Dallas The market forces that produced Nick Saban's landmark eight-year, $32 million guaranteed contract at Alabama show no signs of easing. So experts expect even larger deals - perhaps soon - for other college head football coaches.
"It's just a matter of when and where," said Russ Campbell, a Birmingham, Ala., attorney who represents Florida State's Bobby Bowden and former Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, who recently took the head job with the Atlanta Falcons.
Dallas agent George Bass, who represents TCU's Gary Patterson, compares Saban's contract to the $84 million, 12-year deal his firm negotiated for NBA star Larry Johnson in 1993 with the Charlotte Hornets. To that point, it was the largest contract in U.S. professional team sports.
"By the time he gets to the last year of his contract, we'll all be saying he's underpaid," Bass said of Saban.
Bowden and Steve Spurrier, then at Florida, were the first to crack $1 million in annual pay in the mid-1990s. Spurrier hit $2 million in 1997.
Last season, the average guaranteed income, excluding incentives, for all NCAA Division I-A head coaches was nearly $1 million, according to a study by USA Today.
The newspaper found at least 42 coaches who had guarantees of at least $1 million a year, compared with five in 1999. Nine coaches were guaranteed more than $2 million. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops was at $3.45 million, including a portion of a $3 million payment he will receive if he is at the school at the end of 2008.
But there is a sharp split even among those in college football's elite classification. Many of the 119 Division I-A coaches earn a tenth or less of what is paid to the top stars of their profession, USA Today found.
The high compensation levels are causing concern. NCAA president Myles Brand has said it's a key issue facing his member institutions. Some question why coaches make many times more than the university presidents they report to. Some wonder whether athletic departments that generate tens of millions of dollars should be tax exempt.
That growing revenue - including ticket sales, TV rights fees and sponsorship deals - helps escalate salaries. Some of the top college programs now benchmark their pay for head coaches and assistants against the NFL. Campbell, the Birmingham attorney, said the going rate for an offensive or defensive coordinator at a top school was $400,000 to $700,000 a year.
"What is undeniable is that traditional powerhouses will conduct checkbook diplomacy to keep fans, boosters and sponsors happy," David Carter, head of Southern Cal's Sports Business Institute, said in an e-mail interview.
The benefits of championship teams can go well beyond athletic departments, experts say. Winning can also increase student enrollment applications and donor contributions.
"Everything is better at schools like ours when you win football games," said Texas coach Mack Brown, who is guaranteed more than $2.5 million a year after winning the 2005 national championship.
Jimmy Sexton, an agent based in Memphis, Tenn., represents many top coaches in pro and college football, including Saban and Cowboys coach Bill Parcells. He said a Southern college president told him: "'Jimmy, I figured out real quickly, if we don't win in football, it doesn't matter what else happens."'
Winning means finding a proven winner as coach, which drives up the price.
There is no shortage of coaches, said John Fossum, a compensation expert at the University of Minnesota, but "there is a shortage of big-time college coaches who can win consistently."
Gretchen Bataille, the new president at North Texas, says her main mission is to expand UNT's identity beyond the region. One of her first major moves was hiring a new football coach, Todd Dodge from Southlake Carroll High.
Bataille stresses academics, but she said, "Football - sports in general - can be the face of your institution."
Dodge's annual base pay is $185,000. He has incentives for conference championships, bowls, ticket sales and classroom performance that could increase his total to slightly more than $300,000.
"It makes a difference for him, and it makes a difference for us, if he makes the incentives," Bataille said.
Even in Division III, where there are no athletic scholarships, football is important. Mount Union's Larry Kehres, who has won nine Division III national titles, earned $121,000 in 2005. That was second on campus only to the Ohio college's president, according to the school's IRS filing.
"I know our president pretty well," Kehres said. "I'm about to tell him that Tressel makes more than his president."
That's Jim Tressel, who earns more than $2 million a year at Ohio State.
Highly paid coaches are often compared to corporate CEOs because of their leadership responsibilities and the tremendous revenue their teams generate. Some also compare coaches to entertainers who can command big paydays.
"I'm in the education business during the week and in show business on the weekends," said Texas' Brown.
Whatever the comparison and however large the contract, coaches know that if they don't win, they won't have a job.
"Nick Saban has more pressure on him than any coach in America because of that contract," said Spurrier, now the coach at South Carolina.
The annual convention of the American Football Coaches Association in San Antonio last week attracted 6,000 attendees, half of them active college coaches.
Many among Division I-A's aristocracy were there: Brown, Spurrier, Bowden, Tressel, Florida's Urban Meyer, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis.
There were also hundreds of other coaches still chasing their dreams. Near the exhibit hall were five 4- by 8-foot bulletin boards, covered with resumes from coaches in at least 26 states.
Ryan Porter's resume said he played at Belhaven College and in Arena football. It said he had been an assistant coach at two Division III schools.
In an interview, Porter said his goal is to become a major-college coach.
"The money is nice," he said of Division I-A salaries, "but it's not the reason we do what we do. How many people can wake up every day and say they absolutely love what they do?"