It's that time of year again, when an annual USA Today report allows us to parse exactly how much money college football coaches are making. Obviously, in most cases the answer is simply "a lot," and the numbers keep rising.
Nick Saban, not surprisingly, checks in at No. 1 on the list, and in 2014 he's followed by a name most people wouldn't guess: Michigan State's Mark Dantonio. Dantonio would normally make $3.6 million, placing him around 14th on the list, but a $2 million longevity bonus kicked in to allow him to spend the year as one of five coaches breaking the $5 million mark.
Eight of the top 10 come from the two wealthiest leagues, the SEC and the Big Ten, and it's easy to pinpoint some of the biggest bargains, as well as the most questionable deals. Before doing that, remember that many private schools do not report their data, and subsequently the reported number for a coach like Notre Dame's Brian Kelly ($1,457,284) is likely less than what his actual total compensation is, when possible unreported outside money is factored in.
1. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa ($4,075,000). Did you expect anyone else? Ferentz ranks ninth in compensation, making over $4 million this season. His contract was extended through 2020 back in 2010, after the Hawkeyes finished the 2009 season with an 11-2 record and an Orange Bowl win. That was a peak, because Iowa followed with records of 8-5, 7-6 and 4-8 the next three seasons before recovering to go 8-5 last year and currently hold a 7-3 record in 2014. With every bad loss, though, comes memories of just how committed Iowa is to Ferentz, who's been head coach since 1999: If fired, Ferentz's buyout grants him 75 percent of his salary through the remainder of it. There's still a long time until 2020, making every 20-17 loss to a bad Iowa State team and every 51-14 loss to Minnesota all the more painful.
Ferentz has done some good things at Iowa, with four seasons with double-digit wins and two BCS bowls, but the unimaginative type of football that Iowa plays, featuring lots of head-scratching losses, makes it feel ridiculous for Ferentz to be so high on the list -- above the likes of Gus Malzahn, Gary Patterson, Jimbo Fisher, Art Briles and others -- even if he's one of the most experienced coaches in the country.
2. Charlie Weis, Unemployed ($2,500,000). Weis was fired by Kansas on Sept. 28, after a 2-2 start. He is higher on the list than many notable names, including Wisconsin's Gary Andersen, Minnesota's Jerry Kill, Oregon's Mark Helfrich and Duke's David Cutcliffe, all of whom are successful people still coaching winning football teams. Weis mostly gets paid to not coach, and it gets better: Not only is Kansas on the hook after its baffling decision to hire him in the first place, but Notre Dame is still paying him too. That was three jobs ago, with a stop as Florida's offensive coordinator in between. Good work if you can get it. Weis finished 6-22 in two-plus seasons at Kansas, beating South Dakota State, South Dakota, Louisiana Tech, West Virginia, Southeast Missouri State and Central Michigan.
3. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech ($2,605,300). Kingsbury is a promising coach with a sharp offensive mind who played a significant role in the meteoric rise of Johnny Manziel as Texas A&M's offensive coordinator in 2012. He's also just 35 years old and was given a contract extension after only one season as Texas Tech head coach in which the Red Raiders lost their final five regular season games and finished 8-5. His compensation will be bumped up to $3.1 million next year, despite the fact that Texas Tech is currently 3-7, with its only Big 12 win this year coming over Kansas. In total, Texas Tech has lost 12 of its last 16 games. As the first breakout quarterback in Lubbock under Mike Leach, Kingsbury is a good fit for Texas Tech, and there's plenty of time to get things going in the right direction. But based on output so far, it's hard not to consider him overpaid in a season in which Texas Tech's wins have come over Central Arkansas, UTEP and Kansas and the defensive coordinator has been fired and subsequently been accused of giving out the team's signals to opponents. Things have been messy thus far.
4. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M ($5,000,000). Sumlin is fourth on the list, after he was given a new six-year, $30 million contract last December, following a disappointing season in which Texas A&M was ranked sixth in the preseason but finished 9-4. He's a great recruiter; he raised the profile of Texas A&M with Manziel in 2012; and he had instant success in a transition year to the SEC. Still, he's a decent 27-10 in three seasons with no conference titles and a midseason collapse this year (including a 59-0 loss to Alabama), and while Texas A&M appears to have a high ceiling under him, it seems a little soon for him to be making more money than several coaches who have won national championships (Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Jimbo Fisher). He may get there, and Texas A&M wanted to lock him up with interest coming from elsewhere, but that doesn't mean Texas A&M's output has reached that $5 million price tag yet.
5. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia ($3,080,000). Holgorsen is one of the sport's brightest offensive minds, and West Virginia began turning things around this season after plummeting to 4-8 last year. The Mountaineers are 6-4 and could end up 7-5 at the end of the regular season with a loss to Kansas State, but they did beat Baylor and lose to TCU by only a point. Still Holgorsen, comes in at 23rd on the list, ahead of guys like Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss, Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, Bill Snyder at Kansas State and even his coaching mentor, Mike Leach. He could prove worth it, and this year's turnaround is promising, but the Mountaineers are 17-18 over the last three seasons.
1. David Cutcliffe, Duke ($1,840,341). Always underappreciated, USA Today's report places Cutcliffe as eighth among 11 reported ACC salaries. Ten years ago, he was fired by Ole Miss for going 4-7 after going 10-3 and losing Eli Manning. Now, he's one of college football's biggest bargains, given that he led Duke to an ACC Coastal championship. This is no small feat. Duke is bowl-eligible for the third straight season after not appearing in a bowl since 1994, and it could win 10 games for the second year in a row. Steve Spurrier left Duke for Florida after an 8-4 season in 1989, which was one of Duke's best years in decades. In other words, what Cutcliffe is doing is unheard of and something very few coaches could do. Duke doesn't have elite talent, but it is always well-coached and well-prepared, and yet Cutcliffe is one spot below Tim Beckman on the list. Evaluating private-school salaries can be dicey (again, Brian Kelly likely earns much more than the reported number), but regardless it's easy to believe that Cutcliffe is underpaid.
2. Bill Snyder, Kansas State ($2,900,000). It is very, very difficult to win at Kansas State, located in relatively isolated Manhattan, Kan. Need evidence? Just look at the entire history of Kansas State football under any coach not named Bill Snyder. He is Kansas State football. The team went winless in back-to-back seasons before he took over and had been to one bowl game ever -- the 1982 Independence Bowl as a reward for going 6-4-1. After winning the program's first Big 12 title in 2003, Snyder had a couple sub-.500 seasons and subsequently retired. The program was handed to Ron Prince for three bad years, and Snyder returned to steer the ship back in the right direction, winning another Big 12 title in 2012 and keeping the team in contention this season. He's 29th on the list, behind plenty of names who have accomplished a whole lot less.
3. Doc Holliday, Marshall ($609,820). After a slow start to his tenure at Marshall with two losing seasons in his first three years, Holliday has put the Thundering Herd back on the map, going 10-4 last season and now sitting at a perfect 10-0 this season. The schedule might be laughably bad, continuing to leave Marshall out of the selection committee's top 25, but a major bowl bid is still possible for a team that struggled to stay relevant after the highs of the Bob Pruett/MAC era behind players like Randy Moss, Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich. Now, Marshall is wiping the floor with the competition as the dominant program in Conference USA, where the 57-year-old Holliday is the fifth-highest paid coach. He's in line for a raise, unless he gets called up to a big job like Florida.
4. Mark Helfrich, Oregon ($2,000,000). Maybe Helfrich is exactly where he should be, and maybe this is a win for being reasonable. He's been the head coach for one full season, when Oregon went 11-2 but ended up in the Alamo Bowl, and it's to be determined how sustainable the program will be after the departure of Chip Kelly, plus the departure of potential Heisman winner Marcus Mariota. Still, Oregon -- Team Nike, with Phil Knight's billions behind it -- is at least getting a bargain when it's paying its head coach $2 million, which ranks 51st on the list, including below Mike MacIntyre at Pac-12 foe Colorado. It also might be getting a bargain considering it is paying far less than any other playoff contender, who are all paying at least $3 million.
5. Nick Saban, Alabama ($7,160,187). Can one be the nation's most expensive coach while also being underpaid? Sure, if you're Nick Saban. College football coaches in general are probably overpaid, but based on the current market, Saban might also be a steal. He's won three national championships and coached Alabama's first Heisman Trophy winner. He signs No. 1 recruiting classes. He has resurrected Alabama back to its status as the premier program in college football and the flagship program of the SEC, the sport's best and most powerful conference. Saban is one of the greatest coaches in the history of college football, and he has undoubtedly been worth every penny to Alabama.