College football coaches' bonuses in COVID pandemic: Who's getting paid, who's not and who might

Even with college athletics departments’ financial woes from the COVID-19 pandemic, if football games are being played, at least some coaches’ bonuses are going to get paid.

But as with nearly every other aspect of this season, there are all kinds of oddities, improvisations and works in progress. Some coaches who accepted pay reductions are set to receive bonuses. Some whose pay was not cut have agreed to waive them. At least one coach — North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren — is set for partial bonuses. Numerous schools say they are still determining whether, or how much, they will pay.

To determine schools’ intentions, USA TODAY Sports attempted over the past two weeks to contact every public school in its recent bowl projections that had not previously reached a contractual agreement with its head coach for a waiver of bonus.

Presuming that teams play in conference championship and bowl games as scheduled, these coaches of College Football Playoff semifinal contenders at schools planning to follow contractual bonus terms already have secured sizable amounts:

Coach Nick Saban's Alabama team won every game by at least 15 points during the regular season.

Alabama’s Nick Saban ($275,000 so far)

Like other Alabama employees, Saban did not take a pay cut. The Crimson Tide is in the SEC title game and basically assured of at least a New Year’s Six bowl game. That gives him a path to a final total of $925,000 if Alabama wins the CFP championship.


Clemson’s Dabo Swinney ($150,000)

Swinney is taking pay cut this season, but he will take a $1.25 million reduction next season. The Tigers’ postseason status is the same as Alabama’s, but substitute ACC for SEC. The national title would let him end up with $850,000.

Ohio State’s Ryan Day ($250,000)

Day’s reduction was $100,000 this season and is set to be $135,000 next season. His on-field bonuses max out at $500,000 if the Buckeyes reach the CFP final.

Meanwhile, Ohio State’s assistant coaches already have qualified for bonus amounts equal to 25.5% of their respective base salaries. They could add amounts equaling another 12.75%. Although the assistants also took pay cuts, the school plans to pay the bonuses based on their original salaries. Four of OSU's assistants had been set to make more than $1.1 million this season.

Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher

Fisher did not take a cut to his $7.5 million salary, but he has waived bonuses. Florida’s Dan Mullen also did not take a cut, and Florida is not awarding bonuses this season. Mullen would have had $200,000 in bonuses so far, with a chance at $500,000 more.

Iowa State's Matt Campbell

Iowa State has made no change to a contract amendment under which Matt Campbell agreed to take a pay cut and waive bonuses. Because the Cyclones have an 8-2 record this season (8-1 in the Big 12), Campbell’s willingness to roll with the department-wide reduction program is saving the school at least $1.1 million.

His basic pay reductions for this season and next will total nearly $500,000. The team’s eight regular season wins would have brought him a $250,000 bonus. Its first-place finish and spot in the Big 12 championship game would have been worth another $250,000, its certain bowl appearance and his Big 12 coach of the year award $100,000 more. If the Cyclones beat Oklahoma for the Big 12 title, the school’s savings will climb by at least $250,000 more.

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Oklahoma has not yet made a determination regarding bonuses. Normally, Lincoln Riley would be getting $50,000 for the team playing in the Big 12 title game, with a chance to collect at least $250,000 more 

Among coaches outside the Power Five conferences, there are some with six-figure amounts already to their credit:

Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell ($175,000)

Taking into account a $56,000 pay reduction, Chadwell was scheduled to make just under $320,000 in basic pay this season. That’s the lowest amount among FBS public school coaches, according to USA TODAY’s annual coaches’ compensation survey.

But he’s likely match that amount in bonuses — and potentially almost double it. What he has so far is from a Sun Belt Conference division title and a presumed bowl invitation. He would have gotten $150,000 more if the Chanticleers had won the Sun Belt title game against Louisiana-Lafayette, but the game was called off Thursday night because of COVID-19 issues in Coastal's program — and it remains to be seen how this bonus will be handled. Chadwell still can get $100,000 for a bowl win and/or the best of: $200,000 for a top-25 finish in one of the major polls or $125,000 for a top-50 finish.

Earlier this week, the school announced it has reached a contract extension with Chadwell that will go through the 2027 season.

Texas-San Antonio’s Jeff Traylor ($200,000)

He took a $57,500 pay reduction this season. He’s now set to receive $100,000 because the Roadrunners had seven regular-season wins and another $100,000 for their bowl appearance. He'd get $25,000 more for a bowl win.

Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell ($125,000)

His total so far is based on sharing the American Athletic Conference regular season title and being set for at least a non-New Year’s Six bowl game. Winning the AAC title game against Tulsa would give him $275,000 more from a parlay of that championship, a New Year’s Six bid and a top-25 finish in the CFP rankings. He'd also get $25,000 for a bowl win.

He had been scheduled to take a $127,500 cut from $3.4 million in basic pay for this season, but that was reduced when the university ended pay reductions as of Nov. 1.

Elsewhere, some contractual bonus provisions have required some reimagining within the construct of pandemic football.

For example, Boise State’s agreement with Bryan Harsin calls for him to get $50,000 if the team wins the Mountain West Conference’s Mountain Division. But, for this season, the conference did away with divisions to have greater scheduling flexibility and decided the top two teams would meet in its championship game. The Broncos have advanced to that game, and the school has said it intends to pay Harsin the division-title bonus.

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North Texas is playing in the Myrtle Beach Bowl, which normally would give Seth Littrell a $35,000 bonus. But the Mean Green has a 4-5 record and could get the bid because the NCAA suspended its rule that generally requires teams to have at least six wins to be eligible for a bowl. UNT contractually has the right to reduce Littrell’s bowl by 50% if the team plays in a bowl game despite having fewer than six wins — and it is exercising that right. UNT athletics spokesman Eric Capper said via email the school has not finalized what it will do, but he said Littrell’s bonus “will be a max of 50% and possibly nothing.”

Oregon might have faced a sticky situation with Mario Cristobal when the Ducks were elevated from second place in the Pac-12 North Division to the conference title game after first-place Washington couldn’t play because of COVID-19 issues. Contractually, Cristobal is supposed to get $150,000 for winning the Pac-12 championship and $175,000 playing in a New Year’s Six game, which would have accompanied the Pac-12 title. And he presumably would have done this without getting the $100,000 he normally would have been awarded for the division championship.

But he and other Oregon coaches waived their bonuses for this school year.

Contributing: Joey Kaufman, Columbus Dispatch and Keith Jenkins, Cincinnati Enquirer