Hiring, Retaining College Coaches is Becoming Much More Difficult


Hiring and retaining coaches at the Football Championship Subdivision level for Division 1 is becoming increasingly difficult and challenging.

Just last week, former Big Sky Conference member (and soon-to-be new affiliate for all sports except football starting with the 2014-15 season) Idaho announced it would pay new head football coach Paul Petrino an annual base salary of $175,000 per year.  However, with radio and television rights independent of the state appropriation and other funding sources, the total rises to $390,000 per year for the three-year contract.  Should he reach all incentives in the pact, it would be valued at $546,000.

That’s a far cry from the $157,000 base pay for Montana head football coach Mick Delaney, who combined with additional private funding from radio and television pay, hovers around $195,000 per year. Incentives are also available in his contract that would make it more, but not in the range of Petrino, who had been making $475,000 per year as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas.

The questions remain: How long can we continue to retain talented coaches at our level, and where will it all end for the major Division I programs in the country?

The answers to both are not known, thus the reason for concern. Right now, the FBS schools are able to pull it off with a bevy of large revenue streams available to them, some of which are not at the FCS level such as major television contracts, significant dollars from bowl games, multiple conference successes in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and large fan bases.

Head Football Coach Mick Delaney currently earns around $195,000 a year; a far cry from many others in the FCS Division 1 ranks. Photo courtesy of KPAX.com

It seems we hear daily reports of coaches moving from one school to the next, with money and prestige being the main reasons for accepting new opportunities. For example, Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes took the California job for a nice $2.8 million paycheck per year, plus an opportunity to coach in a BCS (Bowl Championship Series) conference.

Dave Doeren, the former University of Montana assistant (2000-2001) left a job paying $450,000 annually at Northern Illinois for $1.8 million at North Carolina State.  Bret Bielema accepted a six-year offer at Arkansas for $3.2 million annually, leaving a $2.7 million paying job at Big 10 school Wisconsin.

Currently, the highest paid college football coach in the country is Nick Saban at Alabama, where he is earns $5.5 million per year.  Next is Mack Brown at Texas ($5.4 million annually). Before new salary negotiations, more than 75 Division I college football coaches alone are topping the $1 million per year salary.

Another 32 are making $1 million or more as head coaches in men’s basketball, topped by Rick Pitino at Louisville ($7.5 million annually), John Calipari at Kentucky ($4.5 million) and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke ($4.1 million). Last year, two women’s coaches – Pat Summitt of Tennessee (since retired) and Geno Auriemma of Connecticut topped the $2 million per year salaries.

We are seeing much of the same at our level – only on a smaller scale.

Liberty, which the Griz defeated handily earlier this year, is reportedly paying its first-year head football coach Turner Gill in the neighborhood of $500,000 per year. Appalachian State is looking to increase the salary it had been paying its departing football coach Jerry Moore, who was making $230,000 per year.

K.C. Keeler at Delaware makes in excess of $300,000 per year, while Mickey Matthews at James Madison tops $250,000 annually. All told, the medium annual salary for coaches at the FCS level is nearing $200,000 annually.

Rich Ellerson, who coached for many years at Southern Utah and Cal Poly, now has an annual salary of $600,000 at Army. Meanwhile, Bobby Hauck, who coached Montana from 2003 through the 2009 season, recently finished his third year of a contract paying him an estimated $525,000 per year.

Boise State’s Chris Peterson is making $1.7 million annually, good for 17th of the top money makers in college football. Mike Leach at Washington State is in the first year of a five-year contract calling for an annual base salary of $2.25 million per year.

It is unlikely anytime soon coaches in the Montana University System will be compensated in the range of Petrino, or even Randy Rahe, the head men’s basketball coach at Weber State (reportedly around $300,000 per year).

When Robin Pflugrad signed his three-year contract in 2010 for $155,000 per year, it made him the 10th highest paid coach at the FCS level, with the other nine at schools east of the Mississippi River.  That has since changed, and the increases are headed our way.  North Dakota State head football coach Craig Bohl had a base salary of almost $200,000 last year, and with incentives, reached more than $260,000. Others are following and feeling the need and pressure to make somewhat competitive offers to the coaches they currently employee.

We are not in an enviable spot.  With the average medium income for a Montana family being about $45,000 per year, don’t look for things to change much in the near future.


Do you have questions for Jim?  Use this Contact Us form and we’ll forward your questions to him for possible inclusion in future blogs.  Like this blog?  Chances are you’ll like these other Jim O’Day blogs:  Former UM Coaches/Missoula Stars Making it Big in College FootballMy First Griz-Cat Game in Five Years, Why I chose to Make It Missoula, The Ups & Downs of Being a Griz Fan, Once a Griz, Always a Griz.

Jim O’Day was Director of Athletics at the University of Montana from 2005-2012. Prior to that, he served as the Assistant Director of the Grizzly Athletic Association and later as the Director of Development  for Intercollegiate Athletics at UM.

Prior to returning to his alma mater in 1998, O’Day was the owner and publisher of the family-owned Western Breeze newspaper in Cut Bank, Montana.

Jim currently works for The Farran Group, a real estate development/ investment firm based in Missoula, MT.  In addition, Jim serves as a consultant for Epio Solutions out of Seattle, a sports based agency primarily focused on monitoring social media platforms for various colleges and universities.

Jim and his wife Kathy have three sons: Chris, Kevin and Brian.  Chris and Kevin are graduates of The University of Montana, while Brian is currently a senior at UM.