Nick Saban, head coach of the men’s football team at the University of Alabama, is paid more than $7 million annually. He is the highest paid employee of all U.S. workers employed by a local or state government.
In the vast majority of states, college football and basketball coaches are the highest paid public employees. When a millionaire coach is not the state’s top earner, high ranking medical officials or deans at state University-run hospitals and college presidents are usually next in line. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed public records and external sources to identify the highest paid public employee in each state.
College coaching salaries have been on the rise in recent years. According to USA TODAY Sports, which compiled coaches’ salaries used in this ranking, the average compensation package for coaches at major universities and colleges is $1.81 million. This is up by more than 90% since 2006, the first year USA TODAY Sports published its database.
Seven-figure salaries are relatively scarce in the public sector. To earn this level of income at public institutions, private sources are almost always involved. The revenue stream from highly lucrative TV and other media deals and the fact that college athletes are not paid largely explain the exorbitant salaries for coaches.
> Highest paid employee: Jim Harbaugh
> Position: College football coach
> Salary: $7.00 million
Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the Michigan Wolverines and former coach of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, is paid well even compared to other college football coaches. Harbaugh’s salary of $7 million makes him nearly the highest paid public employee in the nation, trailing only fellow coach Nick Saban.
Comparing salaries of the highest paid public employee in each state reveals that larger states tend to pay their best paid employees larger salaries. This is not directly related to the larger tax base but rather to the bigger universities these states have — and their massive sports programs.
If a state’s best paid public worker is not a head coach, he or she is often still employed by a large university. James H. Page is the chancellor of the University of Maine System; Clay Christian is commissioner of higher education in Montana; and Mark Huddleston is the president of the University of New Hampshire. Each are the highest paid public employees in their states.
To determine the highest-paid public employee in each state, 24/7 Wall St. considered reports of public salaries based on state government payrolls and public documents. All college football and basketball coach salaries are based on USA Today’s consolidated list of NCAA coach salaries, which includes pay for 2015 in the case of football and 2016 in the case of basketball. In the case where a coach received a raise or was recently hired, the more recent available information was used. All data are based on the most recent available information.