Gators give Meyer 6-year, $24M contract

Urban Meyer, who has taken the Florida Gators to rarefied heights with two national championships in four seasons, will see his salary climb to equally exclusive company.

The $4 million club.

A new six-year, $24 million contract for Meyer was finalized Monday, taking his total financial package to $4 million per year and making him the SEC's highest-paid coach in 2009.

It makes him one of the highest-paid coaches in the country. Pete Carroll of Southern California is believed to make $4.4 million per season, and Notre Dame's Charlie Weis is also believed to make more than $4 million annually, although the two schools are private institutions and do not release salary figures.

Meyer's new deal will run through the 2014 season, and there are also incentives involved that could raise his pay even higher.

Despite the increase in pay, Meyer's buyout penalty remains $500,000 if he were to leave for any school, including Notre Dame, ESPN's Joe Schad has reported. Florida has taken the stance that it wants coaches who want to be at the university.

"I continue to be very thankful and appreciative for everything the University of Florida and the athletic program has done for me and my family," Meyer said in a statement. "Dr. [Bernie] Machen, Jeremy Foley and the community make this a special place, and I'm honored to be a part of it."

Alabama's Nick Saban is set to earn $3.9 million this season, while LSU's Les Miles jumped to $3.75 million after winning the 2007 national championship.

Oklahoma's Bob Stoops is the highest-paid coach in the Big 12 and fifth in the country at $3.7 million.

Meyer's old deal paid him $3.25 million and was set to take him through the 2012 season. Last season, counting $375,000 in bonuses Meyer earned for winning the BCS national title, SEC title and finishing in the top 10, he pocketed $3.625 million.

The Florida athletic department has contributed $17.3 million to the university since Meyer's arrival on campus in 2005.

He's also made a $1 million commitment to UF's Florida Opportunity Scholars Program, which was created by school president Machen to provide financial assistance to first-generation, financially disadvantaged students working toward a bachelor's degree.

Meyer and Florida men's basketball coach Billy Donovan agreed to lead that charge last year. The goal is to raise $50 million.

"I believe that Urban Meyer is the best at what he does," Machen said. "He demands
excellence of his players on the field and in the classroom. Not only did the University of Florida win a national championship in January, but all 13 seniors earned degrees and the 2008 football team tied an SEC-league record with 37 players named to the SEC academic honor roll. We're proud he's a Gator."

The university recently
announced $42 million in budget cuts and layoffs of nine faculty
members and 49 staff employees.

But the state-funded school doesn't pay Meyer's salary. The
University Athletic Association, a separate entity that funds the
school's athletic department, does.

Florida had been sensitive to recent economic cuts at the university and hadn't rushed to beef up Meyer's deal, even after the Gators won their second BCS national title in three years this past January.

In fact, most of the chatter this offseason centered around rumors that the Gators may eventually lose Meyer to Notre Dame.

A couple of different times, Meyer attempted to quell that talk after saying on a radio talk show last year that Notre Dame was his dream job.

Then Machen said in May at the SEC spring meetings that Meyer deserved to be the highest-paid coach in the SEC, adding, "He's the best."

It's difficult to argue with his résumé.

The Gators are 44-9 during Meyer's first four seasons in Gainesville, tied for the third best nationally during that span.

In addition to bringing home championships, Meyer has also consistently beaten the teams that truly count.

Against the Gators' four biggest rivals -- Georgia, Florida State, Miami and Tennessee -- he's 12-1.

And in winning two national titles in his first eight years as a head coach, he's accomplished something many of college football's greats never did.

Such legendary names as Bear Bryant, Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, Lou Holtz, Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden and Tom Osborne failed to win any national titles during their first eight years as a head coach.

Chris Low covers SEC football for ESPN.com. Information from ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
and The Associated Press was used in this report.