After all the fun and games, it’s time to have an uncomfortable conversation: Who is the most overpaid coach in the sport?
Granted, “overpaid” can mean a lot of different things for different coaches. It could be long-time coaches who have taken a dip, or upstarts who haven’t started as hot as expected. It can also be fired coaches who are still collecting checks despite not leaving their couches. It’s actually hard to come up with this list because the nature of college football is to fire a coach as soon as he hits a rough patch.
Still, here is our best crack at the 15 most overpaid coaches in the sport.
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY SportsBrendan Maloney
Bret Bielema, Arkansas (salary: $4,145,000)
For the record, I believe Bielema is the right coach for this program, despite last Saturday’s embarrassing loss to Auburn. He has the Razorbacks on pace for a second straight eight-win season, with the foundation in place to build on that success for years to come.
However, $4.1 million is in the Top 20 salaries in America and is quite a bit for a perennial eight-win coach who very likely won’t have his team in the conference title chase for the foreseeable future. Especially when you consider that there are plenty of other big-name coaches (including Washington’s Chris Petersen and Louisville’s Bobby Petrino) who are making less.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY SportsMarvin Gentry
Sonny Dykes, Cal (salary: $2,908,000)
Dykes’ story is the same as Bielema’s. He’s not a bad coach, but what’s the program's ceiling with him? It feels like it might have been hit when the Golden Bears won eight games last year. Is that worth nearly $3 million a year when for example, Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre (who will likely finish ahead of him in the Pac-12 North) makes basically half of that?
It’s also worth wondering if Cal had "only" nine wins with the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft starting at quarterback for them, can it ever reach that mark again?
Kelley L Cox
Jim Mora, UCLA (salary: $3,450,000)
Mora took UCLA by storm, winning nine games and the Pac-12 South in his first year. And he followed it up with back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013 and 2014. But since then, well, yikes. The Bruins are just 11-10 since the start of last season, and that number is a bit deceptive because they started 7-2 a season ago. UCLA is just 4-8 in its past 12 games overall and 2-6 in the Pac-12.
This program is taking a step in the wrong direction. And how much did Mora benefit from the stacked recruiting classes he inherited from Rick Neuheisel --a group that included current NFL stars like Pro Bowler Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Brett Hundley and others?
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY SportsAndrew Weber
Will Muschamp, South Carolina (salary: $3,002,500)
Yes, Muschamp is only in his first year. And yes, he inherited a grease fire in Columbia.
Still, that doesn’t change the fact that he probably shouldn’t have been hired at all at South Carolina after a disastrous stint as Florida’s head coach and a forgetful year in charge of Auburn’s defense in 2015. Nor does it change the fact that South Carolina has shown no marked improvement since he took over; the Gamecocks are 3-4, and his three wins -- over Vandy, East Carolina and UMass -- have all come by a touchdown or less.
Point being, there were a lot of guys South Carolina could have gotten for half the price of Muschamp, many with higher upside. He has time to prove me wrong. I just have no reason to think he will.
Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech (salary: $2,884,361)
Ranking Johnson as overpaid, underpaid or properly paid is no easy task, mainly because Georgia Tech is no easy place to win games. It’s also what makes his 11-win campaign just two seasons ago that much more remarkable.
At the same time, that 11-win season was the exception with Johnson, not the rule. Johnson has gone just 46-38 in the last six years and has had at least six losses in four of those seasons. That’s not awful, per se. That’s also not “$3 million-a-year good,” either.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY SportsBrett Davis
Les Miles, LSU (fired) (salary: $4,385,567)
I love Les, but when you’re getting paid nearly $4.4 million to NOT coach a football team, you’re going to end up on a list like this.
But hey, at least he won a national championship at LSU, right?
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Ron Turner, Florida International (fired) (salary: $610,731)
You’re out of work too, Ron Turner, and you didn’t even bring your school a national title. What’s wrong with you?
What does it say about the current economics of college football that a guy who never won more than three games in a season at Purdue and was fired with a 9-33 record overall was getting paid $2.19 million this year?
Ben Queen-USA TODAY SportsBen Queen
Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State (fired) (salary: $1,548,480)
DeRuyter is easily the most overpaid of the currently unemployed. Can you believe that despite a 1-7 record he was actually the highest-paid coach in the Mountain West this season (including Boise’s Bryan Harsin) and made more than Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys (who just so happens to coach in the Big Freakin’ Ten!)?
Whoever DeRuyter’s agent is, I need him to give me a call. I want him negotiating my next contract.
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Kirby Smart, Georgia (salary: $3,753,600)
In Smart’s defense, nobody is turning down $3.7 million a year to become head coach at your alma mater. At the same time, that doesn’t change the fact that the contract should have never been offered in the first place, and Smart has essentially been stealing money since.
The proof is in the pudding with Smart; his team is just 4-3 so far this season (with a loss to Vandy) and could easily be 2-5 after beating Nichols – NICHOLS!!! – and Missouri by a combined three points. They still have Florida and Auburn left on the schedule (two nearly-guaranteed losses) and frankly I’m not ruling out an upset at 4-3 Kentucky in two weeks either. To make matters worse, this all happens while Mark Richt -- who was fired after averaging nine wins a year for 15 years -- is off to a solid start at Miami.
I’m not saying Smart can’t or won’t turn things around in Athens. But maybe going forward, ADs should be a little more cautious about hiring guys whose best resume attribute is “hung out with Nick Saban for the past several years.”
Steve Addazio, Boston College (salary: $2,333,628)
Admittedly, Boston College is a really tough place to win, and Addazio did well at the start, winning seven games the first two seasons in Chestnut Hill.
The problem is everything that’s happened since. The Eagles are a combined 6-13 since the start of last season and 0-13 in ACC play. If BC goes winless in conference play for a second straight year, it’s hard to imagine Addazio sticking around for another year, no matter how tough the gig is.
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (salary: $4,500,000)
Yes, Ferentz’s salary has been the butt of jokes for years, and no, it’s not totally justified, considering that he won 11 games just last season.
At the same time, Ferentz was the butt of fans' jokes for a reason, as last year’s 11-win season was the only time he’s topped eight victories in a season since 2009.
Put a different way, Ferentz has averaged 7.6 wins a season over the last six seasons. He hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 2004. Does that sound like the resume of a man who should be (and is) the 10th highest-paid coach in college football?
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsSteve Mitchell
Mark Helfrich, Oregon ($3,312,700)
In Helfrich’s defense, it was just two years ago that he had Oregon playing for a national championship. In defense of everyone else, Oregon football has been an absolute disaster since.
Right now the Ducks are just 2-5, and looking at their schedule it’s hard to imagine them finishing any better than 3-9 this season. Helfrich may or may not be fired at the end of the season (Phil Knight hanging on the 49ers’ sidelines with Chip Kelly the other day is not a good sign), but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s been grossly overpaid during it.
Charlie Strong, Texas ($5,200,130)
Like Helfrich, it seems like Strong is done at Texas. Everyone -- including me, who was his last defender -- has turned on him.
At this point, it’s hard to defend Strong. It’s also hard to defend paying someone with a 14-18 record in 2 1/2 years at the school over $5.2 million this season.
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Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech ($3,306,575)
In defense of Strong, at least he inherited a mess at Texas, but for Kingsbury it’s the exact opposite. He took over an 8-5 team and appeared to take them to the next level, winning his first seven games in Lubbock.
Just one problem: From there, it’s been a disaster. The Red Raiders lost five of their final six games in Kingsbury’s first season and are just 14-18 in the last three seasons, meaning that Kingsbury has gone just 15-23 overall since that 7-0 start.
That’s pretty awful, and things aren’t getting better. The Red Raiders gave up 66 points to Oklahoma last week and should finish with a bottom five defense (in points allowed) for the third straight year.
There’s no other way to put it: This program is going in the wrong direction, and Kingsbury just might be college football’s most overpaid coach.
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY SpoMichael C. Johnson