The average compensation package for major-college football coaches is now $1.81 million per year, up about $170,000, or 10%, since last season — and more than 90% since 2006
BOULDER, Colo. — Mike MacIntyre makes $2.4 million coaching football at Colorado, but the coin that means the most to him is not legal tender.
He carries it in his pocket as a way of feeling close to his father, George, 75, who has multiple sclerosis and watches his son's games from a bed in Nashville. The commemorative coin is a memento of the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award that his father won at Vanderbilt in 1982.
Colorado is asking of the son what Vanderbilt once asked of the father: Turn around a moribund program, and quickly. One of the many differences between then and now is the scale of remuneration.
"I don't think my father ever made more than $150,000 in his life," MacIntyre told USA TODAY Sports. "So I think I'm blessed. I understand that, and I'm very thankful."
George MacIntrye made $150,000 in 1985, the last year he coached Vandy, equivalent to $326,000 today — which would still be more than $2 million less than his son is making this season. Colorado is paying MacIntyre roughly $1 million more than the next-highest-paid football coach in its history and more than 2½ times his predecessor.
What's more, MacIntyre's payday comes as Colorado's athletics department is awash in red ink. It owes the school nearly $30 million in internal loans provided over a series of years to help cover the athletics department's move from the Big 12 to the Pac-12 and the considerable cost of buying out departed coaches and athletics directors while paying bigger bucks for new ones, among other costs. Plus, MacIntyre's contract specifies other areas in which the school commits to spend even more on football, from facilities to staff to academic support.
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The upshot: Colorado is all-in, anteing up on big-time college football.
Coaches are among the major beneficiaries as schools across the nation bet on football and play musical chairs with conference affiliations. The average compensation package for major-college coaches is $1.81 million, a rise of about $170,000, or 10%, since last season — and more than 90% since 2006, when USA TODAY Sports began tracking coaches' compensation. (The figures do not include six schools that moved up to the Football Bowl Subdivision in the last two years.)
At this rate, coaches' compensation would more than double in less than a decade.
The rapid rise comes at a time when instructional spending at many schools is declining or not increasing at the same pace as spending on athletics, according to a report by the Delta Cost Project at the non-profit American Institutes for Research that was based on data from the U.S. Department of Education and data collected by USA TODAY Sports. Among FBS schools, median athletics spending per student-athlete increased by 51% from 2005 through 2010, the Delta Project reported, while median academic spending per student rose by 23% in the same period.
"Faculty are annoyed, though there are more colorful ways to say it, at these athletic excesses," says Colorado physics professor Jerry Peterson, a member of the steering committee of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, an alliance of faculty senates from major football schools. "I don't know how to slow this down. It's an arms race."
In the power conferences, money from lucrative TV deals — including conferences such as the Big Ten and Pac-12 having their own cable networks — has unleashed a new era of massive spending on football. While Colorado athletics director Rick George says, "I don't feel like we're in an arms race," the fact is the Buffaloes don't have much choice. This season, eight of the 10 football coaches at Pac-12 public schools will make more than $2.1 million. Two years ago, three were at $2 million or more.
Nick Saban, who makes more than $5.5 million, is the nation's highest-paid coach, at two-time defending national champion Alabama of the Southeastern Conference — where every coach at a public school makes more than $2 million.
"If you want to go to Alabama and pay $5 million, I think we got a bargain," says Bruce Benson, president of the University of Colorado system. "Don't let MacIntyre tell me he needs $5 million. But if he gets that, it'll be because he's damn good. That would take a national championship."
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Colorado is far from that. The Buffaloes are 3-5 overall and 0-5 in the Pac-12 and last had a winning record eight years ago. Their hope for the future goes something like this: The new conference brings richer payouts. The new athletics director brings in more corporate and donor dollars. And the new football coach brings back winning.
"I'm a businessman, not an educator," says Benson, president of the four-campus Colorado system. "I'm an oil guy, and probably 20 other businesses I've run in my life. In business, you cut your losses. ... If we have people who are not working out, get rid of them and get the right ones in."
And so in the last year Colorado fired coach Jon Embree, who last season went 1-11, the worst record in school history, and athletics director Mike Bohn, under whom the department had great on-field success outside of football but under whom the department's deficits grew.
Enter George, Colorado's football operations director in the Bill McCartney era, when the Buffaloes won a national championship. George returns 22 years later with a background in raising corporate dollars in professional golf and, most recently, for the Texas Rangers. He arrived in August and hopes to raise $50 million from donors by Dec. 1.
"That's a lofty goal, not a deadline," he says. "We want to dream big around here."
And bet big on football.
"We're making a big bet on it, but that's part of life," Benson says. "Ever drill a dry hole? Probably not. I have. You bet on it and say, 'Dammit, it didn't work out. OK, next one, here we go.' "
Big time, big dollars
MacIntyre's contract isn't only about the dollars he'll earn. Its clauses and codicils reveal a blueprint for the hopes and dreams of a program.
On the day MacIntyre's contract went into effect, Colorado was required to put $1.5 million into renovating the Dal Ward Athletic Center, which houses the football offices and locker room, among other things. The contract also specifies a Dec. 1 deadline to submit plans to the board of regents for more ambitious facility upgrades — and another deadline a year later to award a design contract.
Plus, MacIntyre's contract specifies that Colorado agrees to pay $75,000 annual salaries to the director of recruiting, director of academics for football and the football equipment manager. One of those positions did not exist previously, and one more required a $19,000 raise.
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Jimmy Sexton, MacIntyre's agent, says these kinds of clauses are unusual but he expects to see more of them in coaches' contracts in the future.
"When you have an up-and-rising head coach, a hot commodity, and he makes the move from one job to the next and it's a step up the food chain, you want to make sure that the school that is wanting to lure him, it's not just writing a check for $2 (million) or $3 million," Sexton says. "That gets all the headlines, but it's a lot more than that.
"It's what you are going to pay the support staff, the ancillary staff, academic funding? What about facilities? It's really a whole program plan. That's all we were trying to do at Colorado. To date, Colorado has been great."
CU hopes to spend $170 million on facilities upgrades, including renovations at Dal Ward and Folsom Field and building an indoor football practice facility and a high-performance center. George's ambitious fundraising goals would go toward facilities and building up the endowment for athletic scholarships. George says Colorado's is roughly $13 million — or about the amount that Stanford's $550 million endowment spins off for athletic scholarships each year.
"We may not ever have the biggest and the best. It's not about that," George says of facilities upgrades. "Do we need an indoor practice facility and to improve our facilities? Absolutely."
In February, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott told the Boulder Daily Camera that he had told Colorado officials during an earlier visit of "over $1 billion of (athletics) infrastructure projects that have been completed or ongoing right now" at conference schools.
The pot of gold at the end of Colorado's conference-switching rainbow is the Pac-12's 12-year, $3 billion TV deal with ESPN and Fox. That's guaranteed money, and even more cash is expected to flow to schools from the Pac-12's own network.
"The important point to remember about this move is it's a long-term investment," Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano says. "The money we paid out to coaches and the previous athletics director, these are one-time payments. And as long as athletics repays the debt and we move forward in the Pac-12, the long-term investment makes a lot of sense to me. Media rights will be more than double what we were getting (from the Big 12). It's a significant investment, but it will be worth it 10 or 12 years down the road."
Colorado gets a full Pac-12 share for the first time beginning this fiscal year. (It got less than a full share in its last season in the Big 12 and its first season in the Pac-12, accounting for $13 million of the internal loans.) That full share begins at $16 million and rises to at least $23 million by 2023, says Cory Hilliard, associate athletics director for business operations. He says CU was getting roughly $10 million as a conference share from the Big 12 at the end.
Money wasn't the only reason for moving to the Pac-12. Benson and DiStefano point to Colorado's alumni base of 30,000 in California. And they point to the academic status of the Pac-12's research universities.
"We want to be known by our partners," Benson says. "I look at Stanford, I look at (Cal) Berkeley, I look at UCLA, USC, U-Dub (Washington). These are places that are a lot like us, and some of them are a little better than us. And so we want to be in a league with those people."
Millions in loans
The balance sheet on the internal loans is nearing $30 million. Hilliard sketches out the math: The department is paying back $21.4 million in internal loans over 10 years at 2% interest, with $3 million in internal payments to be paid this fiscal year, shrinking the balance to $18.4 million.
But with a $7 million deficit last fiscal year and an expected $4 million deficit this fiscal year, Hilliard expects the internal loans to stand at $29.4 million at the end of this fiscal year.
Colorado also provides the athletics department with a subsidy of roughly $5.5 million each year under the category of institutional support that does not need to be repaid.
"Certainly, anytime there is a debt at that level, I'm concerned," chancellor DiStefano says, "but athletics will pay that back."
It would prefer not to. When George spoke to Colorado's board of regents in September, he suggested in an answer to a theoretical question from a regent that, yes, it would be "incredibly helpful" if the school forgave the loan, but CU officials said this week that there were no plans to cancel the debt.
"We need to get our fiscal house in order, and we will, but it's not going to happen overnight," George says. "It's going to take time."
Turning football around also will take time. MacIntyre spends his days on X's and O's rather than deficits and loans.
"I don't know all the details of that," MacIntyre says. "I really don't. I do know my job, and our staff's job, is to get better and better and play well in bowl games and have big crowds and have GameDay come to town and make it a spectacle, which will help the school and help everything."
MacIntyre turned around San Jose State, which went from one win in 2010 to 10-2 in 2012, after which he left for Colorado. MacIntyre owed San Jose State $400,000 for opting out of his contract. His new contract calls for Colorado to pay that and, if he owes taxes on the university-paid buyout, to pay the taxes as well. Hilliard says San Jose State sent an invoice for $400,000 and Colorado paid it directly.
The buyout if MacIntyre leaves Colorado on his own is much higher: He would owe on a sliding scale from $2.3 million in 2013 to $1 million in 2017. However, he'd owe no liquidated damages for leaving if Colorado misses either of those Dec. 1 deadlines for facilities upgrades.
"Don't worry," George assures. "We won't miss the target dates."
'In my blood'
MacIntyre says it takes some getting used to when your contracts are public documents and everyone knows your business.
"I've kind of learned to let it be water off my back," he says. "If you're going to coach college football, you better let a lot of things roll off your back."
That's one of the many lessons he learned from his father. He'll tell you how he watched his father build programs from the ground up at Tennessee-Martin and Vanderbilt and how that was the model for how he rebuilt the program at San Jose State and how he hopes to do it at Colorado.
"I saw how he did it by building trust and the way he recruited and how he coached the kids and cared for them," MacIntyre says. "It kind of got in my blood."
MacIntyre says he looks at that coach-of-the-year coin several times a day. He'll tell you it's not so much a good-luck charm as a way to think about his father and honor him and draw some inspiration all at the same time.
MacIntyre played for his father at Vanderbilt for two years, and then he saw the other side of the business. "They fired him," MacIntyre says. "If you build it up, they expect you to keep it up. That's the beast of our business."
Even so, George MacIntyre said "sure" when asked if he would've advised his son to get into the uncertainty of the family business.
George MacIntryre spoke briefly with USA TODAY Sports on speaker phone with the help of his other son, Matt, who also lives in Nashville. George's voice is faint, but his spirit is strong. He said he feels "great" that Mike carries that coin in his pocket. "I love to watch him coach," he said.
Is it true that you never made more than $150,000?
"That's right," he said.
"He's smiling," Matt added.
And your son makes more than $2 million more than that.
"I'm proud of him," the father said. "He's a great son."
Contributing: Jodi Upton and Stephanie Klein.