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A data-driven peek into the salaries of the head football coaches in 2018

A look at what we’ve already known—Cal coaches are underpaid relative to the industry.

Protesters Begin Demonstrating On Eve Of RNC Convention Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Though we’re on the precipice of the 2019 college football season, the never-ending need for content pushes us to look backwards at the 2018 season one last (?) time.

USA Today published the salaries of (almost) all of the coaches in NCAA Football; this list was published in the heart of the college-football season, so it was tough to find the time for a deep dive—let’s hope that “better late than never” is a thing. (I’ll try to be more timely with this for the 2019 data.) You can peruse the full list at their site, but we’re going to try to focus on some key data.

With so many programs and so many different aspects of a coach’s pay, there’s a lot of information packed in there. As a site for the California Golden Bears, let’s focus on the data that’s most relevant to our team and our coach, Justin Wilcox. While it’s somewhat relevant to compare the salary of a random coach—like Will Muschamp of the South Carolina Gamecocks, as selected by an RNG—there’s too much of that data to sift through when there are so many coaches.

Instead of presenting you with data for 130 coaches, we’re going to use two techniques to essentially summarize all that data. The first—and probably the more common—is the average a.k.a. the mean. This is one way to consider the “typical” or “central” value in the data set by adding up all the salaries and dividing that sum by the number of salaries in the data set. The other tool is the median—arrange all the salaries from highest to lowest and pick the value that’s right in the middle. What’s the difference between these techniques? The average can be skewed by outliers. So, consider an extreme case with the data set of ten values: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, and 100. The average is 10.9, but that’s not really representative of the data set as a whole because most of the data is 1s—the data is influenced heavily by one extreme data point. In this data set, the median is 1, which gives a different perspective on the data. None of these values is really wrong, but they’re just different ways to look at data.

Table 1 collects the averages and medians for the entire FBS, the Power Five (P5) schools, and the Pac-12 (P12) schools; note that for my breakdown, none of the independent schools were counted as Power Five or Group of Five. There’s also a row title Avg/Med, which takes the average and divides it by the median. Oh also, USA Today broke down the salaries into all different aspects, but I’m only looking at what they called Total Pay and Total Pay for Assistants; for the Pac-12, the Total Pay of most coaches was essentially all covered by School Pay, so I threw out that latter figure. Lastly, I’m taking what they called Total Pay and renaming it as “HC pay” to explicitly show we are talking about the head honcho’s compensation. To make matters most confusing, I’m adding one new field—total pay. This reflects how much a head coach and his pool of assistants earned in 2018.

Averages and medians for football coaches in 2018

. FBS HC pay P5 HC pay P12 HC pay FBS asst total P5 asst total P12 asst total FBS total pay P5 total pay P12 total pay
. FBS HC pay P5 HC pay P12 HC pay FBS asst total P5 asst total P12 asst total FBS total pay P5 total pay P12 total pay
Average $2,441,586 $3,875,912 $2,890,119 $2,783,217 $4,247,324 $3,888,785 $5,220,490 $8,293,518 $6,663,178
Median $2,000,000 $3,617,500 $2,752,233 $2,355,009 $3,945,000 $3,677,500 $4,564,204 $7,470,000 $6,479,625
Avg/Med 1.22 1.07 1.05 1.18 1.08 1.06 1.14 1.11 1.03
Table 1. Average and median pay for the head coach (HC pay), the pool for their assistants (asst total), or the total pay earned by the head coach and the assistants (total pay). FBS, Football Bowl Subdivision teams; P5, Power Five teams; P12, Pac-12 teams.

What can we take away from Table 1? For all metrics, the average is higher than the median; this means the data set is skewed towards the highest-paid entities being paid disproportionately higher than the entities that are lower on the list. The 1% strikes again!

As expected, the salaries for the Power Five are higher than those for the FBS since the Power Five is paying more than the Group of Five. The Pac-12 values are actually much lower than the Power Five values—only three of the conference’s coaches made equal to or more than the Power Five average. We—as a conference—need more money to play catch-up.

One interesting observation regarding Power Five vs. Group of Five that I didn’t expect can be seen in the Avg/Med values for either the head coach or the assistant pool. These figures are much higher for the FBS than the Power Five (e.g., Avg/Med for the FBS total pay is 1.22 vs. 1.07 for the P5 total pay). To me, this suggests that the Group of Five teams are skewing towards the top harder than the Power Five teams are. Perhaps the top Group of Five schools are trying harder to attract top talent away from the Power Five while the lower Group of Five schools are unable to employ that strategy?

From here, we can move on to take a closer look at the Pac-12 coaches—Justin Wilcox will arguably be compared to these coaches the most. Table 2 collects the total pay that the Pac-12 coaches earned in 2018 as well as each collective salary pool; note that the private schools (the Stanfurd Cardinal and the USC Trojans) do not report the latter data. I’m also normalizing each coach’s salary to the FBS, Power Five, and Pac-12 medians. I chose median over average because I wanted to de-emphasize the insane salaries of the top-earners, but I think either option would have been valid.

Salaries for 2018 Pac-12 coaches

HC rk School Coach HC pay Norm. to FBS Norm. to P5 Norm. to P12 Assistant total Norm. to FBS Norm. to P5 Norm. to P12
HC rk School Coach HC pay Norm. to FBS Norm. to P5 Norm. to P12 Assistant total Norm. to FBS Norm. to P5 Norm. to P12
19 Washington Chris Petersen $4,377,500 2.19 1.21 1.59 $5,465,040 2.32 1.39 1.49
20 Stanford David Shaw $4,311,543 2.16 1.19 1.57 Unknown N/A N/A N/A
28 Utah Kyle Whittingham $3,787,917 1.89 1.05 1.38 $3,625,000 1.54 0.92 0.99
35 WSU Mike Leach $3,500,000 1.75 0.97 1.27 $3,228,500 1.37 0.82 0.88
40 UCLA Chip Kelly $3,300,000 1.65 0.91 1.20 $4,170,000 1.77 1.06 1.13
45 Colorado Mike MacIntyre $2,878,500 1.44 0.80 1.05 $3,352,250 1.42 0.85 0.91
47 USC Clay Helton $2,625,965 1.31 0.73 0.95 Unknown N/A N/A N/A
54 Oregon Mario Cristobal $2,500,000 1.25 0.69 0.91 $5,345,000 2.27 1.35 1.45
60 Arizona Kevin Sumlin $2,000,000 1.00 0.55 0.73 $3,155,000 1.34 0.80 0.86
60 ASU Herm Edwards $2,000,000 1.00 0.55 0.73 $3,730,000 1.58 0.95 1.01
63 OSU Jonathan Smith $1,900,008 0.95 0.53 0.69 $3,075,060 1.31 0.78 0.84
74 California Justin Wilcox $1,500,000 0.75 0.41 0.55 $3,742,000 1.59 0.95 1.02
N/A FBS median N/A $2,000,000 1.00 0.55 0.73 $2,355,009 1.00 0.60 0.64
N/A P5 median N/A $3,617,500 1.81 1.00 1.31 $3,945,000 1.68 1.00 1.07
N/A P12 median N/A $2,752,233 1.38 0.76 1.00 $3,677,500 1.56 0.93 1.00
Table 2. The salaries for the 2018 Pac-12 head coaches (HC pay) as well as the total pool of pay for their assistants (assistant total). HC rk, national rank for the head coach’s salary; FBS, Football Bowl Subdivision teams; P5, Power Five teams; P12, Pac-12 teams.

Table 2 just verifies what has been discussed at length—Wilcox was severely underpaid. It’s already been discussed by other outlets that he was the lowest-paid head coach in the Power Five and significantly the lowest-paid coach in the conference—even lower than the less-experienced Jonathan Smith of the Oregon State Beavers. Wilcox is making roughly half the median salary for a Pac-12 coach and less than 40% that of the Power Five median—and let’s not overlook the fact that Wilcox has to cope with the cost of living in the Bay Area! In fact, there are ten Group of Five coaches who were paid more than Wilcox in 2018 (Mike Norvell of the Memphis Tigers, Ken Niumatalolo of the Navy Midshipmen, Luke Fickell of the Cincinnati Bearcats, Mike Bobo of the Colorado State Rams, Major Applewhite of the Houston Cougars, Josh Heupel of the UCF Knights, Bryan Harsin of the Boise State Broncos, Willie Fritz of the Tulane Green Wave, our beloved Jeff Tedford of the Fresno State Bulldogs, and Phillip Montgomery of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane).

The only saving grace is that the amount we’re paying our assistants is actually pretty fair. We’re right on-par with the median values in the conference and in the Power Five. This is possibly because we hired two experienced head coaches as our offensive and defensive coordinators.

On that note, let’s take a look at the total salary that was earned by the head coach and all of his assistants in 2018 (Table 2); this is included in a separate table for visibility.

Total pay for head coach and all assistant coaches

Rk School Total pay Norm. to FBS Norm. to P5 Norm. to P12
Rk School Total pay Norm. to FBS Norm. to P5 Norm. to P12
13 Washington $9,842,540 2.16 1.32 1.52
25 Oregon $7,845,000 1.72 1.05 1.21
27 UCLA $7,470,000 1.64 1.00 1.15
29 Utah $7,412,917 1.62 0.99 1.14
36 Washington State $6,728,500 1.47 0.90 1.04
40 Colorado $6,230,750 1.37 0.83 0.96
46 Arizona State $5,730,000 1.26 0.77 0.88
49 California $5,242,000 1.15 0.70 0.81
51 Arizona $5,155,000 1.13 0.69 0.80
52 Oregon State $4,975,068 1.09 0.67 0.77
N/A Stanford Unknown N/A N/A N/A
N/A USC Unknown N/A N/A N/A
N/A FBS median $4,564,204 1.00 0.61 0.70
N/A P5 median $7,470,000 1.64 1.00 1.15
N/A P12 median $6,479,625 1.42 0.87 1.00
Table 3. The total amount that was earned by the head coach AND every assistant. Rk, National rank of that program; FBS, Football Bowl Subdivision teams; P5, Power Five teams; P12, Pac-12 teams.

In terms of total pay to all coaches, things are back to looking bad for Cal. We had the fifth-lowest sum in the Power Five and are paying merely $7000 more than the highest Group of Five team (Memphis).

Of course, things should be getting better for the Bears as Wilcox signed a new, more lucrative contract in December 2018 prior to the Cheez-It Bowl. However, I’m still concerned that it’s just a matter of time until the other schools catch up and pay their coaches more than we can afford—an endless cycle of Cal struggling to financially keep pace with the rest of the nation.