Before the Head Ball Coach moniker had taken hold and before his Hall of Fame coaching career had taken flight, Steve Spurrier once left a $30,000 raise sitting on the table.
That was more than 25 years ago when he was at Duke, where Spurrier was making around $75,000 in base salary when he was hired as head coach in 1987.
At the time, Spurrier's head-coaching counterpart at North Carolina was Mack Brown, who was making substantially more money than Spurrier was. So after the Blue Devils won seven games in 1988, and Spurrier won the first of two straight ACC Coach of the Year awards, he asked then-Duke athletic director Tom Butters if a bump might be in order. Butters knew what a commodity he had in Spurrier and offered to give him another $30,000, but only if Spurrier would agree to stay at Duke for an extended period of time.
"I never signed it and ended up going to Florida the next year," recalled Spurrier, whose 1989 Duke team won the ACC championship. "That was a lot of money in those days, too."
Fast-forward to the present, and Spurrier could pocket an extra $100,000 as South Carolina's coach for simply making the Capital One Bowl or even the Outback Bowl. A 10-win season would mean $100,000, and that total goes up to $200,000 for an 11-win season and $300,000 for a 12-win season.
The worst-kept secret out there is that college football coaches make a ton of money.
All seven of the head coaches in the SEC's West Division will make at least $4 million next season. And that's just guaranteed salary. The perks, incentives, bonuses and fringe benefits that are written into head coaches' contracts can mean millions more.
"We just don't take care of our coaches the way we should," Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne joked.
Take new Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, for instance. In addition to his $5 million salary, he received a $2 million signing bonus that was payable no later than 14 days after his agreement with Michigan was executed. And if the Wolverines were to have a dream season in 2015, winning Big Ten and national championships along with Harbaugh winning Big Ten and national coach of the year honors, he would stand to make another $1,175,000 in performance bonuses. That would include $250,000 for winning the Big Ten title, $300,000 for making the College Football Playoff, $500,000 for winning the national championship, $75,000 for winning national coach of the year honors and $50,000 for winning Big Ten coach of the year honors.
"When you have somebody special in your program, you do your best to ensure stability," said Byrne, whose coach at Arizona, Rich Rodriguez, has a creative longevity bonus in his most recent contract tied to the stock market.
An Arizona donor gifted 500,000 units of Master Limited Partnership (MLP) stock to the university that Rodriguez, Byrne and basketball coach Sean Miller would be able to recover money from if they're still employed in their current roles at Arizona eight years from when the deal was struck last May. As of last May, the total donation value of the MLP stock was approximately $17.7 million. If Rodriguez is still Arizona's coach at the end of the eight-year term, he would receive a total distribution of 175,000 units of the MLP stock or could opt out and have the units sold and receive the cash. As of last year, 175,000 units would have been worth approximately $6.3 million.
Michigan State's Mark Dantonio saw his salary soar last year thanks to a longevity bonus that was put into place in 2011. He received a one-time $2 million bonus, which was payable before March 9, 2014 because he had served "continuously" as Michigan State's head coach through Jan. 15, 2014. In addition, Dantonio receives an annual contingent bonus of $200,000 provided he has served continuously as head coach for 12 consecutive months preceding July 1 of the year in which the bonus will be paid.
One of the sweetest deals going for any coach is the one afforded to Alabama's Nick Saban by the Crimson Tide Foundation, which paid off Saban's $3.1 million home two weeks after Alabama beat Notre Dame in the 2013 BCS championship game. Think the folks in Alabama are serious about keeping Saban at the Capstone? It's not the first time something like that has happened. The university also owned both of the homes Bear Bryant lived in while he was coaching at Alabama, and the Auburn Alumni Association bought Pat Dye's home when he was coaching at Auburn.
Something else unique about Saban's contract is that he doesn't have a buyout. He makes $7.2 million annually, but could leave without penalty any time he wants to for another job. He also didn't have a buyout when he was at LSU. Saban has the leverage to demand that he not have a buyout in his contract while most coaches don't.
Every deal is different when it comes to buyout language and what a coach can and can't do if another school comes calling. For example, Arkansas' Bret Bielema, per his contract, must obtain written approval 24 hours in advance from athletic director Jeff Long before Bielema or anybody acting on Bielema's behalf seeks, solicits or discusses the possibility of another head-coaching job. Bielema also is prohibited from leaving Arkansas for another SEC job.
In just about all coaches' contracts nowadays, it's standard for them to receive use of dealer automobiles, country club memberships and tickets (usually including a suite) to all home football games. Some even get the use of a private plane for so many hours per year for personal use, although according to several agents, there's been some blowback to that particular perk in recent years. Ohio State's Urban Meyer gets 35 hours of personal use on a private jet per year. Texas' Charlie Strong gets 20 hours per year of flight time that can be used at his discretion. Kansas State's Bill Snyder gets 10 hours. Those three are just a sampling. Obviously, this doesn't include any flights made for recruiting purposes or anything else that would fall under the duties of being the head football coach. Harbaugh's contract specifies that he's welcome to fly first class.
Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury, whose Red Raiders have been known to put up a few points, receives a $50,000 bonus if they finish first in the FBS in either total offense or total defense. He pockets $25,000 if they finish second. For the record, Texas Tech finished 10th nationally in total offense last season and 122nd nationally in total defense. Kingsbury's yearly cap in supplemental income is $1.5 million, but included in his package is a $250,000 bonus if one of his players wins the Heisman Trophy. According to Kingsbury's contract, he also has creative license in the design of Texas Tech's team equipment and uniforms.
Another neat perk can be found in Snyder's contract. The 75-year-old Snyder, already a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, is reimbursed for an executive physical examination each year at the Mayo Clinic, which includes travel expenses for him and his wife.
Increasingly, more coaches are making sure their assistants also are taken care of financially and make sure those raises are written into the contracts. Jimbo Fisher's new deal at Florida State last year called for his assistant coaches' salary pool to be increased by $750,000. Fisher also has some incentive to stay around Tallahassee for a while. He gets a $1.2 million completion bonus if he's still FSU's coach following all games in 2022. It would be split into two payments. He receives $600,000 if he's still the coach after all games in 2018 and another $600,000 if he's still coach after all games in 2022.
It's not all about getting it done on the field, either, for a coach to cash in. Nearly all have academic incentives written into their contract. Strong, for instance, could earn up to $150,000 if academic goals set by the chairman of the athletics council and athletic director, and approved by the school president, are met. The academic bonuses for Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Harbaugh also would top out at $150,000 if their players meet certain Academic Progress Rate standards.
And while there's certainly an increased awareness on academic clauses being a part of coaches' contracts, there's still a wide discrepancy across the board on what a coach can earn for performance on the field versus performance in the classroom. A glistening 960 APR might mean an extra $150,000 for a coach. But a national championship could mean $500,000 or more.