South Carolina Taxpayers Lose on Clemson Tigers’ Salaries for Coaches

Published February 27, 2019

Clemson University and the University of Alabama have winning football teams, and they pay their coaches high salaries and pension benefits with a mixture of public and private funds, reports government spending watchdog

Each school uses a different mix of public and private support to pay successful coaches multimillion-dollar salaries, and the stakes for taxpayers are high, says Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and founder of

“College football coaches are among the top-paid public employees in the country,” said Andrzejewski.

Millions for Champions

OpenTheBooks’ database of salaries for 19 million public employees shows the highest-paid coaches at public colleges are Dabo Swinney of the Clemson University Tigers, in South Carolina, and Nick Saban of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Crimson Tide, says Andrzejewski.

Clemson beat Alabama, 44 to 16, in the National College Athletic Association’s National Championship game on Jan. 7, 2019.

“In the National Championship game, taxpayers had nearly $19 million in the pot between Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s $11.7 million salary and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s $7.1 million,” Andrzejewski said.

Racking Up Debt

The University of Alabama and Clemson University supposedly profit from football, with Alabama making $46 million and Clemson making $7.8 million per year, based on the most recent available data, says Andrzejewski. But these schools have spent their profits on their football programs and incurred long-term debt on top of that.

“These programs have also racked up an amazing amount of long-term debt and have spent their future football ‘profits,'” Andrzejewski said.

“Alabama built their football program on $225 million in long-term debt, and students at Clemson pay $1,414 each to pay down their athletic debts,” says Andrzejewski.. “In other words, the coaches better keep winning.”

Fighting Irish Pay Less

Private schools do not receive taxpayer funding for salaries, yet are able to compete in athletics despite paying their coaches less than public universities do, says Andrzejewski. For example, Brian Kelly earned $2.1 million as head coach of the University of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish, Andrzejewski says.

“Notre Dame uses zero public funds and made the highest profit of any university on its football program: $63 million,” said Andrzejewski.

“But instead of racking up debt, Notre Dame has a $13.1 billion endowment and billions more in gross assets,” Andrzejewski said.

Savannah Edgens ([email protected]) writes from Gainesville, Florida.