In 2009, his first full season as Clemson University’s head coach, Dabo Swinney earned $816,850 in total compensation, the 67th highest rate among Division I Bowl Subdivision coaches, according to figures compiled by USA TODAY Sports that year.
Head coaches at Southern Methodist, Hawaii, East Carolina and Connecticut enjoyed higher salaries. Even an assistant coach, Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, earned $90,650 more than Swinney that year.
Swinney’s standing has improved a bit since then.
Swinney will earn $4.42 million in total compensation in 2016, excluding up to $1.725 million in potential bonuses. He is ranked 12th in the most recent USA TODAY Sports compilation, just behind Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and just ahead of former Louisiana State coach Les Miles.
Twenty coaches will earn at least $4 million this year. Sixteen held that distinction last year.
At $3.31 million, Swinney was ranked 26th last year, wedged between UCLA's Jim Mora and Kentucky's Mark Stoops.
Swinney’s annual salary is actually $4.55 million and would rank 10th. But his contract was updated in April and does not align cleanly with the compilation’s calendar year.
Swinney earned at an annual rate of $3.45 million from Jan. 1 to April 12. The 31.8 percent base salary raise kicked in the following day. Swinney also received a one-time $275,000 signing bonus with the new six-year, $30.75 million contract, a reward for the College Football Playoff pinnacle Clemson reached in January.
Swinney steered Clemson to 56 wins, two Atlantic Coast Conference championships and consecutive bowl wins against LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma through the previous five seasons.
Swinney propelled Clemson into national prominence as a program and a brand. Short of the national championship it claimed in 1981, Clemson has enjoyed an unparalleled period of success.
And Swinney has enjoyed a 441.4 percent increase in pay since 2009.
He received $1.1 million in bonuses last season during Clemson’s run to the national championship game. Merely three other coaches— Ferentz ($900,000), Louisville’s Bobby Petrino ($794,667) and Alabama’s Nick Saban ($625,000)— earned more than $500,000 in bonuses last year.
Swinney has enjoyed at least an 11 percent raise in five of the last seven years. His salary was bumped 24.4 percent from 2012 to 2013 and 24.5 percent the following year.
Swinney and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher ($5.25 million) are the only ACC coaches who earn more than $4 million per year. At $3.91 million before bonuses, Petrino could join that class next year.
Muschamp, who is in his first season as the head coach at South Carolina, is ranked 36th among the 119 coaches included in the compilation. His $3,002,500 total compensation rate is the third lowest among Southeastern Conference coaches, ahead of only Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason ($2.56 million) and Missouri’s Barry Odom ($2.35 million).
Yet, this season, Muschamp will earn $271,500 more than he received in 2014, the final year of his four-year term as Florida’s head coach.
Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh leads all coaches at $9.004 million, 29.8 percent more than the next highest rate, Saban at $6.93 million. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer is listed third at $6.09 million.
In 2009, Swinney was paid like a former wide receivers coach learning on the job. Clemson may never be able to catch Harbaugh’s figure or match the checkbook of Swinney’s alma mater, Alabama. However, at least now, Swinney is paid like a proven winner...at a destination job.
Swinney’s salary was once a risk-free investment. Now, it is a long-term incentive.
2016 COACHING COMPENSATION COMPARISON
Jimbo Fisher, Florida State, $5,250,000
Dabo Swinney, Clemson, $4,422,700
Bobby Petrino, Louisville, $3,910,434
Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia, $3,275,000
Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech, $3,200,000
Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech, $2,886,361
Steve Addazio, Boston College, $2,333,628
David Cutcliffe, Duke, $2,320,773
Dave Doeren, North Carolina State, $2,200,000
Dave Clawson, Wake Forest, $2,113,166
Larry Fedora, North Carolina, $1,986,265 (prior to 2015 extension)
Miami, Pittsburgh and Syracuse were not included in compilation
Nick Saban, Alabama, $6,939,395
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M, $5,000,000
Gus Malzahn, Auburn, $4,729,500
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss, $4,703,500
Les Miles, LSU, $4,385,567
Jim McElwain, Florida, $4,268,325
Dan Mullen, Miss. State, $4,200,000
Bret Bielema, Arkansas, $4,145,000
Butch Jones, Tennessee, $4,110,000
Kirby Smart, Georgia, $3,753,600
Mark Stoops, Kentucky, $3,513,600
Will Muschamp, South Carolina, $3,002,500
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt, $2,556,877
Barry Odom, Missouri, $2,350,000