If you ask most basketball coaches why they coach, the first thing that comes out of their mouth isn't the word "money."
However, as coaches move up the ranks, it can become an incredibly lucrative career. We'll start with high school coaches, then look at the college and pro ranks to compare and contrast what a basketball coach can make in a year.
High School Basketball Coach Salaries
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the median salary for a high school basketball coach in the United States is around $2,500 per season. However, this figure can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars per season and varies by geography. I recently saw a position in Georgia that was offering more than $90k/year!
In some cases, high school basketball coaches may also receive additional compensation for coaching other sports or teaching in the school district. It's also worth noting that some high school basketball coaches may be volunteers or receive a stipend rather than a salary.
What's interesting about high school coaches is that the median amount has stayed roughly the same for years. While the interest in high school basketball has continued to grow, unless you're coaching at an elite prep or private school, most public high school coaches are making roughly the same as twenty years ago.
The irony is that the commitment for coaches has continued to increase. When I was coaching in the early 2000's, of course the season ran from November to March, but I spent significant time in the "off season" to ensure my program was headed in the right direction.
Add all of this up, and the amount of money that most high school coaches make per hour is laughable. This isn't to say that it wasn't worth it (it certainly was), but when looking at the time spent, it wasn't the best way to support a family.
Overall, the salary or stipend for a high school basketball coach in the United States can vary widely, and it's important to consider factors such as location, level of competition, and experience when determining the average pay for this role. Most importantly, if you're coaching for the money at the high school level, you may want to consider a different profession, as the pay has never been good. Coaching high school basketball is a passion job that needs to be done for the right reasons.
College Basketball Coach Salaries
The salaries for college basketball coaches are all over the place. From multi-million dollar contracts for coaches at some of the blue blood programs to Tobin Anderson's reported $40,000/year at Fairleigh Dickinson. Here is a list of NCAA division one college coaches below courtesy of BetMGM.
In Gilbert Gaul's book, Billion-Dollar Ball, he talks to several athletic directors about why they pay coaches as much as they do. Put simply, most of the responses were simply "So they don't leave."
The challenge, though, is that they do leave. One good season can often lead to a massive payday at another university. Take, for example, new Notre Dame coach, Micah Shrewsberry, who recently left Penn State after guiding the Nittany Lions into the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Penn State didn't openly disclose Shrewsberry's salary, but if you look at the Athletic Department's financial records, it looks like he made $3.3 million during the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
Now $3.3 million/year is nothing to laugh at. However, Notre Dame calls and reportedly offers $4+ million/year with a 7 year contract. Sure, Shrewsberry is from Indiana and previously assisted Brad Stevens at Butler. But, how many of us would turn down a $700,000/year raise?
In addition, men's college basketball programs generate a lot of revenue. Looking at Kansas, specifically, in 2019, the men's team brought in a three-year average of $32.2 million in revenue and generated an average profit of $18.5 million during that same time period (Forbes). So while Coach Bill Self's salary looks gaudy on paper, it really is the major expense line on the balance sheet. Supporters of Self would point to the fact those numbers wouldn't be as high if he wasn't there (we could certainly debate that).
What about assistant coaches? Any head coach certainly knows how valuable they are, but is their value reflected in their salaries? Eric Musselman at Arkansas brought home $4.8 million for the 2021-2022 season. His top assistant, Gus Argenal, made $272,667. Tony Bennet at Virginia takes home $3.6 million, while his associate head coach, Jason Williford, makes $324,872. Other prominent assistant coaches include Kellen Sampson at Houston ($300,000), Bryan Hodgson at Alabama ($425,000), Dean Oliver at Wisconsin ($200,000), Jake Diebler at Ohio State ($500,000), Justin Gainey at Tennessee ($335,000) and Brandon Brantley at Purdue ($180,000). While all of these guys have various incentives and bonuses tied to their contracts, the point is that landing a head coaching job is typically a major step up financially.
For years, college basketball coaches would bolt to the NBA. Many would cite the challenge of coaching at the highest level. Most would also acknowledge the massive paydays that came with that. As college sports have grown in popularity, so have the salaries of head coaches. For comparison, let's take a look at the best paid NBA head coaches.
NBA Coach Salaries
1. Gregg Popovich: $11.5 million
2. Steve Kerr: $9.5 million
3. Doc Rivers: $8.5 million
4. Eric Spoelstra: $8.5 million
5. Mike Budenholzer: $8 million
6. Nick Nurse: $8 million
While Gregg Popovich earns more than Bill Self, it's not by much. However, it's also fair to acknowledge that the difference between the very top of college basketball coaches and even very good coaches is a lot. If Juwan Howard were to take an NBA job, chances are his annual salary would rise considerably.
NBA Assistant Coach Salaries
How much do NBA assistant coaches make? The average salary of an NBA assistant coach is $394,000. However, there is a wide range of salaries, with some assistant coaches making as much as $1 million per year and others making as little as $100,000 per year. The salary of an NBA assistant coach is typically based on experience, qualifications, and the success of the team they are coaching.
Here are some factors that can affect the salary of an NBA assistant coach:
Experience: Assistant coaches with more experience typically earn more money.
Qualifications: Assistant coaches with advanced degrees or who have played professional basketball typically earn more money.
Success of the team: Assistant coaches who are on winning teams typically earn more money.
Location: Assistant coaches who work in major markets typically earn more money.
In addition to their salary, NBA assistant coaches may also receive bonuses based on the team's performance. They may also receive benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and travel expenses.
While 99% of NBA assistant coach salaries are private, there have been a few breadcrumbs over the years. For example, back in 2014, the Cleveland Cavaliers signed assistant coach Tyronn Lue to a 4-year, $6.5 million contract. The contract was said to be the highest ever for an assistant coach up to that point.
In 2019, the Los Angeles Lakers signed assistant coach Jason Kidd to what was said to be the most lucrative contract of all time for an NBA assistant coach. While deal terms weren't announced, we can assume it eclipsed Lue's deal in 2014. To LA's credit, they did win a championship in 2020. Kidd stuck around for two seasons, then bolted to Dallas to become the Mavs head coach in July of 2021. His 4-year deal terms weren't announced, but it's estimated that he earns close to $8 million per season.
Women's College Basketball Coach Salaries
On the women's side, ironically a man (Geno Auriemma) leads the salary ranks at $2.9 million per season. Granted, his Connecticut teams have been elite for years. One could argue, though, that this is more about Geno's past success than his current success. As an example, Dawn Staley's South Carolina teams have gone 129-9 the past 4 seasons. UConn? 118-17.
The WNBA doesn't publicly disclose coaches' salaries. However, last year when Becky Hammon was hired as the new head coach of the Las Vegas Aces, owner Mark Davis commented that her annual salary will eclipse $1 million per year.
In my opinion, being a Division 1 college basketball coach may be the best job in America moving forward. "It's because you love basketball, John!" some would say.
Love aside, is there another industry in the world that is appreciating like college basketball? As player NIL deals continue to go up without any regulation, the salaries of college coaches will continue to rise exponentially.
Take Alabama head coach, Nate Oats, as an example. Oats came to Tuscaloosa in 2021 for $3.2 million/year. Two months ago (February 2023), Oats signed a 6 year/$30 million extension. I'm no math whiz, but that's a 56% increase in average annual salary at $5 million per season.
In 2022, Shaheen Holloway led Saint Peter's to the Elite Eight. His salary? $300,000. Days later, he signed a contract to return to his alma matter, Seton Hall, for a whopping $2.4 million/year. Winning pays.
There is so much money to play with in these athletic departments, that an extra million here or there is nothing. In 3-5 years, several coaches at the college level will be making $10+ million per year, a figure that nobody would've dreamed of twenty years ago (Dean Smith at North Carolina was embarrassed about how much he made in 1997, which at $162k, he considered way too high).
All of this begs the question: Instead of paying your next coach $10 million/year, why don't you hire an up & coming assistant who may only cost $1 million/year?
The answer is simply: the money doesn't matter to most of these big schools. If Bruce Pearl is considered even a tad better, they are going to hire him and pay him, and that's often after a massive buyout at a previous school.
For more basketball content, check out the Basketball section of our blog.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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