Hut, Hut, Pay Hike!
Highland Park High's football coach makes $116,100 a year. Duncanville's coach makes $92,400. What kind of job market is this?
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When Sealy High School head football coach T. J. Mills left his job—where he became a legend by going 63-1 over four years and winning the state title in each—to become the new coach at Permian High School in Odessa last spring, it was big news. Permian, which has not lived up to its lofty reputation in recent years, got one of the hottest commodities in Texas high school football. And Mills, who was flown out to Odessa in a private jet and met by a cheering crowd, got the highest-profile job in Texas high schools. He also got $81,000 a year—a $20,155 raise—and permission to bring a few of his top assistants along as well.Mills’s move highlighted an unusual off-season in high school football, when an unprecedented number of the state’s most lucrative jobs—Stephenville, Temple, Longview, Hurst Bell, Euless Trinity, and Southlake Carroll, to name a few—opened up and top coaches rushed to fill them. Hoping to continue their winning ways, these schools paid record salaries. Ste-phenville’s coach, longtime assistant Mike Copeland, is getting $75,000, as is David Beal at Temple. Stephen Lineweaver takes over at Euless Trinity for $80,000.
As high school football becomes a more publicized, higher-profile sport (yes, even in Texas), coaches’ salaries are rising like a Ray Guy punt. Five years ago, only nine coaches made over $70,000 a year. This year, nine coaches will make $80,000 or more. Five years ago, Stephenville’s coach, Art Briles (now at Texas Tech), was the highest-paid coach in the state, making $82,658. Today that sum is not even in the same stadium with that of High-land Park’s Randy Allen, who is paid $116,100, or Duncanville’s Bob Alpert, who brings in $92,400.
Broadly speaking, won-lost records are what drive coaches’ salaries. But wins alone do not necessarily translate into big bucks. Consider the five current class 4A and 5A coaches with the best records over the past half-decade: Permian’s Mills, Austin Westlake’s Ron Schroeder, Corpus Christi Calallen’s Phil Danaher, Katy’s Mike Johnston, and Euless Trinity’s Stephen Line-weaver. With salaries of, respectively, $81,000, $84,572, $76,469, $74,376, and $80,000, all are at the upper end of the pay scale, but none of them are even close to being the highest-paid coach in the state. Unlike the pro and the college game, high school coaches’ pay is not based solely on winning or the potential for wins.
The main reason salaries are rising so fast is the simplest one, says Bill Farney, the executive director of the University Interscholastic League: supply and demand. In a fiercely competitive state, there are more openings than there are proven winners. “Coaches that have established themselves and won state championships and had consistent playoff teams and run good programs are in high demand,” says Farney. “School boards are willing to pay them the extra money to have them at their schools. The excitement generated by the community and the pressure put on the school administrators by parents and boosters who want to have winning programs are tremendous.”
Another factor is location. Big-city school districts don’t pay their coaches as well as their suburban and, often, small-town counterparts. A big-city school district, such as Houston or Dallas, may include twenty or more high schools, which means twenty or more head coaches. In the bureaucracy of large school districts, pay scales must adhere to a rigid formula, ensuring that one school’s coach is not favored over another’s. Smaller districts have more leeway: With only one or two head coaches on the payroll, they can negotiate salaries individually according to how much football is worth to them. Small, football-crazed towns are often willing to pay more for their coaches because football may be the primary entertainment in town. “It gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment,” says Pat O’Neill, the athletic director for El Paso’s Ysleta school district. “A football team can literally put a small town on the map. Who would have ever heard about Stephenville if they hadn’t won all those championships?”
Like teachers, coaches are paid for their level of experience. D. W. Rutledge, the head coach of Converse Judson, makes $83,255, but his salary partly reflects the fact that he has been coaching there for 21 years. Eddy Peach, the head coach at Arlington Lamar, makes $80,719 and has coached at that school for 30 years. Most coaches in the upper echelons of the pay scale have coached for many years at smaller schools and as assistants at high schools and colleges.
Coaches’ salaries are also augmented by stipends of varying amounts that cover expenses such as cars or housing. For example, Mills’ salary breaks down to a $78,000 base and a $3,000 stipend for travel expenses. Allen’s $116,000 includes $18,000 for housing (understandable in Dallas’ ritzy Highland Park area). On the other end of the scale, the Dallas Independent School District pays each of its coaches only $647 a year for travel expenses.
A final way for a district to boost a coach’s paycheck is to place him in the dual position of head coach and athletic director for his school or school district. The added administrative responsibility allows a coach to avoid teaching in the classroom. Yet the athletic directorship is no sinecure. The coaches interviewed for this article emphasized the time commitment required in supervising all of a school’s sports programs for boys and girls—a year-round job.
Taking into account the components of experience, stipend, and athletic directorship, a typical top salary, such as Conroe coach Bobby Etheridge’s $72,991.76, breaks down in the following way. His base salary as a teacher with 26 years experience is $45,298. He also gets $7,993.76 for working 33 extra days. On top of this, he receives $19,700 as a combined stipend for coaching and serving as his district’s assistant athletic director. Nicole Segura, the director of communications for the Conroe ISD, says that her district has taken the step of having the head coach at each high school act as an assistant athletic director to “eliminate the necessity of having one full-time district athletic director, which saves money.”
The best possible professional situation is to be the head coach and the athletic director in a district that has only one or two high schools. Such conditions exactly describe the environments where you find some of the state’s highest paid coaches: Duncanville, Euless Trinity, Hurst Bell, Converse Judson. After that, you look in the smaller towns that have one high school and are crazy about football, like Stephenville, Waxahachie, Longview, Temple, and La Marque. Those coaches make between $65,000 and $80,000. In the cities the pay falls between $40,000 and $65,000.
What does a coach do to earn his money? More than you would expect, according to Dave Stephenson, the publisher of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine. “After spending time around the great programs—the Stephenvilles, the Converse Judsons, the Austin Westlakes—I’d be the first person to tell you that these coaches are underpaid for what they do,” he says. During the season the workweek is seven days long, peppered with many late nights dissecting game film and devising strategy. Then there is the time spent addressing community groups, booster clubs, and parents.
“There is no off-season for many coaches anymore,” Stephenson says. Summer may afford a few weeks off, but more often than not, a coach-athletic director will be dealing with administrative matters. “There is work to do,” says Lake Highland’s coach, Jerry Gayden. “You have to get everything ready for the fall sports—wrestling, cross-country, tennis, golf, volleyball. That means ordering equipment, arranging travel, checking schedules, hiring.”
Coaches have sizable responsibilities off the field and away from the classroom, as well. “If there isn’t a father or manly figure in the home, you’re that manly figure now,” says La Marque’s Larry Walker. “Take a kid who won’t admit that he doesn’t have enough money to eat. You say, ‘Why don’t you come with me to run this or that errand,’ and while you’re out, you stop and get both of you something to eat.” Primarily, though, Walker says that the coach just needs to be present for his charges. “Most of the time kids just want you to listen. You end up being the coach, the big brother, the dad, the counselor.”
Beyond all the work, on the field and off, there’s the pressure—immense pressure in many communities—to win. And coaches in those communities know, like their college and pro counterparts, that if they don’t win, their jobs could be in jeopardy. “By and large most coaches move every three to five years. I think that’s part of the reason that head coaches are paid what the public would perceive as quite well,” says Randy Mayes, who until this year was the coach of Odessa Permian, perhaps the state’s most pressurized high school environment. He was “reassigned”—the public school euphemism for relieving a coach of his on-field duties—to work in the social studies curriculum. Mayes, a former teacher of the year at Permian, had a winning percentage of .641—good, but not good enough for the hungry Permian fans. This will be, he explained in a halting voice, the first fall in the past 33 years that he won’t be involved with football. (To be fair, it’s Mayes’s choice not to be involved: He accepted and then turned down, for “personal and family reasons,” a $76,000-a-year head coaching position at Arlington Sam Houston.)
Another coach, Longview’s Robert Bero, was reassigned this year after missing the playoffs the last two years in a row, despite the fact that his team competed for a 5A state championship three years ago. This year he’s going to be doing a little coaching as an assistant to one of his former assistants at a 3A program.
Though several high-profile coaches like Scott Smith, formerly of Highland Park and Duncanville, now an assistant head football coach at Baylor, and former Stephenville coach Art Briles have left the high school ranks for college, it’s not necessarily the natural trajectory. That’s partly because many high school coaches are already making college-level salaries. But those who can step up to major university programs can command generous raises. Briles, who was earning $90,000 when he left Stephenville, will make $110,000 plus incentives as the running backs coach at Texas Tech this year. Position coaches at the University of Texas make between $101,200 and $111,200, with the offensive and defensive coordinators making $156,200. A UT assistant can boost his salary by as much as $10,000 by winning the Big 12 championship, going to a bowl game, and winning the national championship. Of course the pay goes up as you move up the ladder. UT’s Mack Brown is one of the better-paid college coaches at $1 million plus incentives. At the top of the scale are former high school coaches like Mike Holmgren, who makes $4.5 million as the coach of the Seattle Seahawks and is the best-paid coach in football history.
It’s not uncommon, however, to find coaches who have left for the college game but returned to high school. Scott Smith left for college once, then went back to high school, and now is back in college as an assistant at Baylor. Larry Walker coached at SMU and Western Kentucky before coming back to coach high school. “I don’t miss college at all,” says Walker. “I like running my own program, having the contact with the kids, and not having to recruit.”
In spite of all the job-hopping and salary inflation, coaches say the appeal of coaching remains the same: They do it for the thrill of competition and the supreme glory of winning. Spike Dykes, the recently retired head coach of Texas Tech, tells a story about the first time, as the head coach of Tech, he beat Jackie Sherrill’s mighty Texas A&M in Lubbock. “After the game,” says Dykes, “Bill Hart of the Abilene Reporter News asked me, ‘This is the biggest win of your life, isn’t it?’ And I said, ‘No, not really. The biggest win of my life was when I was coaching at Coahoma and we beat Aspermont.’ He thought I was kidding, but it really was. I never will forget that football game. It was the darndest thing I ever saw. And that happens every Friday night all over this state.”