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How Much Do AAC Teams Pay Their Coaches

Looking into how much different AAC teams are actually willing to pay their coaching staffs and what that might mean for each team.

NCAA Football: Samford at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

With UCF bringing in Gus Malzahn as head coach, that makes three coaches in the American Athletic Conference who have taken the step down from the ranks of the Power 5 to the AAC. Sonny Dykes of SMU, like Malzahn, was fired down. Houston, meanwhile, was actually able to steal Dana Holgorsen from West Virginia, in a move that was seen as a coup at the time by the Cougars.

The Houston boosters made Dana Holgorsen a rich man, or at least richer than he was before. They set him up with a five year deal, worth $20 million total, up from the $3.7 million annually at West Virginia. It also had the potential to reset coaching contracts in the AAC, as it was $1.1 million more than the next highest contract in the Group of 5, which was Mike Norvell at Memphis then. Maybe it’s his $21.5 million buyout from Auburn, but Malzahn didn’t command a bigger contract than Holgorsen, despite the stronger resume. So, perhaps Holgorsen’s struggles through two seasons are making teams back off paying their coaches huge amounts. Or, maybe Malzahn already has more than enough money to pay for his theme park passes and UCF was able to get a deal on a coach who just wanted another opportunity.

Of course there isn’t as much money in the AAC as the SEC or Big 12, so they need to be smarter with how they use their money, especially during a pandemic that has affected revenue. This means that most of their coaches tend to be up and comers, who haven’t earned massive contracts yet, and coaches on the backswing, This extends into their staffs, who are built from a smaller salary pool.

Doing more with less is nothing new for the AAC, but what exactly are AAC teams working with? Let’s take a look at how much each team spends on their coaches, and don’t worry, UConn and their mad contract with Randy Edsall is out of the conference.

Cincinnati

Luke Fickell-$3.4 million

Salary Pool-$3.85 million

Before the 2020 season started, Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell received a well deserved raise, up from $2.3 million annually. His contract also contain several bonuses, some of which he’s already cashed in on, like $250,000 for reaching a New Year’s Six game and $50,000 for a top-25 finish. The salary pool is also coming close to the $4 million mark, which is very good for the AAC, but still wasn’t enough to keep Marcus Freeman from leaving for Notre Dame.

ECU

Mike Houston-$1.468 million

Salary Pool-Unknown

NCAA Football: Tulane at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Coming from James Madison, Houston initially received $1.3 million in 2019, but that number will grow to $1.671 in 2023, the last year of his initial contract with ECU. He’s yet to make any money from his win total and P5 win bonuses, which offers him $20,000 for beating a P5 team and bonuses starting at $30,000 for seasons of eight wins or more. In 2017, the ECU salary pool was around $1.7 million, but numbers for the Mike Houston era are not readily available.

Houston

Dana Holgorsen-$4 million

Salary Pool-$4.5 million

Suffice it to say, Houston wanted to get back to the success they found under Tom Herman, rather than the middling success of Major Applewhite. It wasn’t that Applewhite was outright bad, but he wasn’t good enough. Now, they’re paying $1,142,857.14 per win, over two seasons. Preferably, Holgorsen starts to earn his contract that makes him among the richest coaches in not just the G5, but all of college football.

Memphis

Ryan Silverfield-$1.8 million

Salary Pool-$3 million

Memphis didn’t have to go out and find Ryan Silverfield after Mike Norvell left for Florida State, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t being paid well. Silverfield’s deal paid him $1.75 million, with a $50,000 bonus for each subsequent season. As for his assistants, $3 million might not be the most that anyone in the AAC is giving out, but it’s nothing to sneeze at either.

Navy

Ken Niumatalolo-$2.3 million

Salary Pool-Unknown

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Navy Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Finding numbers on the military academies can be difficult, but it has been reported that their head coach, Ken Niumatalolo, makes in the range of $2.3 million. He deserves it, too. After all, he’s had the Midshipmen more respectable over a longer period of time than anyone in over half a century. As for the assistant salary pool, well, that’s a lot murkier to find details on.

SMU

Sonny Dykes-$1.34 million

Salary Pool-Unknown

At the end of 2019, it was announced that Sonny Dykes has signed an extension, which included more money for him and his assistant coaches. However, the exact figures were not announced. However, it has been reported that the number is about $1.34 million. As for his assistant coaches, there’s not much information on the size of the salary pool.

Temple

Rod Carey-$2 million

Salary Pool-Unknown

Maybe it was the circumstances in which Temple hired Rod Carey, with Manny Diaz leaving as quickly as he came, but Carey has an incredibly friendly contract, especially given the results on the field. It even comes with a massive buyout, entering year three it’s $8 million to buy Carey out, which means he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Tulane

Willie Fritz-$1.6 million (2019)

Salary Pool-Unknown

NCAA Football: Tulane at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Willie Fritz is currently working on a contract that is good through the 2026 season, but the exact amount is hard to say. Tulane, being a private university, isn’t subject to the same freedom of information laws that public universities. Essentially, this means that Tulane doesn’t need to tell anyone how much they pay Fritz. However, it has been reported that Fritz made $1.6 million in 2019. For what it’s worth, his extension likely pays more. The Green Wave are also secretive about the salary pool for assistants, but as Tulane has invested in better facilities and a proper stadium it’s safe to say that they’re not afraid to spend on a better program.

Tulsa

Philip Montgomery-$1.698 million

Salary Pool-Unknown

Like Tulane, Tulsa is private, which can lead to some vagueness surrounding the actual compensation of the coaches on their staff. However, it should be noted that Tulsa is having such issues with its budget that in 2018 Philip Montgomery took a voluntary pay cut. That pushed him down from $1.4 million in 2017. However, his salary has bumped up to nearly $1.7 million since. Like many schools, however, finding their assistant coach salary pool is almost impossible.

UCF

Gus Malzahn-$2.3 million

Salary Pool-$3.3 million

Gus Malzahn didn’t need the money to go to one of the Waffle Houses in Central Florida, but it doesn’t hurt. The former Auburn coach is getting one of the larger paychecks of anyone in the AAC, with a solid coaching salary pool to boot. So far, he’s used that pool to bring in a lot of coaches he’s worked with in the past at Auburn, like defensive coordinator Travis Williams and offensive line coach Herb Hand. For UCF, this is another program building investment.

USF

Jeff Scott-$1.8 million

Salary Pool-$3.5 million

When he left Clemson for USF, Jeff Scott signed for a $500,000 signing bonus and $1.8 million in 2020. That number will rise to $2.7 million in 2024, the final year of his contract. More interesting, is the $3.5 million salary pool, which is a big investment for a program that hasn’t shown a desire to spend like that before. After all, Charlie Strong’s salary pool was only $1.6 million. That more than double bonus could certainly help the Bulls hire and keep better assistants than they did under Strong, which will help them to rebuild.