Think Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is living a good life? Swinney, shown here diving into a ball pit at the 2017 NFL draft, is one of a slew of coaches who have some significant incentives written into their contracts.
In December, Texas inked new coach Tom Herman to an eye-popping five-year deal: $28.75 million guaranteed with up to $725,000 in annual bonuses if he is able to resurrect the Longhorns. And if Herman doesn’t work out and Texas has to fire him? He’d still bank $5 million for every year remaining on the deal.
But scroll past the impressive basics of the deal, and you’ll find a head-scratching little sweetener that makes Dec. 25, 2019, a potentially very green Christmas at the Herman house: If he’s still the Texas coach that day, the school will cut him a one-time check for $1 million.
Herman isn’t alone in reaping the benefits of a college football coaching market that goes way beyond skyrocketing salaries. We surveyed the contract for every Power 5 coach at a public institution (private schools such as Vanderbilt and Northwestern are not subject to public records laws), and here are some of the creative incentives that schools used to lure big-time coaches.
Some Power 5 coaches receive allotments for private airplane use, ranging from 10 hours (Kansas State’s Bill Snyder) to 50 hours (Ohio State’s Urban Meyer) per year. The AP reported that last year Meyer took 11 personal trips, including stops in Cape Cod, Florida and South Carolina, with some family members. Total bill for Ohio State: $120,000. But even private-plane stipulations have their quirks. Florida’s Jim McElwain receives his allotment not in hours but in dollars: $40,000 annually. When Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz needs a private plane for business or personal use, the school must provide it within eight hours. Mike Leach doesn’t fly private, but his deal requires Washington State to provide first-class upgrades when he travels.
Standard contract language stipulates the use of two cars for nearly every Power 5 coach. Most schools don’t get specific about the type of car provided. Rest assured, though, your coach isn’t driving a pre-owned Pontiac. Gary Andersen at Oregon State receives an annual car allowance of $20,000 — a figure amended from his original contract, which called for the use of two courtesy vehicles. At Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury’s contract allows him only one vehicle … unless he gets married, in which case a second car will be provided. And if you ever spot Gus or Kristi Malzahn at a Shell Station, don’t be surprised to see them using an Auburn credit card: The school not only pays for both of their cars but also foots the bill for all of the Malzahns’ gas.
Ever notice how coaches always rock team gear? Many receive apparel allowances from their school’s official supplier for themselves and their staff members. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh gets a relatively “small” amount — $4,000 annually from Nike — compared to others (Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck gets $49,000 annually in gear funding). Then again, Harbaugh wears the same outfit practically year-round. Unless Nike gets into the dad-pants business, Harbaugh won’t need much.
Just win, baby (seriously, we’ll pay you more every time you win)
Every school awards bonuses for championships, but some lower the bar for gratuity. Kentucky’s Mark Stoops has a particularly striking deal. He banks $250,000 for every victory beginning with the seventh win of the season, and a seven-win season automatically triggers that one more year be added to the end of Stoops’ deal. If Stoops were somehow able to get to 10 wins, his contract would be extended by two years, and he would earn $1 million for wins seven, eight, nine and 10. Iowa State’s Matt Campbell gets $500,000 for winning six games, while in-state rival Ferentz pockets $500,000 for eight or more wins and $100,000 for any bowl appearance. Long-suffering Kansas, winners of nine total games over the past five seasons, has promised coach David Beaty $50,000 for any win against an FBS opponent ($100,000 for Power 5 wins). And don’t underestimate the value of a big win during rivalry week: Oregon State’s Gary Andersen earned $50,000 for beating Oregon last season.
Retention, retention, retention
Sticking around pays off for coaches through retention bonuses. Most bumps come after the season — Alabama’s Nick Saban gets $3.6 million after he completes the 2021 campaign, for instance — and Herman gets his 2019 stocking stuffer if he’s still in Austin. Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez is 25 percent vested in a booster-organized longevity fund and will receive additional allotments in March 2018 (25 percent) and March 2020 (50 percent). However, with another 3-9 season or two, Arizona’s accounting department might be able to scratch that direct deposit off its list.
Dear Patrick Mahomes, I miss you already. Signed, Coach Kingsbury
Many coaches have incentives related to winning conference or national coach of the year honors. But player awards reap benefits for coaches, too. Case in point: Patrick Mahomes was a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in 2016, until Texas Tech fell into a midseason tailspin impacted by the quarterback’s shoulder injury suffered in Week 5. Still, he threw for more than 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. If a successor to Mahomes wins the Red Raiders’ first Heisman, it will pay off with a $250,000 bonus for coach Kliff Kingsbury. That’s five times more than the amount he would receive for winning national coach of the year.
(Free) hot seats
Most coaches receive four to 25 seats at every home game in addition to a designated suite for friends and family members, with additional access granted for road games and bowl games. Washington State coach Mike Leach receives a whopping 60 tickets per home game. Dabo Swinney gets 40 tickets to every Clemson postseason game. Beaty receives “up to four season tickets on the lower level of Allen Fieldhouse between the free throw lines” for KU basketball games. Must be a hot ticket.
The College Football Playoff has been very good to a few coaches. Swinney earned an extra $900,000 for winning the national championship last season. But his is not the highest payout available when it comes to incentives structured around the playoff. Ferentz, Kirby Smart and Bronco Mendenhall would each make an extra $1 million for winning the national championship. Compare that to Saban, who gets a $400,000 bonus each time he adds a ring to his collection.
Jimbo’s good behavior clause
Item No. 13 under performance incentive compensation in Jimbo Fisher’s contract has a unique provision: a bonus of $250,000 provided he meets goals established in writing by the university president in conjunction with Fisher, the athletic director and faculty athletics rep. Those goals include academic standards, participation in community service, observance of university regulations, codes of conduct and policies, as well as football program and athletic department regulations, rules and policies. Acting in good faith, the university will decide at “its sole and reasonable discretion” whether Fisher earns this bonus.
Anybody who tuned in to the SEC Network last fall saw a number of SEC coaches in commercials for Belk, a department store headquartered in North Carolina. Who can forget Bret Bielema looking through his closet announcing, “I am a woo pig golfing machine”? Bielema should have instead announced, “Cha-ching!” For his effort in the 30-second spot, Bielema earned an extra $40,000.
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