Wage Assessment football coaches in the Big Ten

Financial details of Jim Harbaugh’s restructured contract with Michigan were revealed Thursday. Averaging $7.3 million per year over the next 5 years, Harbaugh is now the 4th highest paid coach in the Big Ten.

It got us thinking, as these things always do – who among the Big Ten coaches is overpaid? Who is underpaid? And how many coaches earn the appropriate amount for their services?

To be clear, this ranking is done on a relative scale. One could make a convincing argument that all of these coaches are overpaid given that the players aren’t, but that’s a discussion for another time.

We work strictly within the market rate for other football coaches.

Bret Bielema, Ill.

Salary: $4.2 million

Record at Illinois: 5-7

Verdict: just right

Bielema earns a little more than its position warrants, but given his previous success B1G Wisconsin, it’s a fair price.

Tom Allen, Indiana

Salary: 4.7 million

Registration in Indiana: 26-32

Verdict: just right

Allen took $200,000 off his 2022 salary after Indiana’s terrible 2021 season. That 2-10 debacle took his career record to IU under .500, erasing his phenomenal feat of becoming the first Hoosiers football coach since Bo McMillan (1934-47) to have a winning record.

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Salary: $7 million

Registration in Iowa: 178-110

Verdict: just right

You could argue that Ferentz was underpaid in the grand scheme of things before this offseason, but that was fixed with a new deal from Iowa in January. He is now scheduled to coach there until the end of the decade, which would mark the 50th anniversary of Hayden Fry’s hiring by the Hawkeyes.

While his offensive conservatism can be frustrating — especially with his son as coordinator — most programs would gladly trade excitement for Iowa’s stability.

Mike Locksley, Maryland

Salary: $2.53 million

Record in Maryland: 13-23

Verdict: just right

Locksley is on the lowest salary in the Big Ten, and given his record, it’s easy to see why that’s the case. But if he can build on this year’s 7-6 record, a raise is definitely in order.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Salary: $7.3 million

Record in Michigan: 61-24

Verdict: Overpaid

I don’t foresee that staying the case much longer, but right now Harbaugh is making more money than Georgia’s Kirby Smart. If you don’t understand why that’s silly, feel free to rewatch the Orange Bowl.

On the other side of the coin, with Harbaugh being only the 4th highest paid coach in B1G, it looks a bit like a lowball. So if you look at it from that lens, it’s possible to argue that it’s underpaid.

Mel Tucker, State of Michigan

Salary: $9.5 million per year

Record in the State of Michigan: 13-7

Verdict: overpaid

Tucker earns as much as Brian Kelly (LSU) and less than Nick Saban (Alabama) and Lincoln Riley (USC). And that’s the list of people who make the same or more money in college football.

Which, given Tucker’s actual accomplishments, is absurd. He has 1 winning season as head coach.

Granted, Saban is the reason Tucker makes that money. As in, Michigan State didn’t want to see a repeat of Saban leave for the SEC and turn another program into a national powerhouse.

Given Michigan State’s trajectory from Year 1 to Year 2 of Tucker’s tenure, he could certainly prove the worth of the investment. I would even say it is more likely than not. But even seemingly safe bets don’t always pay off. And that is still considered a gamble by Michigan State.

PJ Fleck, Minnesota

Salary: $5 million

Record in Minnesota: 35-23

Verdict: Underpaid

Our first coach on the roster to grab the “underpaid” mantle.

The last Minnesota coach to go through at least 4 seasons with a winning percentage above .600? Bernie Bierman, who won 5 national championships and retired in 1950.

An appearance in a Big Ten championship game remains the ever-elusive goal for the Golden Gophers, although it seems likely they would have achieved it last season had it not been for a series of back injuries.

Scott Frost, Nebraska

Salary: $4 million

Record in Nebraska: 15-29

Verdict: just right

It was once unthinkable that Nebraska coach earns the same money as the coach at Iowa State, but that is where Frost is after suffering a pay cut for another chance to turn them into winners Huskers .

Frost has the worst winning percentage of any Cornhusker coach since Bill Jennings (1957-61), but his pay cut makes the cost of keeping him on for another season acceptable.

Pat Fitzgerald, North West

Salary: $5.7 million

Record at Northwestern: 109-90

Verdict: just right

It’s the toughest job in the Big Ten, and the fact that Fitzgerald has a winning record at Northwestern is proof that he does it well. Ara Parseghian was the last Northwestern coach to finish above .500 at Evanston, and he left for Notre Dame in 1963.

Ryan Day, Ohio State

Salary: $7.6 million

Ohio State record: 34-4

Verdict: just right

Day’s contract extension signed in 2020 included a nice $900,000 raise from what he did in 2021, and that brings him to a pretty fitting number for the Big Ten market in 2022.

As is always the case when a manager takes over from a legend, critics may say he won with his predecessor’s guys. But coming into Year 4, that’s pretty much all the Day guys at this point. If the Buckeyes win another Big Ten title, he will receive a raise.

James Franklin, State of Pennsylvania

Salary: $7.5 million

Record at Penn State: 67-34

Verdict: overpaid

Franklin’s former salary of $5.5 million was somewhere between underpaid and just right, but Penn State decided to give him a big raise and a 10-year contract extension despite seasons disappointing back-to-back.

It might be worth it if the Nittany Lions bounce back in 2022, but for now, this deal raises eyebrows.

Jeff Brohm, Purdue

Salary: $4.8 million

Registration at Purdue: 28-29

Verdict: just right

It’s been a wild ride for Brohm, who seemed to have built the Boilermakers ahead of schedule his first 2 seasons only to regress and lose records over the next 2 seasons. He finally reunited in 2021 with an 8-4 regular season and a dramatic win at the Music City Bowl.

If the Boilers win the West in 2022, he will receive a raise.

Greg Schiano, Rutgers

Salary: $4 million

Registration at Rutgers: 76-81

Verdict: just right

A slight overpayment on face value, but Schiano deserves extra compensation for the way he reinvented the Rutgers program of 2001-11.

The Scarlet Knights aren’t ready to compete in the Big Ten just yet, but with a great signing class coming up, Schiano could be planting the seeds for his next turnaround from Rutgers.

Paul Christ, Wis.

Salary: $5.25 million

Record in Wisconsin: 65-23

Verdict: Underpaid

Thanks to a raise of $900,000 starting in 2021, Chryst goes from very underpaid to slightly underpaid.

Chryst has accomplished far more than most guys who make more money than him, winning the West 3 times and twice being named Big Ten Coach of the Year. He certainly feels like he should be paid on par with Fitzgerald. But at least Wisconsin finally realized that Chryst shouldn’t win less than Allen or Brohm.

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