Rabalais: How the dollars stack up for Les Miles and Kirk Ferentz

TAMPA, Fla. — OK, let’s start with this premise:

Top echelon coaches are vastly overpaid, especially college coaches who make embarrassingly many times more than even the top tenured college professors or department heads on their campuses. It wouldn’t last a second in court, but there should be an NCAA rule that says coaches can’t be paid more than $1 million per year.

A million a year is still a lot, isn’t it? Well, according to USA Today’s comprehensive study, a $1 million salary wouldn’t land you in the top 70 of what college football coaches were paid this season.

Forget about being on Boardwalk when you’re talking about this kind of Monopoly money. A cool million would have you cooling your heels in Marvin Gardens, if that.

But given the hypersalaries coaches get these days, it does beg the question: Who is really worth the money they’re getting?

For years, I’ve had a running argument with a fellow sportswriter who covers LSU that Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is one of the most overpaid coaches in the college game.

Ferentz, who leads Iowa against LSU in Wednesday’s Outback Bowl, is the dean of Big Ten coaches with 15 years in Iowa City. He has a respectable 108-78 record with a share of two Big Ten championships.

But according to USA Today, Ferentz made $3.985 million this season, the ninth-highest paid coach in the nation (and third highest-paid in the Big Ten). With only five teams that finished in the final polls in that time and an average of 7.2 wins per season, based on this year’s salary, that’s a hefty $553,472 per win.

Now, there’s the cost of doing business and there’s the cost of doing business. Based strictly on dollars and cents, Nick Saban is the fourth-most expensive coach in the Southeastern Conference, with his average of 10.6 wins per season and his NCAA-leading $5.546 million salary (that’s sure to go up in the new year) costing Alabama $523,207 per win.

Of course, there are those three BCS championships on the trophy shelf in Tuscaloosa. What price those?

LSU’s Les Miles also carries a hefty price tag. The Hat made $4.459 million this season, an average of $427,107 per win when you consider his 94-24 record in nine seasons at Baton Rouge (10.4 wins per season). But there’s also a BCS championship (another title game berth), two SEC championships (played for a third) a bowl every year and a final ranking in every season except 2008. There’s value in all that success, to be sure.

And with Miles and Ferentz, there’s also the value of stability. Miles has stayed at LSU through two flirtations with Michigan and one with Arkansas. His name has been floated at Texas, but there doesn’t seem to be much concern on the LSU front. Ferentz’s name for years was one of the first mentioned every time a list of college coaches was compiled for an NFL vacancy.

The bargains some schools are currently enjoying are almost laughable considering what coaches make these days. Gus Malzahn’s salary is going way, way up from $2.44 million this season to $3.85 million per year based on a new six-year deal he’s reportedly agreed to with Auburn. But for this year, Auburn is getting a huge bargain with a trip to next week’s BCS National Championship Game, an SEC title and a 12-1 record — all for $203,333 per win.

Did Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs get a buy-one, get-one-free coupon after he fired Gene Chizik or what?

In the Big Ten, Ohio State is getting off pretty easy even though it’s paying Urban Meyer $4.608 million this season. But Meyer has clocked in with a 24-1 record so far, a sparkling record that means at 12 wins per year he’s getting paid $384,000 per “W.”

If any coach is underpaid, and we’re using the term loosely, it’s Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio. Dantonio just led the Spartans to their second Big Ten championship during his tenure and has Sparty in its first Rose Bowl since 1987. But Dantonio makes just $1.96 million this year.

With a seven-year record of 63-29 (nine wins per year), that an economical $217,777 per win. Of course at Michigan State, basketball — and basketball coach Tom Izzo — is king, and Izzo raked in $3.745 million last season. Dantonio may be in for a raise after he returns from the Rose Bowl, but he still probably won’t be joining Izzo’s high-rent district.

As someone once famously said, a stadium full of people isn’t going to show up to watch a history professor administer a final exam, so it must be said most coaches cover their salary by what they bring to the school. LSU covers the cost of what it pays Miles before two home games are completed, just based on what it brings in at the stadium.

But there’s value and there’s value, and some coaches bring more than others. Arguably, of the two coaches in the Outback Bowl, it’s Miles over Ferentz going into Wednesday’s game.

By the numbers

Breaking down the coaches from the SEC and Big Ten and how they’ve fared relative to their salary:

SEC

Gus Malzahn, Auburn, $2.44 million (12-1, 1 year), $203,333 per win

Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss, $2.006 million (14-11, 2 years), $286,571 per win

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M, $3.1 million (19-6, 2 years), $326,316 per win

Mark Richt, Georgia, $3.314 million (126-44, 13 years), $341,649 per win

Gary Pinkel, Missouri, $2.8 million (101-63, 13 years), $358,974 per win

Will Muschamp, Florida, $2.735 million (22-16, 3 years), $373,124 per win

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State, $2.7 million (35-28, 5 years), $385,714 per win

James Franklin, Vanderbilt, $3 million* (23-15, 3 years), $391,134 per win

Steve Spurrier, South Carolina, $3.322 million (76-39, 9 years), $393,602 per win

Les Miles, LSU, $4.459 million (94-24, 9 years), $427,107 per win

Nick Saban, Alabama, $5.546 million (74-14, 7 years), $523,207 per win

Butch Jones, Tennessee, $4.860 million (5-7, 1 yr), $972,000 per win

Mark Stoops, Kentucky, $2.001 million (2-10, 1 year), $1 million per win

Bret Bielema, Arkansas, $5.158 million (3-9, 1 yr), $1,719,333 per win

* — reported figure; as a private school, Vanderbilt does not have to release salaries

Big Ten

Jerry Kill, Minnesota, $1.2 million (17-21, 3 years), $211,640 per win

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State, $1.96 million (63-29, 7 years), $217,777 per win

Gary Andersen, Wisconsin, $2.121 million (9-3, 1 year), $235,667 per win

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern, $2.221 million (55-46, 7 years), $282,570 per win

Bo Pelini, Nebraska, $2.975 million (57-24, 6 years), $313,158 per win

Urban Meyer, Ohio State, $4.608 million (24-1, 2 years), $384,000 per win

Kevin Wilson, Indiana, $1.291 million (10-26, 3 years), $391,212 per win

Bill O’Brien, Penn State, $3.283 million (15-9, 2 years), $437,733 per win

Brady Hoke, Michigan, $4.154 million (26-12, 3 years), $479,123 per win

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa, $3.985 million (108-78, 15 years), $553,472 per win

Tim Beckman, Illinois, $1.7 million (6-18, 2 years), $566,667 per win

Darrell Hazell, Purdue, $2.161 million (1-11, 1 year), $2.161 million per win