WRAL Investigates

Fan base, boosters, TV contracts all play into coaches' compensation

Posted September 3, 2009
Updated April 27, 2011

— The fans, boosters and television coverage of college football all play into the pay for coaches.

Because football brings in a lot of revenue for colleges, the coach of a major-college football program can be the highest-paid employee at the school. On average, football coaches make more than their counterparts in other college sports.

Under the law, coaches’ contracts are public records, available upon request under the North Carolina Public Records Act. Although the coaches are employees of the state, their salaries are funded through student athletic fees, ticket revenues and booster money, not tax dollars from the General Fund.

Search contracts for all coaches in the UNC System

A look at the contracts of the football coaches in the University of North Carolina system shows serious financial incentives tied to winning, fundraising and motivating players to perform in the classroom.

When Tom O’Brien leads the Wolfpack onto the field Thursday night, he knows the team’s performance in its season opener sets the tone for the team and the financial standard for him.

Should North Carolina State University string together enough wins to get invited to a bowl game, O’Brien earns an extra $50,000. A spot in one of the top games in the Bowl Championship Series earns him $200,000 more.

O'Brien's base salary is $240,000. State pays him another $360,000 in “supplemental compensation.” According to his contract, that amount is “in order ... to provide coach with a compensation package competitive with that provided by university peer institutions.”

“Tom O'Brien and N.C. State have a partnership,” said David Glenn, publisher of the ACC Sports Journal. “That's the nature of this big money.”

Glenn said O'Brien agreed to less money compared to many other ACC coaches. His rival at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Butch Davis, for instance, is guaranteed more than twice what O'Brien gets.

If O’Brien wins, he can pull closer. Five victories against ACC opponents are worth an extra $50,000 for the coach. For each additional ACC win over five, he earns another $50,000.

Students at State said the coach is worth the money if he brings success.

“If that's what works for him and helps him, then I guess we should go for it. Try it out and see what happens,” student Chris Carr said.

“If that means that State's going to win – yes,” student Rita Beard said.

William Friday, former president of the UNC System, had a different view. “Money has completely distorted sports in recent years,” he said. Friday is a long-time critic of big coaching salaries whether the money is guaranteed or incentive-based.

“You don't give incentive bonuses to anybody else in the system,’ he said. “Why there?”

Coaches counter that they don't get tenure like professors, so higher pay can offset job risk.

Skip Holtz, head football coach at East Carolina University, said he feels fortunate to command a high salary.

“I feel blessed to make the money that I do,” he said. “But, what drives me is coming here and building this program.”

To keep Holtz, ECU Athletic Director Terry Holland gives the coach a direct stake in the success of the program. Holtz gets $25 for every season ticket sold, plus 5 percent of membership fees to the Pirate Club.

“ECU athletics is getting a multi-million dollar blast out of the energy that is inspired by Skip Holtz,” Glenn said.

“When he helps us generate that revenue, he'll get to share it,” Holland said.

Holtz earns another big boost, to the tune of $125,000, if Holland determines the Pirates are making positive academic progress.

Similar incentives for academic success or graduation rate are common in most big UNC system coaching contracts. O'Brien gets $50,000 if the Wolfpack's six-year graduation rate is 55 percent or higher.

Some students complain rewarding coaches for something that should already be expected doesn't add up.

“If you're here for college and you're getting paid for it with a scholarship, I feel like you should have a drive to perform well in academics,” Beard said.


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  • 5-113 FA Retired Sep 4, 2009

    An even better contract would have a clause such as: for every game you lose, you have to give the school $50,000.00

  • foetine Sep 4, 2009

    I'm guessing all those butter finger wide receivers at NC State were recruited to boost the team GPA since it's obvious they weren't recruited for their on the field talent

  • SME2 Sep 4, 2009

    Why not pay the (so called) student-athlete a monthly stipend-SaveEnergyMan

    They do essentially get a stipend...they get to eat for free, get clothes/shoes and a free education. Go ahead and break it down on a monthly, weekly..whatever basis. It's still getting paid.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Sep 4, 2009

    SaveEnergyMan: "Why not pay the (so called) student-athlete a monthly stipend,..."

    First and foremost, a college is a educational institution. Its there to help you make good money when you graduate for your entire life. They already pay these athletes VERY well. Its called a fully paid scholarship to the best Universities in America. That education is a $50,000 to $100,000 investment per student. Take that away from most of them, and then see how many of them attend these great institutions. So they are most definitely being paid a LOT of money.

  • Objective Scientist Sep 4, 2009

    Law of supply & demand, & he who "brings a lot of money to the institution, community and state" should be compensated accordingly, etc. All well understood & legitimately used to make a case supporting the high salaries & "performance incentives" of athletic team coaches. If that is all that can be considered, argument over - the only conclusion: Coaches such as Roy and K deserve every penny & maybe more. When we put their salaries, performance bonuses & incentives into a discussion that includes factors and perspectives other than pure economic ones, a broader discussion, controversy begins. Some rabid Tar Heels think that Roy is worth 10-even 100 times his current compensation, as long as he keeps giving them what they value most, a winning Carolina team. Others look at it from a broader perspective, what is Roy's value as a BB coach relative to some other things in our world? Where does that leave us? "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet."(Kipling 18)

  • Leeca Sep 4, 2009

    I wish we could use this salary based stategy to pay our public school teachers.

  • rayk Sep 4, 2009

    Winning programs produce increased revenue through additional ticket and merchandise sales, bigger bowl games (higher payouts) and ultimately larger television contracts. The salaries paid to the coaches are based to the revenue he/she can produce. Showing the dollars paid to the coaches without showing the revenue produced makes for a misleading and inflamatory "news" article.

  • SaveEnergyMan Sep 4, 2009

    Why don't we call big time college athletics what they really are - minor league/farm teams for pro football and basketball? The big business of pro sports is getting developed athletes for free. Why not pay the (so called) student-athlete a monthly stipend, negotiate outrageous contracts for the coaches, and have the pro sports that benefit pay for it? Here I'm talking basketball and football mostly, not the non-revenue generating sports where coaches and athletes are far more likely to get paid modestly and be actual degree seeking students.

  • we3pirates Sep 4, 2009

    WRAL, why use Skip's picture? Butch and Tom get paid more than Skip.

  • SME2 Sep 4, 2009

    LOL, WRAL calls these stories just informing the public. I did not realize the informing the public and stirring the pot are one and the same these days.