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Forde-Yard Dash: How’s Your Coach’s Lucrative New Contract Going?

After an offseason of eye-popping salaries, which programs are getting an early return on investment?

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where Eastern Kentucky merits its own NBC contract after beating Bowling Green, which beat Marshall, which beat Notre Dame:

MORE DASH: Urban Spec? | Endgame Horrors



It was a record-smashing offseason for coaches’ contracts, resetting the market and making a mockery of the doomsaying from athletic directors about the financial ruin of the pandemic. What began with Mel Tucker’s massive raise at Michigan State carried on through three coaches with national championship rings breaking the $11-million-a-year barrier this summer.

With the flood of pay raises comes an inevitable raising of expectations. It’s early, but the ROI questions can start to be asked. The Dash checks in on the coaches who received the 10 biggest new or amended deals of 2022.

Jim Harbaugh (11), Michigan.

Reported salary: $7.05 million, or $583,333 per regular-season game.

Record: 3–0.

Good wins so far: None.

Bad losses: None.

Harbaugh took a pay cut after 2020 and kept his job, knocked ’21 out of the park, tried to jump back to the NFL and finally got a raise to remain in Ann Arbor for ’22. Has he earned it? Too soon to tell, since the Wolverines have played what might be the worst Power 5 schedule in the nation to date (average Sagarin Rating of Colorado State, Hawaii and Connecticut: 157th). Results will matter more in the next four weeks, with Maryland, Iowa, Indiana and Penn State a combined 11–1.

By the time Michigan hits its open date Oct. 22, we will have a seven-game body of work to appraise. For now, this looks like a very good team that still hasn’t proven anything, having not yet played a single stressful minute of football this season. Not only have the Wolverines never trailed this season, but the longest it has taken them to grab an irrevocable lead in a game is five minutes and 11 seconds.


Lane Kiffin (12), Mississippi.

Reported salary: $7.25 million, or $604,167 per regular-season game.

Record: 3–0.

Good wins so far: At Georgia Tech on Saturday, if that even counts. The Yellow Jackets are Power 5 in name only at this point, but winning 42–0 on the road has merit.

Bad losses: None.

Finishing second in the SEC West has its rewards, and Kiffin got a $2.75 million salary boost for being the best team not named Alabama in that division. Beating Arkansas, Texas A&M and winning the Egg Bowl helped land the Rebels in the Sugar Bowl, where they promptly laid an egg against Baylor. This may come as a shock to Alabama fans who once grumbled about Kiffin’s affinity for the passing game, but he has retooled this year’s Ole Miss as a run-heavy offensive team, rushing the ball 67% of the time, while his defense has allowed just 13 total points.

Kiffin can set about trying to prove he’s worth more money than Harbaugh and many others in October, when SEC play opens against Kentucky. Until then, he’s still a guy being paid more on potential than production.

ROI: Not sufficient yet.

Mario Cristobal (13), Miami.

Reported salary: $8 million, or $666,667 per regular-season game.

Record: 2–1.

Good wins so far: None.

Bad losses: at Texas A&M Saturday, 17–9. While that loomed as a likely loss since the schedule came out, the Aggies’ level of disarray made it a disappointing missed opportunity for Miami. Especially since the Hurricanes failed to score a touchdown on four trips into the Red Zone. The last time The U won a big nonconference game—bowl games included—was two coaches ago (Mark Richt over Notre Dame, 2017).

Miami’s attempts to regain football relevance have involved aggressive spending, from the hire of Cristobal and his staff to the recruiting market. That wasn’t done with beating Bethune-Cookman and Southern Mississippi in mind. The Hurricanes start ACC play Oct. 8, and there will be an expectation of competing for the Coastal Division title—something The U hasn’t won since 2017 and has only captured once. Cristobal has lived well off beating Ohio State in the Horseshoe 53 weeks ago; time to add some more heft to the résumé.

ROI: Mario owes Miami some more production.

Mel Tucker (14), Michigan State.

Reported salary: $9.5 million, or $791,667 per regular-season game.

Record: 2–1.

Good wins so far: None.

Bad losses: Blown out at Washington on Saturday. Don’t let the 39–28 final score lull you into thinking it was a competitive game; this was a beatdown. It was 22–0 in the second quarter and 39–14 in the fourth before the Spartans tacked on two gratuitous touchdowns. They were beaten in every phase, with last year’s pass defense concerns returning with a vengeance.

Everyone knows Tucker was overpaid last year as a hedge to keep him from leaving. His one good year was very good, going 11–2 and being in the College Football Playoff hunt into November. But the rest of the résumé reads 9–13. There needs to be more 11–2 in his future to justify the contract that most dramatically started the salary tide’s rise.

ROI: Looked like a bad investment in Seattle.

LSU coach Brian Kelly yells during a game

Kelly is off to a 2–1 start in Baton Rouge.

Brian Kelly (15), LSU.

Reported salary: $9.5 million, or $791,667 per regular-season game.

Record: 2–1.

Good wins so far: Beat Mississippi State 31–16 Saturday, in a game that turned crisply on a fumbled punt by the Bulldogs late in the third quarter.

Bad losses: to Florida State in New Orleans. The Tigers were largely dreadful in the season opener but still almost stole a victory before the Seminoles blocked an extra point to end the game.

Kelly’s blockbuster deal came on the heels of Tucker and Lincoln Riley being paid (see below), and in that context was commensurate for a guy with two CFP appearances and one BCS championship game on his résumé. He did not step into a vintage LSU situation, and his first game was a dysfunctional mess. But beating Mississippi State the way LSU did was good progress, with transfer quarterback Jayden Daniels flourishing in the fourth quarter. Six ranked opponents remain ahead on the schedule, so the degree of difficulty will increase appreciably.

ROI: Still in the red, but less so than on Labor Day.

Ryan Day (16), Ohio State.

Reported salary: $9.5 million, or $791,667 per regular-season game.

Record: 3–0.

Good wins so far: Beat Notre Dame in the opener, which means less today than it did then.

Bad losses: None.

With a 34–4 record heading into this season and a spot in the 2020 national championship game, Day was due for a compensation bump after Tucker got his deal and both Harbaugh and James Franklin became $7 million men. (Day’s record against those three: 6–1.) The current Buckeyes look loaded, although the remaining schedule is no cakewalk. Combined record of the next nine opponents is 22–5. Games at Penn State on Oct. 29 and home against Michigan on Nov. 26 loom largest.

ROI: He’s on schedule to deliver.

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Lincoln Riley (17), USC.

Reported salary: An estimated $10 million, or $833,333 per regular-season game.

Record: 3–0.

Good wins so far: Won easily at Stanford, though it remains to be seen how much weight that will carry long-term.

Bad losses: None.

USC moved heaven and earth to accommodate Riley in terms of compensation and program structure, and he has quickly begun doing what he was hired to do. The remodeled Trojans are vastly improved over last year’s 4–8 mess—explosive offensively and opportunistic defensively. USC hasn’t committed a turnover yet while clicking off 196 offensive snaps, and has produced 10 takeaways and 14 sacks defensively. It’s providing an entertaining product and winning games, the perfect L.A. combination. The challenge should increase over the next four games (at Oregon State, Arizona State, Washington State, at Utah).

ROI: Worth it.

Kirby Smart (18), Georgia.

Reported salary: $11.25 million, or $937,500 per regular-season game.

Record: 3–0.

Good wins so far: Annihilations of Oregon in Atlanta and South Carolina on the road.

Bad losses: None.

He’s earned every penny so far. Smart’s program is following last year’s national-championship season with an overpowering start to 2022, stomping the competition in a different manner. The offensively explosive Bulldogs are way ahead of pace to break the school’s 28-year-old record for passing yards per game, currently checking in at 376.7 (the record is 338.3). Meanwhile, the defense is nearly as nasty as the historically great unit of ’21. Smart has empowered offensive coordinator Todd Monken to get more creative on that side of the ball, and quarterback Stetson Bennett is a looming Heisman Trophy candidate. Georgia is the best team in the nation to date, with daylight between it and the pack.

ROI: Georgia is getting a good deal to date.

Dabo Swinney (19), Clemson.

Reported salary: $11.5 million, or $958,333 per regular-season game.

Record: 3–0.

Good wins so far: Over Georgia Tech—if, as noted above with Mississippi, that indeed counts as a quality win.

Bad losses: None.

The soft launch of Restructured Clemson has been a solid, unspectacular success so far. Swinney had to replace both coordinators and did so from within, which is his preferred mode of operation. The competition hasn’t been stout enough to offer a full referendum on how those changes are going. An offense that was a huge disappointment last year has improved, but is still not operating at a Trevor Lawrence/Deshaun Watson–level of proficiency. The defense is statistically on par with the excellent units that have preceded it. The next two weeks (at Wake Forest, home against North Carolina State) will say a lot about Clemson’s ability to return to Atlantic Division hegemony.

ROI: Over the long haul, very good. In the short term, wait and see.

Nick Saban (20), Alabama.

Reported salary: $11.7 million, or $975,000 per regular-season game.

Record: 3–0.

Good wins so far: at Texas, shaky as it was.

Bad losses: None.

In an era of staggering wealth that can potentially tempt a coach to slack off and count his money, Saban is the eternal grinder. Money is no object when there are games to be won, and he continues to win them at a ridiculous rate. That said, the nation’s landslide preseason No. 1 team doesn’t look like that anymore, having barely survived a sloppy slog in Austin. The Alabama defense finally produced its first takeaway against Louisiana-Monroe, but the Crimson Tide are a minus-two in that department on the season—an extreme rarity for a Saban team. Penalties also were reduced, but that was a glorified scrimmage. The smart money says Alabama will continue to improve and be a bear as usual, but it hasn’t happened yet.

ROI: The best bargain in coaching over the course of his tenure. This year? He’s got work to do.

MORE DASH: Urban Spec? | Endgame Horrors