University of Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, shown here celebrating Alabama's victory in the 2014 SEC Championship game, will be a first-time head coach in a high-profile job.
Photograph by Kevin C. Cox — Getty Images
By Erik Sherman
December 12, 2015

The most prestigious award in college football, the Heisman Trophy, will be presented Saturday night. Winning the annual Heisman Trophy is a big deal for a college player. The award is recognition of “performance [that] best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”

A Heisman win comes with no financial reward, but it can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the schools — in extra donations, ticket sales, licensing fees, sponsorship deals and more. As for the players? There is no such bonanza guaranteed, according to ESPN.

There’s increasing controversy over how unpaid athletes become a gold mine for the schools that give them their scholarships. Northwestern players unsuccessfully petitioned to create a union, claiming they were effectively university employees. One flash point are the millions in annual salary head coaches at the biggest public universities can command, often making them the highest paid public employee in their respective states.

College football has long been big business. The 65 schools that comprise the top five conferences pulled in $3.17 billion in revenue in 2014 alone, according to a Fortune analysis of Department of Education data. That’s an average of $48.8 million per institution.

To make those revenue numbers, these big schools pay their head coaches well, making them the biggest individual winners of all. Here are the salaries of the ten highest paid head football coaches, using data compiled by USA Today. They are all the top paid public employees in their states except for Kevin Sumlin, head coach at Texas A&M University, and that’s only because Charlie Strong at the University of Texas makes more. Also listed is the average pay for the nine full-time assistant coaches for each team.

1. Nick Saban

School: University of Alabama
Conference: SEC
Total pay: $7,087,481
Average assistant coach pay: $580,788
Highest paid state official: Yes

2. Jim Harbaugh

School: University of Michigan
Conference: Big Ten
Total pay: $7,004,000
Average assistant coach pay: $472,074
Highest paid state official: Yes

3. Urban Meyer

School: Ohio State
Conference: Big Ten
Total pay: $5,860,000
Average assistant coach pay: $446,883
Highest paid state official: Yes

4. Bob Stoops

School: University of Oklahoma
Conference: Big 12
Total pay: $5,400,000
Average assistant coach pay: $418,722
Highest paid state official: Yes

5. Jimbo Fisher

School: Florida State University
Conference: ACC
Total pay: $5,150,000
Average assistant coach pay: $476,089
Highest paid state official: Yes

6. Charlie Strong

School: University of Texas
Conference: Big 12
Total pay: $5,100,270
Average assistant coach pay: $434,011
Highest paid state official: Yes

7. Kevin Sumlin

School: Texas A&M University
Conference: SEC
Total pay: $5,000,000
Average assistant coach pay: $491,040
Highest paid state official: No

8. James Franklin

School: Penn State
Conference: Big Ten
Total pay: $4,400,000
Average assistant coach pay: N/A
Highest paid state official: Yes

9. Les Miles

School: Louisiana State University
Conference: SEC
Total pay: $4,388,721
Average assistant coach pay: $607,915
Highest paid state official: Yes

10. Hugh Freeze

School: University of Mississippi
Conference: SEC
Total pay: $4,310,000
Average assistant coach pay: $343,444
Highest paid state official: Yes

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