Your state’s highest-paid public employee likely is a coach


What does THIS say about our priorities?

You may have heard that the highest-paid employee in each state is usually the football coach at the largest state school. This is actually a gross mischaracterization: Sometimes it is the basketball coach.

Based on data drawn from media reports and state salary databases, the ranks of the highest-paid active public employees include 27 football coaches, 13 basketball coaches, one hockey coach, and 10 dorks who aren’t even in charge of a team.

So are my hard-earned tax dollars paying these coaches?

Probably not. The bulk of this coaching money—especially at the big football schools—is paid out of the revenue that the teams generate.


Most of these databases include only the coaches’ base salaries, which are drawn directly from the state fund…

Far exceeding these base salaries is the “additional compensation” that almost all of these coaches receive, which is tied to media appearances, apparel contracts, and fundraising. While this compensation does not come directly from the state fund it is guaranteed in the coaches’ contracts; if revenue falls short, the school—and thus the state—is on the hook to cover the difference. Plus, even it doesn’t come directly from taxpayers, this compensation is still problematic…



  1. Craig Knauss

    This comes as no surprise at all. Our major colleges and universities have put way too much emphasis on sports. And they do this with the willing support and collaboration of our “news” media. Several years ago I pointed out to a colleague, a former teacher who became an engineer, that we gave way too much attention to sports and not nearly enough to academics. She was somewhat skeptical until I pointed something out. I told her to pick up our local newspaper and look at it. I had her look at the “Sports” section. Then I told her to check out the “Academics” section. There wasn’t one. She said something like “OMG, you’re correct! I never really noticed that before.”

    I could never figure out why a coach would be paid several times more than the president of the university. And I’ve heard people say things like “Who’d pay to sit in a chemistry lecture?” And I would answer “Every college student in the U.S.”

  2. OldNassau

    We are dealing with educational employees only, correct? Not with governors, chiefs of police, state pension fund directors, heads of public transportation systems, etc…

  3. expdoc

    At many of the institutions in question the coach fills the stadium or arena with more bodies than are enrolled on the campus at any given time.

    High profile coaches generate tens of millions of dollars of cash and advertising for their institution as well as the general good will of the alumni base.

    The answer to me isn’t to be the coaches less, it is to pay the superstar professors more.

  4. Craig Knauss

    OldNassau, No this is not about educational employees only. Governors do not make as much as college coaches. (Neither does the POTUS.) The same applies to other governmental employees. Major college coaches rake in more than $1 million per year. The POTUS gets $250,000. The Illinois governor probably gets about $200,000.

    Yes, doc, major colleges will have double or more people in the stadium than the school’s enrollment. And that’s 6 or 7 times a year. So how much does a season ticket cost? $1000 perhaps? Compare that to U of Wis or U of ILL tuition for a year ($12,000+). And how much of that TV revenue actually makes it to the school’s general fund?

    I wonder how much influence a winning sports team actually has in attracting the best students. U of Ill has 11 Nobel Prize winners and has never had a national champion in football or basketball. And U of Chicago has even more Nobel prize winners and no national championships. How many national championship schools have that many Nobel winners? Or any at all?

    Pay the superstar professors more? ABSOLUTELY!

  5. expdoc

    I can’t speak for other athletic departments, but at the University of Wisconsin the athletic department earns more money than it spends and the plethora of events contribute significantly to the local economy in Madison.


    They have two MAJOR capital projects on the books as I type this, for a total of roughly $100 million. There are, I believe 10 FBS programs in the country that operate in the black. UW is one. They could have put out a budget with a better bottom line. Of course you wouldn’t have La Bahn or the Student-Athlete Performance Center.

  6. Craig Knauss


    First of all, most, if not all, academic institutions contribute to the local economy. Even little Augustana College in Rock Island contributes to the local economy. Northern Illinois, Illinois State, and even U of Illinois are major contributors to their local economies with or without sports. U of Wisconsin, with about 40,000 students contributes a lot. So does U of Washington, in Seattle, where my other daughter went to school, because of their 40,000+ students.

    Second, 10 FBS programs that operate in the black? Only 10? That’s pretty pathetic when you realize that every one of the top 25 (in pay) college football coaches makes a MINIMUM of $2.5 million per year. There are six of them tied at $2.5 M. All the rest make more, with Nick Sabin (Alabama) topping the list at a cool $5.5 M. No regular public officials, including governors, make anything close to that.

  7. expdoc

    Yet those top paid guys put butts in the seats, generate alumni contributions and generate unbelievable good will for the university. Apparently most of those states are willing to put up the extra cash it takes to operate the athletic departments that are in the red.

    And, of course the universities around the country contribute to their local economies, but 85,000 people at a Badger football game 7 Saturdays each fall contributes extra money that would have never been added.

    You can certainly make an argument that a governor contributes to the economy of a state as well, but it is not so easy to measure the pluses and minuses of any policy or lack thereof.

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