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