the NFL earns $15 billion per year once its new TV agreements go into effect and the league becomes more comfortable with gambling businesses, a competent coach’s salary would be closer to $24 million per season.
However, I believe that figure is low for the league’s finest coaches. Given that coach remuneration is not subject to the salary limit and that coaches do not get hurt or age at the same rate as players, you might argue that Belichick is worth more like $40 million every season. Sean McVay of the Rams wouldn’t be far behind. For decades, good coaches have been underpaid; organizations may be obliged to pay more in order to retain their coaches from departing for significant salaries at the collegiate level.
Other universities may not be able to spend as much as USC or LSU did for Riley or Kelly, but these actions are likely to boost the cost of coaching in general. Those college schools will have a stronger case when it comes to pursuing NFL coordinators and even positions coaches. Teams will have to start compensating their head coaches’ staffs appropriately.
Take, for example, a well-known scenario in Dallas. According to reports from last year, Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore earns slightly under $2 million per year.
Moore was connected to the head-coaching position at Boise State at the time, where Andy Avalos ended up signing a five-year contract for $7.75 million, or $1.6 million per season. Moore may have wanted to remain with the Cowboys, but would he have made a different choice if Boise State had offered him $4 million per year? While club owner Jerry Jones may be prepared to pay that much to maintain his offensive coordinator, other owners may be hesitant to pay a wage that would have previously been associated with head coaches.
Length: Why are assurances so important?
NFL contracts, on the other hand, aren’t comparable in terms of duration. The great majority of NFL head-coaching contracts are four to six years long, with Belichick being an anomaly once again. Coaches sign extensions on their contracts to prevent lame-duck seasons, but they usually only restore or maintain the duration of the previous contracts. NFL clubs seldom sign their coach to a deal that extends beyond ten years. The only known exception is Gruden’s 10-year contract with the Raiders, which was terminated when he quit in October.
Coaches, on the other hand, have no such reservations about making such pledges to colleges. You may recall that in 2004, Notre Dame gave then-Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis a six-year contract before extending it to ten years halfway through his first season. Weis’ contract was an aberration at the time, but other coaches at the collegiate level have signed contracts in the eight- to ten-year range in recent months. That’s something we don’t see in the NFL.
These contracts aren’t the same, to be sure. As we’ve seen with this last round of movements, college agreements aren’t as solid as pro ones. When Kelly departed for LSU, he was under contract through 2024. In December 2020, Cristobal agreed to a six-year, $27.3 million agreement with Oregon, which would keep him on the team until 2025. Coaches went for new employment when new colleges were ready to offer a buyout.
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If NFL coaches start obtaining those kinds of guarantees up front, it will transform how clubs approach team-building and rebuilding. Organizations would undoubtedly be willing to give their coaches more time to rebuild their squad in their image with an eight-year window than they would with four-to-six-year contracts. We’d probably see less parity, with more clubs reaching the apex of their contention window or crashing to the ground to rebuild. Tanking would become a more realistic option. Coaches may still be fired, but it’s a lot simpler to remove a coach with two years and $14 million left on his contract than one with five years and $50 million.
Control: Isn’t it true that every coach wishes for greater power?
If the pay and duration of the contract are comparable, the other variables influencing whether a coach chooses a college or NFL position are likely to be determined by the person and the opportunity provided. Professionals are preferred by certain instructors. Others may like working with a bigger roster and being able to shape amateur players. A coach could be more interested in one location or one roster than another. Some coaches may like the process of recruiting. Others may despise the concept. All of these considerations play a role in a coach’s choice to work.
The issue of electricity, though, will be a big distinction. Again, a college job can be more thrilling than a chance to play in the NFL. Long-term college coaches should have enough time to develop a program in their image. Coaches utilize the recruiting process to concentrate on the specific individuals (or types of players) they want to add to their team, acting as de facto personnel people. Lower-level coaches may be kept away from top-tier talent in a manner that NFL clubs are not, but the finest coaches in the industry are very confident in their ability.
On the other hand, although it used to be usual for coaches to have personnel control in the NFL, most now delegate the task of “grocery shopping” to a general manager. Only a few NFL coaches have some kind of personnel control, notably Belichick, Pete Carroll of Seattle, Kyle Shanahan of San Francisco, Matt Rhule of Carolina, and Urban Meyer of Jacksonville. If you adore your general manager and personnel department, it’s not an issue — and it’s far simpler to delegate than it is to go on the recruiting trail yourself — but how many coaches would rather have their success or failure hinge on their own personnel decisions?
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Two coaches who have been connected to NFL vacancies have recently expressed a preference for collegiate options. Kelly was mentioned as a prospective Eagles candidate in 2013, only to subsequently reveal that he was only interested in an NFL position if it came with complete control of the company. Riley was on the shortlist for almost every position that has been available in recent years, and he would have been able to walk into any of the positions that will become available this offseason. Both coaches elected to remain at the collegiate level, although at separate colleges.
It will be intriguing to see what occurs next. Kingsbury isn’t heading to Oklahoma, but with a year remaining on his contract, might he return to coaching in college? After two difficult seasons as a pro, would Rhule be inclined to go down the same road? Would a coach like Iowa State’s Matt Campbell or Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell remain if NFL opportunities arose this winter, knowing that they can earn as much (if not more) as a college coach as they could in the NFL? And how will the NFL respond if it is unable to recruit some of the top college football coaches to make the transition to the professional game?
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The “highest paid nfl coach” is a person who manages the coaching staff of a college football team. The highest paid coach in the NFL is Bill Belichick with a salary of $6 million per season.
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