College is expensive. Football tickets are expensive. A hot dog in the stadium could cost you $10. One thing that is not expensive: college football head coaches.
Earlier this week, USA Today released the results of a survey containing the salaries of the head football coaches at 120 public universities. Topping that list is University of Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, who sports an annual salary of $9 million in 2016. Rounding up the top three highest paid college coaches are University of Alabama’s Nick Saban, who receives $6.9 million annually, and Urban Meyer of Ohio State for $6 million annually.
Initial reactions from the public consisted of sheer outrage. People complained of a lack of fairness, that these universities have no grounds to pay astronomical salaries to coaches. There is one catch, however. Football coaches are worth every single penny they are paid.
Take the man at the top of the list, Harbaugh, for example. Harbaugh took over the struggling Michigan football program in 2015. After seven straight seasons of hovering around a mediocre .500, Harbaugh found instant success in Ann Arbor. In his first year, Harbaugh led the Wolverines to a 10-3 record and finished the year ranked 12th in the country, returning the program back to its national prominence.
Seeing a successful product on the field is one thing, but it in no way justifies a $9 million salary. That is where the butterfly effect comes in. Following Harbaugh’s inaugural season’s success, Michigan sold 90,000 season tickets for this season. That is 14 percent higher than the season prior to Harbaugh’s hiring. Even student ticket sales increased by 57 percent from 2014. In 2015, Michigan’s football program generated $88 million of the $152 million revenue that the entire university’s athletic department brought in.
Aside from ticket sales, Michigan also signed a huge apparel deal in 2015. Harbaugh has been tabbed as leading the charge between the university and Nike’s Jumpman brand for an 11-year, $169 million deal. Harbaugh has done nothing but pump revenue into Michigan. A $9 million salary seems like a drop in the bucket compared to the amount he has raised for his university.
Not all of Harbaugh’s returns are football-related. Arguably the most important thing Harbaugh has brought to Michigan is a coaching persona that has raised the popularity and notoriety of the school across the country. Whether it is having sleepovers at recruits’ houses, climbing trees with recruits, attending football practice topless or drinking milk at five-star steak restaurants, Harbaugh’s eccentricity has increased the popularity of Michigan. While there can never be proof of direct causation, the success he has brought to the football team will most likely increase the amount of applications for admission that the university will see, further generating more cash for the school.
As we leave the Harbaugh empire, it becomes even more apparent that these coaches and their exorbitant contracts are worth it. Football coaches have the power to bring a community together and move it past a tragedy. At schools like Penn State, coached by James Franklin with his 10th largest salary in the country of $4.5 million, or at LSU with former Head Coach Les Miles and his $4.3 million salary, these coaches brought entire towns through some of their darkest moments.
Penn State was left in shambles after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, leaving fans outraged and causing them to become less supportive of the program. Applications to the school dropped, and the football program, the school’s biggest cash cow, was predicted to die. Franklin, however, quickly re-energized the program and continues to throw together one of the country’s best recruiting classes. The fire and passion of one man has helped save a program and reconnect a community.
Miles, although recently fired, helped strengthen the Baton Rouge community after horrible tragedies like Hurricane Katrina or the recent record-breaking floods. In a time when people of Louisiana were down on their luck and looking for anything positive, Miles led charitable efforts to help those in need and provided an outlet for fans to escape some of the horrific realities of their home lives. It is hard to put a price on the humanity that Miles provided to a community in need.
While we can continue to complain about men who coach a game for a living not deserving to be some of the highest paid employees in their state, we fail to see the true value they bring to the table. Head coaches are more than just football heads. They are life coaches helping men grow and mature.
Thomas Schlarp is a sophomore in the School of Nursing and Health Studies. The stove appears every Tuesday.
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