Mere rumors that Nick Saban might leave Alabama for Texas were sufficient fuel to send the college football world into hysterics in recent weeks. That shouldn't be much of a surprise. Saban was already the sport's highest-paid coach, raking in $5.4 million this season before performance bonuses. Last year we named Saban the most powerful coach in college football, and it's a title he retains this year - and that's before he signed an extension with Alabama that will reportedly pay him over $7 million per season.
The list of power coaches includes some other obvious names, like Oklahoma's Bob Stoops (No. 2), LSU's Les Miles (No. 6) and Ohio State's Urban Meyer (No. 7). Others, like TCU's Gary Patterson (No. 5) and Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson (No. 9) may be less expected.
Our list of the most powerful college football coaches relies heavily on financial details. We consider each coach's football budget, his salary and how much that salary costs relative to his school's coaching budget and total athletic expenses. Also examined is how much each coach would be paid if his contract were terminated without cause. We feel that these criteria define each coach's level power both within his athletic department and across the sport's coaching ranks.
We only considered head coaches that make at least $2 million per season in base pay, and we eliminated any coaches who lost, left or, in the case of Mack Brown, plan to leave their coaching jobs this season. In addition to Brown, that excludes possible contenders in Chris Petersen, who left Boise State for Washington, and Lane Kiffin, who was fired at USC in September.
This year we also omitted first-year coaches like Arkansas' Bret Bielema, Cincinnati's Tommy Tuberville and Tennessee's Butch Jones. New coaches often require increased pay in their first season because of things like signing bonuses and buyouts from their previous jobs. Jones, for instance, received a $500,000 signing bonus this year, while Cincinnati had to pay nearly $1 million just to release Tuberville from his contract with Texas Tech. All three of those first-year coaches would have cracked the top ten had we included them; Bielema and Jones are likely to remain near the top in the future thanks to ranking among the sport's highest-paid coaches.
Making a lot of money is one of the easiest ways onto our list, with all but two coaches, Todd Graham and Paul Johnson, making more than $3 million this year. But that's not to say that a top salary is necessary. More than a dozen coaches earned more than Garry Patterson this season, but he sits at No. 5 on our list because TCU spends more on football than any other Big 12 team - even Texas. In fact, only four teams - Notre Dame, Alabama, Auburn and Wisconsin - reported higher spending last year.
And while salary is important, simply ranking among college football's top-paid coaches isn't enough to guarantee a seat among college football's most powerful coaches. Michigan's Brady Hoke, for instance, was paid $4.2 million this year, or more than only seven other coaches in the country. But he doesn't make an appearance on our list, largely because his football budget is only 17% of Michigan's athletic expenses, and Michigan can terminate his contract for just $4 million, or less than one year's pay.
The three coaches that fell off the list this year are Brown, who will step down in Texas at season's end, Chip Kelly, who left Oregon for the NFL, and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks head coach's salary is down a bit from last year, and he also controls a smaller portion of South Carolina's coaching expenses (though, at 39%, he still paces the top-paid coaches).
The three new names take up the final three spots on our list: Todd Graham, Paul Johnson and Bill O'Brien. While O'Brien is reportedly considering a return to the NFL, Graham and Johnson appear to be secure where they are, at least for the immediate future. Just missing the list this year are Missouri's Gary Pinkel and Kansas State's Bill Snyder.