Skyrocketing salaries for college coaches boggle the mind

There was a time when becoming a college football coach meant joining the middle class and working at a job you loved but it would never make you very rich.

Now the job title conjures up images of lordly men, festooned in robes and crowns, with accountants and agents spread before them counting the coach’s money the way henchmen counted Tony Montana’s.

Alabama coach Nick Saban will make $11.125 million this season after signing a contract extension. His eight-year deal will bring him $65 million total, not including the $700,000 he can earn each year in bonuses.

Saban has gone 119-19 in his 10 years at Alabama, and he has won five national titles (four at Alabama, one at LSU) in his career.

Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh talks to journalists during a press conference, in Rome, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. Michigan's NCAA college football team arrived in Rome last weekend and kicked off the unique trip by meeting with refugees before going to the Vatican for a Papal address before practicing a few times. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) ORG XMIT: AJM102

But no matter how good he is, something about this is crazy.

You know it. You feel it. We all do.

This guy coaches unpaid workers at a nonprofit, tax-exempt state institution.

But athletic departments at our largest schools are there to produce entertainment for the masses with their football programs, and they do it the same way a Hollywood production company like Disney or Paramount does. Those corporations pay huge sums to star directors and producers.

Hence, Saban and his fortune.

He is an auteur raking in cash in an unregulated TV and event industry.

Saban is at the top of the money pile, but he’s not out of sight.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh made $9 million last year. Another 18 coaches make over $4 million annually. There are 36 above $3 million, 59 at $2 million or higher.

Lord almighty, some assistants now make well over $1 million, and Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle makes $625,000 a year. That was last season, actually. He stands to make as much as $695,000 this season if the Hawkeyes finish in the top 20.

School presidents and board members always claim it’s an arms race out there, and they jack up coaches’ salaries only to stay competitive with whomever is leading the assault, be it Alabama, Texas or Ohio State.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, college football coaches are the highest-paid public employees in 27 of the 50 states.

Is this embarrassing?

It is, because we know it’s wrong. But it’s also shrug-inducing. How do you stop the free market?

And it sure doesn’t stop fans from coming to games and demanding success, meaning more cash on the raging pyre.

One would expect that Notre Dame might be a tad red-faced, having just finished paying lousy, fired football coach Charlie Weis almost $19 million simply to go away. But does Notre Dame feel bad? Only that Weis went 16-21 in his last three years there.

The crew-cut, double-necked Weis, in a sense, is the poster boy for scamming the system, or as some might say, taking what’s there.

While Weis was being paid not to coach at Notre Dame, he took the head job at Kansas and made over $6 million from 2011 to 2014, won six games in three years, got fired again and collected an additional $5.4 million from Kansas.

Almost forgot. Saban gets $27 million from Alabama if he’s fired before his contract is up. Fire these guys at your risk. Or just fan the flames of capitalism and have your car dealer and insurance magnate alums keep paying. Which they always do.

Here in Chicago, it seems Northwestern has been able to play the big-boy game without going insane. Yet the school is building a vast, new fieldhouse and training facility on the lakefront and refurbishing Welsh-Ryan Arena to the tune of $110 million.

Still, NU athletic director Jim Phillips was able to lock in football coach Pat Fitzgerald and basketball coach Chris Collins for nearly a decade each at far less than 5-, or 8- or $11-million a year.

Then there’s hapless DePaul, whose basketball team has lost its way, but now needs to fill a shiny new 10,000-seat place called Wintrust Arena on the Near South Side.

DePaul doesn’t have a football team, but this venue has been ripped by many as football-style, arms-race nonsense, especially for taxpayers.

“Economically meaningless,’’ said Chicago-based sports business consultant Marc Ganis recently. “This was such a foolhardy project in the first place. It was ridiculous use of limited public money at a time when we’re raising taxes to unprecedented levels.’’

Ridiculous. An interesting word.

Does it even exist in college sports?

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

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