Attention, highly-skilled football coaches. You can now either be the emperor of a small-to-mid-size town or you can work for a billionaire who may roll out of his oversized bed on any given morning and ask you a bunch of stupid questions about why you did what you did during Sunday’s game and/or issue some vague mandates about how you should do what you do. When choosing a career path, remember this: The pay is now roughly the same.
That’s the big takeaway from the news that Jimbo Fisher has swapped $5.7 million per year in Tallahassee for $7.5 million per year in College Station. Compensation for college football coaches is catching compensation for NFL coaches, and soon it may make a lot more financial sense for coaches to coach at the college level.
It’s hard to get the best possible numbers. USA Today has information about college coaching pay, and since most of the universities involved are public in nature, the numbers are required by law to be disclosed. For NFL coaches, efforts are made from time to time to cut through the fog, but there’s still no way of knowing with clarity the terms paid to the 32 men who coach professional teams.
Bill Belichick is believed in some league circles to be making $12.5 million per year, but no one knows for sure because the team keeps it quiet, Belichick keeps it quiet, and his agent is under orders (apparently) to keep it quiet. But even at $15 million per year, Belichick is a bargain.
While great players make it a lot easier for coaches to be great, a great coach has significant value to any football program. And it sure seems that NFL head-coaching pay has grown very, very slowly over the last 15 years, especially in comparison to the money that everyone else connected to the sport gets paid.
Player pay keeps going up and up and up. NFL profits keep going up and up and up. The Commissioner’s compensation keeps going up and up and up. Coaching pay seems to have flattened out.
When Bill Cowher quit coaching the Steelers nearly 11 years ago, there was a sense that he knew that: (1) he deserved market value; and (2) the Steelers would never give it to him. So the thinking was that he’d work in TV for a couple of years and then grab the brass ring at a time when the top of the market surpassed $10 million per year.
Cowher never came back, and while the top of the market has passed $10 million, the rising tide hasn’t lifted the other boats, with most coaches clustered around $5 million to $7.5 million per year.
Remember when coaching contracts were justified by the observation that there’s no salary cap for coaches? It’s been a long time since anyone has said that, and it’s entirely possible that there is a salary cap for coaches. Not an official one, but a wink-nod understanding that owners will refrain from costing each other a bunch of money by throwing cash at coaches. With only 32 of those jobs, the owners can easily restrict the market. Common sense suggests that they have.
We’re all worth what anyone will pay us. But if the universe of employers can find a way to keep the numbers from getting out of whack, the millions that otherwise would flow to the coaches remain with the employer.
What’s that, you say? This kind of approach would violate the antitrust laws? Good luck proving it. More importantly, good luck finding someone who’ll fight it.
Coaches want to coach. And any of them that would augment coaching with suing know that the opportunities for coaching (at least at the NFL level) will evaporate.
The good news is that the best NFL coaches have real options. With the various colleges still engaging in real financial competition for coaching talent, the financial reward is still there — if you’re willing to make a bunch of money coaching a bunch of kids who make none.